Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Thursday, March 18, 2010

stop it. just stop it.

I wish people would stop saying things like this:

Books are changing from physical to virtual objects. . . . The 25-cent paperback took us halfway there; now we have fully arrived. The physical book does not exist, and has no value.

Not quite in the book-as-despised-Jew category, but still. . . . Let’s be clear: the physical book does indeed exist. Many millions of them exist. They have great value, both in dry economic terms (lots are bought and sold every day) and in unmeasurable personal terms. Those of us who love books are not cut off from the world, and no one is taking our books away from us.

The social role of the physical book may well change — may well decline — but for the foreseeable future books will continue to be available to people who want them. It doesn't help those of us who want to defend books when others (others who also love books) keep weaving these apocalyptic scenarios — especially when they are not claiming that the apocalypse is coming, but rather that it’s already here, that the book is dead. When book lovers talk that way, other people look around, see books everywhere, and conclude that book lovers are nuts. This does not help the cause.

And one more thing. “The 25-cent paperback” was a problem? Are books valuable only when just a few wealthy people can afford them? Does the book decline in worth when it becomes possible for almost everyone to own books? I couldn't disagree more. There are beautiful books, artfully bound and elegantly presented, and such objects are wonderful; but the most beautiful thing about a book is, or should be, the human utterance within it.

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