The Ambulatory Corpse

This week, Jon Bing, and professor of law, general brainiac and one of Norway’s very few science fiction authors predicted the death of the book. It should be pointed out that we’ve heard about the death of the novel for quite some time, and yet it seems to be a highly ambulatory corpse. No, what Bing predicts is the death of the book itself. “There isn’t an iPod for books yet” he says, but claims there will be soon. I have little reason to doubt him. Amazon’s kindle seems to be doing well, and while Apple (i)CEO Steve Jobs said that nobody reads anymore, rumor has it they will be when Apple drops their e-reader device. I won’t speculate about who will bring this device to the fore, but I will say I think it’s coming. (I should add that professor Bing only said the book itself would die, not the stories contained in them and pointed out that the stories once recorded on clay tablets are still around on paper and screens to this day.)

“Oh no”, I hear some say “Will this be the end of printed media?” Well, of course not. While an electronic reader can be very handy, I have a hard to seeing all the predictions come true. Isaac Asimov once referred to a book as the perfect device and I’m liable to agree. I read a lot of blogs, but I have a hard time reading long texts on-screen. I would never try reading a novel in my browser, regardless how good the rendering engine is. A book is still better than a screen. Now these are obviously obstacles that must (and will) be surmounted and e-reading will be a cinch. Thousands of printers will eventually go out of business, but hey.

The lovely thing about the book is that it’s tactile. You can hold it, you can smell it (old books just smell good; a library somehow smells like stories) and of course, you can give or get a book as a gift. I’m sure there will be ways to give someone an e-book that works for such occasions, and I’m sure it’ll be as much fun to unwrap as anything else. But books also have decorative abilities. A book can be plain, like a cheap paperback, or wonderfully laid out and ornate. A coffee table e-book is hard to imagine, even if Microsoft has that interactive screen table of theirs (and if it actually works), and secondly, what will you fill your shelves with? While I certainly think we could cut back on some possessions, I hate those empty, minimalistic living rooms with a green rock here and maybe a Pollock reprint to add some “life” and “flow” to the room. Most people like to surround themselves with a certain amount of personal stuff, and books are high on that list, at least for me. I love flicking through the pages of some tome I’d forgotten I had, maybe finding a favorite passage and I love how books often smell like the places where I first picked them up. I love how you can immediately see if you’re on the same wavelength with your host and how you’ll always have something to discuss. I have a hard time seeing people giving up such comforts for a hard drive in the basement.

I could be wrong, of course, but I’m fairly certain books will outlast me and my generation. Just like I bought a few CDs the other day, regardless of the fact that nobody does that anymore, except for all the people who do, because they’re more interested in getting that album they actually want rather than trawling through the Pirate Bay for 16GB worth of Manowar live shows. The world is eventually going digital, but not everything will be replaced. But like I said, I could be wrong.

02.06.2008 • Permalink