Monday, October 11, 2010

To Have and To Hold

This past weekend was Portland's Wordstock literary festival. A gathering of published authors, wannabe authors, readers, and book lovers. I considered attending, but when it came down to driving into town alone on wet streets and dealing with parking I decided to pass.

As expected, there was much discussion regarding the future of books now that electronic readers are gaining in popularity. The future of physical, paper books was also a subject of interest at the Willamette Writers Conference. The participating editors and literary agents were as befuddled about the future of publishing as were the writers hoping to see their novel on display at Powell's.

I grew up in a house with books. I assumed it was normal to purchase, read, and keep books. As you can see above, I love books (this is only a portion of my ever expanding library). I never really questioned the practice of acquiring and retaining books.

A few years ago I made friends with an avid reader who (gasp) donated her books to the local library's resale store once she'd finished reading them. I looked at my bookshelves anew. I have numerous books to be read, and many that I've completed. Once finished, I've always returned the book to the empty space on the bookshelf. It never occurred to be to remove the book from my library once read.

More recently I've had occasion to visit the homes of readers who, as far as I could see, didn't even have bookshelves. How could one be an enthusiastic reader without a collection of books? Why, my idea of heaven is a room dedicated to books. Finely crafted floor-to-ceiling bookcases full of books (classics, collectibles, best sellers, etc.) have always been an indication of culture and financial success.

And just weeks ago came the final blow! One of our neighborhood book club members was thrilled with the ease and reasonable cost to download our latest read onto her Kindle. An e-book. No pages, no book jacket, no page marker. No scent of ink and paper, no heft, no visual indication of progress through the book as the majority of pages shifted from right to left. No trip to the book store to peruse the shelves and discover additional books that you just have to have. No sack with a clever literary logo weighted down with more than you intended to buy. No rush to get home to begin the new purchases.

Just immediate satisfaction at a fraction of the price.

The usual questions filled my mind. Do you dare read your e-book near water? What if the battery dies just before the detective announces "whodunnit?" How do you get the author to autograph your e-book? How will a lone Kindle look sitting on empty mahogany bookshelves?

And what does it mean to hopeful authors?

Part of me is thrilled by the idea of immediate acquisition of a desired novel at a bargain price. And then there is the possibility of locating hard-to-find books on Amazon for download. Research books for my novels in progress.

Why not make more use of the library? Hmmm. It sometimes takes me more than 3o days to finish reading a book. I don't have to put my name on a waiting list. I can read all the books in a series one after the other without a break. I can start my next book no matter what time of the night I finish the current read. I can highlight or make notes in my own books. My book clubs (Mystery Guild, Science Fiction Book Club, Book of the Month Club) offer hard bound books at paperback prices, reprint classics not available at the library, and provide special omnibus publications that collect all the books of a series into a single volume.

I haven't yet had the opportunity to use an electronic reader, so I can't compare the experience to holding a book. I'm not a Luddite, but I do love the weight of a book and flipping pages back and forth to locate the end of the chapter or refresh my memory about a previous scene. I have begun weeding out my bookshelves for donation to the local library for resale. However, no way am I giving up my collection of Dick Francis novels. And I will reread my special boxed editions of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings...someday.

1 comment:

gowestferalwoman said...

I agree - theres nothing like the written word on paper!

Sorting through one's private library to select outcasts is very hard for me ~ the word "hoarder" comes to mind lol When we moved here to MT it was approx a ton of books that came with; and that was even after sorting. Im sure its people like us who are always going to have a library on hand. The electronic reader just seems so hard on the eyes if youre a marathon reader...and a little bit older teehee!