in defense of books.

“I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.” –Anna Quindlen

“I find television to be very educating.  Every time somebody turns on the set, I go in the other room and read a book.” –Groucho Marx

If there’s one thing my university has been great for so far is the number of extracurricular opportunities there are–readings, “Writers in Context” talks, masterclasses, workshops–you name it, they’ve arranged it. And not only have I had the chance to hear accomplished authors talk about the craft of creative writing, but I’m even able to stray outside my own concentration and attend workshops put on by the Journalism and Publishing departments, disciplines equally connected to my writing aspirations.

In the past week, I’ve had the chance to attend two lectures: one by Andy Bull on “The iPhone and Mobile Journalism,” and the other, tonight, by Nicholas Jones of Strathmore Publishing titled “Goodbye Gutenberg?”

Bull began his talk on the importance of having a “mobile presence,” because, increasingly, that’s where your audience is. He spoke of Web 3.0–the Web of Connectedness. Web 1.0 was focused on commerce, i.e. big sites like Amazon and eBay. Web 2.0, which apparently we’re still in, is all about community, thus the explosion of social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook and Twitter. But things are leading to Web 3.0, which will bring everything together. At the present moment, we go one place for commerce, one for community, and one for content. This won’t be the case soon…or so Bull says. I don’t even own a smart phone, so I feel like I have relatively little to say on this, but basically he hit on things like intelligent search engines learning your browsing habits and such.

Tonight, Jones asked the question: Is printing technology just a 500-year blip in the history of communication? As someone who founded his own publishing house–not to mention starting a business printing flyers when he was just 12 years old–he’s obviously interested in issues concerning the future of physical books, the rise of the e-Book being the most pressing.

Both talks were interesting, discussing the ever-growing world of new media and just how traditional book publishing fits into it all. I’m definitely open to it and would like to think I’m not a total Luddite, but I’ve yet to buy into the iRevolution of reading. I saw the term “iBookstore” the other day in an Apple newsletter and cringed, nearly throwing my laptop out the window.

Which is where I think I draw the line in this whole issue. Jones played us a CNN interview with techie Nicholas Negroponte, who says, in a disgustingly confident manner, that physical books will not exist in five years. He even says that rather than handing out actual books to children in some of the world’s poorest areas, his organization–One Laptop per Child–gives children a laptop with 100 books on it. One hundred laptops per village equals 10,000 books. Obviously, I get the point, but it still pains me to think of books as devices. How can you properly get lost in the alternate world it offers you if you’re always worrying about your battery power and when you need to charge up next?

In a way, I guess I feel the same way about books as I do about Polaroids or film photography in general. It’s the tangibility of them, the ability to hold one in your hand and escape into it, and the more they become outdated and replaced by digital mediums, the more I’ll defend them. I’ve been checking lots of books out from the library lately but the other day, I finally had a chance to read a book I’d actually bought off Amazon. I forgot how it could be, how it’s nearly a religious experience–being able to mark it up, get a pencil out and underline my favorite lines, circle favorite words, scribble and scratch ‘I LOVE THIS’ in the margins, dog-ear a page where I left off. I read an author recently who said she’ll do nothing of the kind–she views books as a kind of sacred document not to be marred. For me, however, books are mine to be marked. To take ownership of. To re-open five years after I first read it and see what jumped out at the person I was then.

And so I understand completely when Anna Quindlen writes in the New York Times about the moment her eldest son first finished reading The Phantom Tollbooth:

“You had only to see this boy’s face when he said “I finished it!” to know that something had made an indelible mark upon him. I walked him back upstairs with a fresh book, my copy of “A Wrinkle in Time,” Madeleine L’Engle’s unforgettable story of children who travel through time and space to save their father from the forces of evil. Now when I leave the room, he is reading by the pinpoint of his little reading light, the ship of his mind moving through high seas with the help of my compass. Just before I close the door, I catch a glimpse of the making of my self and the making of his, sharing some of the same timber.”

We should never take that away from anyone. I don’t care if they’re big, bulky, and a pain to travel with…books aren’t going anywhere.

Not on my watch, at least.

"All the characters are fictitious in the bookstore Henry Miller calls a wonderland of books."




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7 responses to “in defense of books.

  1. I’m in full agreement with you. I will never forsake print, cross my heart! If you ever experience momentary doubt, please refer to

  2. John Quinley III

    Candace. Your blog is a wonderland of adventure and thought provoking topics.
    You have summed up my views on Kindles books and things. It sounds like some real awesome workshops as well.

    By the way my friend went to NZ and I had her read your blog before she went.

    • John John–that is high praise coming from you…thank you! It’s weird being a bit more “settled” here in London right now and not having so many posts directly related to travel, but I’ve enjoyed what’s been brought up in my program and it’s good to hear it’s still relevant (and I’m glad we’re in agreement on all the crazy iPhones and such…). Oh, and thanks for passing along my blog 🙂 Hope she found it helpful!

  3. Can’t tell you how much I feel the same! I was so disappointed when a bookstore that had been in the same location in Halifax in Canada was closing down because they were unable to get their prices as low as amazon had them that i went in and bought everything that i had a remote interest in (it helped that in their final days they had 90% off sales on, even though i’d bought things when it was 50, 60 and 70% off too.. but yeah anyways.. I love what you said about de-facing books as well and scribbling your (22 year old) self into to margins to be able to pick up that same book later in life and not only read a familiar story but also see what you were like then.. priceless 🙂

    • I’m so glad you understand! (and I’m hoping you especially loved the Polaroid reference, haha). But more than me not being into a lot of the new tech stuff, I really mourn the loss of bookstores like you’re talking about…I think we’re going to lose something special when all we have are big chains. Hope all is well in Canada 🙂

  4. Loved this one Candace, and I think a very similar argument can be made in other areas as well (I’m thinking specifically of the music industry, but I’m sure there are others). Digital music and digital recording are taking over, but I think there is something to be said for hard copies of music and live (raw) instrumentation in general! I think, kind of similar to what you were saying above, that when there is something physical there, it makes it more real. Good stuff.

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