Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Book is Dead

My wife and I spent another fruitless evening searching through our house for a book—a book that I know we own—without any success.  There is nothing new about this; we haven’t been able to see the library for the books in the way for years.  I know we have reached critical mass; I can name several books of which I have purchased a second copy just because I can’t find the first copy.  Now, I doubt that I could find either of them.

I suppose that my wife and I could take a week or two off and spend that time sorting and shelving books.   That assumes that we could find enough shelf space for the books (an absurd impossibility).  There doesn’t seem to be any way to reduce the number of books.  Any book that I am willing to part with, my wife cherishes, and vice versa.  And if we take a load of books to the used bookstore, we usually return with about as many as we take.  When I jokingly suggested to my wife that we hire a librarian, she didn’t laugh, but looked pensive.  We finally decided any likely candidate would run away screaming.

And now, the books seem to arrive at our house on their own.  Not a week goes by without some publisher sending a history book to me at work, in the hopes that I will require my students to purchase it.  Or a colleague, desperate to clear his own office, gives me a book.  Even students give me books--I’ve actually had a student give me a book that I evidently had previously sold to the used bookstore here in town.   I used to be appreciative of these gifts, but I am beginning to understand that people are actually seeking me out as the last moron on the planet who actually prizes paper books.

Someone should have told me I was running a no-kill shelter for books.

Lately, I have discovered a new problem at my house.  Evidently, I have turned into a collector of book covers.  I love to read hardbacks--I love the feel and heft of a good hardback.  A well-crafted spine with a beautiful engraved cover is my favorite form of art work.   But I hate to read a book with a book cover on it.  I invariably take the paper cover off and put it somewhere safe while I read the book.  By the time I finish the last page of the book, I am already thinking about the next book I want to read and forget to put the cover back on the book.  The result of years of this is a massive collection of book covers that will wait in vain for all eternity to be reunited with their appropriate books.

This is a problem that may be slowly vanishing.  It is becoming apparent that the book—the traditional paper printed book—is dead.  On the news tonight, it was reported that the 1 in 5 Americans has not read a book in the last two years.  Couple this with the news that most books sold today are sold as eBooks, and it is obvious that the day of the printed page is over.  Someday, a video documentary will record that the last thing an American actually read off a piece of real paper was the number on a  lottery ticket.

Almost a third of Americans own an electronic form of reader.  It seems that eBooks are preferred by almost all categories of readers, and not just for school or business: a majority of people reading in bed prefer an eBook.  The number of people currently reading an eBook is 300% higher than just two years ago.  Penicillin didn’t catch on that fast.

Book stores are closing across the nation.  The only chain bookstore here in town (I don’t count the t-shirt shop that Enema U calls a bookstore) is mostly deserted except for the people standing at the Nook counter or drinking Starbucks.  At this rate, in a century or so, if you were to look up the word ‘library’ in Google Dictionary, the definition will probably be:  “Li-brar-y (n) warehouse of material not yet scanned.”

And I guess in my own way, I am slowly contributing.  My iPod has 45 audio books on it and 2 songs.  (If you are wondering, one is Rebel Rouser and the other one isn’t.)

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