I keep meaning to tell you all about this book my aunt gifted me the other day. Book Love: A Celebration of Writers, Readers and The Printed & Bound Book was co-edited and introduced by Bill Henderson, whose article you might have come across in Publisher’s Weekly a few months back. The book is filled with lovely (and hilarious) quotes from authors and famous people about books and the printed word. They’re so good that I’ve decided to include a quote post on this blog every week, so you’ll see more of those soon.
But what really gave me a shock (in the good way) was the introduction. I admit, with most coffee table books, I rarely read the introductions. Especially with this one, which I assumed was going to be a nostalgic and saccharine romanticization of books and the printed word (kind of like what we do here). Not so. Henderson is scathing in his criticism of the technology that, he fears and most technology pundits believe, will replace the printed and bound book. His introduction is passionate and fierce and backed up with highly astute and logical arguments against our cultural apathy. He disbands the myth that e-readers and ebook technology is more eco-friendly than printed books.
“…one e-reader requires 33 pounds of minerals (ripped from the earth, often in war-torn Africa), plus 79 gallons of water” as opposed to the one book which requires “recycled paper, a dash of minerals and two gallons of water. Batteries not necessary. If trees and harvested they can be replanted.”
He presents an argument that is rarely heard in all the glamor of gadget-hungry consumerism and Jeff Bezos propaganda that purports Amazon to be putting the “power” back in the hands of the author and reader.
“In any case, what serious writer would create exclusively for an e-reader? It’s like farting into the wind. Writers hope, mostly in vain, that their work will endure for a few years or even centuries, in handsome printed and bound volumes. Why bother at all if your words are to be digitized into instantly accessible and disposable battery dependent gas?”
Just prior to this he says:
“Because our brains can no longer think beyond a twitter, we can’t write well. And we can’t read well either. The idea of reading – let alone writing – War and Peace, Bleak House or Absalom, Absalom! – is fading into an impossible dream.”
Them’s fighting words if ever I heard some. And it’s a strong opinion, especially as whispered rumors travel across the book world that literary newcomers Jonathan Franzen, David Foster Wallace and Jeffrey Eugenides “might revive the American novel.”
But is Freedom a work to match Absalom, Absalom!? And if it is, will it persist through the ages in ebook form?
These are my musings on this Thursday morning, as provoked by a little coffee table book. Thank you, Aunt Mary.
(Book Love: A Celebration of Writer’s, Readers, and The Printed & Bound Book; edited by James Charlton and Bill Henderson; Pushchart Press 2011).