Saturday, June 23, 2012

Picture This

Disclaimer: What you're about to read is by no means a slam against e-readers, e-books, or the letter "e."

Yesterday's newspaper printed an article about yet another small business closing its doors after several years. The product of their shelves may one day be considered a prehistoric artifact: books.

There were several reasons attributed to closing, such as slumping sales. And of course being a book-seller, there then came the biggest blame: e-readers.

Why must e-readers become something wearing the letter "A" on its chest? Who wouldn't want the ability to load an entire library onto a device the size of a steno-pad? (For the under forty crowd, a steno pad was/is a small spiral note book used by secretaries in the dark ages to record letters, pleadings, etc., dictated by their war-lord.)  I must admit, there's something powerful in carrying around thousands of books in a light-weight electronic gizmo, be it a laptop, Ipad or smart-phone.  The world at your fingertips! Millions of wonderful words, tales spun by gifted writers who have sweat through blocks, critique partners and the submission process.

And may I mention the millions of words spun by writers who skipped the submission process, opting to self-publish their works onto those electronic Rosetta Stones for the world to admire. I, for one, haven't the guts to go that step, opting to rely on my lacking self-confidence as my excuse to remain unpublished.

But, I digress; back to the heart of the print-book world that is rapidly decreasing as I type.

My gripe: Actual books held in hand.

Do you recall sitting tightly beside someone on the subway, bus or airplane, and glancing across the way to see cover art, title and author staring back at you? Or how about walking into a room, passing by a table, leaning in to turn on the lamp, and there resting in the warm light, the book you'd been meaning to pick up and read? Have you ever pulled a book from the shelf, whether yours at home or in the public library, thumbed through the pages to find scribbles in the margins?

God, I miss that.

True, there is that age old argument about saving trees, but lets remember we live in a recyclable world. Day after day my blue and white box collects newspapers and the daily Victoria's Secret catalog. Although I hesitate to place a book in my recycle box, there are several other ways to pass along books through donation or dropping off at the local nursing home or veterans' hospital.

Excuses aside, we live in a world with rapidly changing technology trumping the need of physical process.  The scent of fresh ink or yellowing pages becomes a lost fragrance. Those beautiful covers created by gifted artists that drew the attention of a stranger gone with lost opportunities for social encounters.

I picture a future of libraries turned into museums exhibiting the lost art: Books. As I cling to memories of walks to the local public library on a cool autumn night in search of some weekly entertainment, I mourn yet another cultural loss at the hands of modern technology.

May the world never see a global blackout, but if such an event should occur, I shall continue clinging to my paper books like an old museum docent.