Monday, January 30, 2012

I Feel Jonathan Franzen's Pain ...

English: Jonathan Franzen - Frankfurt Book Fai...Image via Wikipedia
... but only a little. One of America's most highly-regarded novelists (by the kind of people who fancy themselves qualified to highly, or not highly, regard novelists), author of The Twenty-Seventh City, thinks e-books rob literature of a needed sense of permanence.

Like most of those critiquing Franzen's viewpoint (Lance Ulanoff at Mashable, for example), I'll open with the disclaimer that I am a (dead tree type) book lover. I've been a dedicated reader for 40 of my 45 years, and have sometimes found myself in competition with my library for living space. Some volumes bring back associated memories every time I pick them up: "I accidentally left my last copy of this (The Guns of August, by Barbara Tuchman) on the airplane when I flew back from my speech to the New York Junto against the Iraq war in 2003;" "I was reading this one (Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand) the day my daughter was born in 1990;" etc. There's just something about a physical book.

But look at what e-readers are doing! Like other technological advancements (Brad has them pretty well-covered here), they're making a lot of people's lives a lot richer.

For the cost of 10-15 paperbacks (and the cost is falling), you can get a device that instantly puts thousands of classics in front of you "free" (courtesy of The Gutenberg Project, et. al) and lets you get the newer stuff with a click. The instant I bought my e-reader, my library got about 10,000 times larger, maybe more, without taking up any more space.

Ten years from now, I expect that every school kid will have an e-reader device of some sort, connected to a library much, much, much larger than any room in the government schools I went to as a child (no, I'm not putting those libraries down -- they, and their keepers, influenced me a lot; but still ...).

On this last weekend's trip, I took about 70 books with me (I actually read from four or five of them), and they didn't fill up the back seat of the mini-van. They all fit in the glove compartment, on my Cruz Reader.

I hope that dead-tree and electronic formats achieve some kind of coexistence ... but if we can only have one of the two, the latter just makes more sense. It makes more art and more knowledge available to more people, less expensively.

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