Friday, July 30, 2010

The Future of Reading

Tonight, I fulfilled a promise to my 10-year-old daughter and took her to the local bookstore for something specific she'd been wanting, Xenocide, the third in the Orson Scott Card series that begins with Ender's Game. We threaded ourselves through the rows and stacks of books like silk in a loom until we ended up in the same place, in front of the title she was looking for.

"Oooh," she said, flipping the pages close to her nose. "I so totally love the smell of a new book!"

"Oooh," I replied, "You are so totally my daughter!" and we laughed and linked arms on our way to the checkout. We stopped and picked up a few new bookmarks for her, an accessory she loves almost as much as the books themselves, and I couldn't help but pick out a new moleskin journal for myself. And then I grabbed Little Bee, by Chris Cleave. I flipped it open and smelled the pages, just like my little girl had done moments before.

As we left the store, we stopped to look at the display for the latest e-book gadget. I have to admit: it's tempting. I travel a lot and am known for leaving books on a plane once I'm finished with them, because I don't have the room in my suitcase to haul them all from place to place. (I like to think that someone will be thankful for my little gift, and will happily enjoy their flight because I chose to leave them a present.)

"Hmmm," I looked at the stylish leather cases and thought of the possibilities: Everything I could ever want to read could be right there, in my hands. And it weighed close to nothing. Amazing.

"Mom," she said. "Come on. You can't smell the pages with that silly thing."

"True. But..."

"And you can't use these," she said, thrusting the beautiful new bookmarks at me.

I placed it back on the shelf. She was right on so many levels.

She's old school, my little girl, and so am I. She began reading at four years old and hasn't stopped since. She's spent her life watching me curl up in my favorite chair with feet tucked under me and a book in my hands. When she started chapter books at age six, we would lie together in her twin bed, she reading her book, me reading mine.

That's not to say that she isn't web savvy and doesn't love the latest electronic game or toy. But she sees something simple here: a good book. A real book that you can hold in your hands. And I think she's right that there's really no reason to mess that up.

As a writer, I also look at this new medium and contemplate the long term repercussions. Is it going to change the way we read? Sure. Will people actually read more? Quite possibly. Will it change the nature of the publishing business, or the royalties writers receive? We'll adjust. Is it a threat or just something cool and new? It's cool. So totally cool.

Perhaps one day my grandchildren and great grandchildren can look back on our ancient libraries and marvel at the number of pages we produced. They can flip through old newspapers (by then, I'm sure, extinct) with delicate fingers, in awe of the mere thought of ink on paper. Hopefully they can walk through my house and see a real library, with shelves that go all the way to the ceiling.

And there I'll be in the middle of it all, their little old great-grandmother, sitting in my rocking chair near my daughter. And we'll have our feet tucked up under us, books in our hands. Real books.

Yet who knows what the future holds? We can't predict the future of reading. And as long as we are here and communicate with the written word, it doesn't really matter if it's on paper or on a back-lit screen. What matters is that we are reading.

For now, I'm holding out. Reading the old fashioned way still works for me!


  1. I'm holding out on an ereader, too. Like you, I travel a lot, and it would make my carry-on lighter. BUT there is just something about the book in your hands, the smell of the fresh pages, and the ability to physically turn the page. Do I think the ereader is the death of literature as we know it? No. However, change is looming on the horizon, and I'm not going to fight it. I'll accept it with grace but keep buying printed books as long as I can.
    <>< Katie

  2. My dad has a Kindle and loves it. He's a voracious reader and many times works in places where books in English are both expensive and difficult to obtain. In his case, it works for him. My mom views reading not only as entertainment, but as a sensual experience. She likes the weight of a real book in her hands, the smell of the paper and ink, and feels that half the experience of reading is lost without such things. She brings what physical books she can pack when she's with my dad, and just reads very slowly to make them last as long as she can.

    I am my mother's daughter. Thankfully, I can get books any time I like and currently have a sky-high TBR pile.

    I'll make the switch only when I have to.

  3. Truthfully? With my upcoming fall travel schedule I know I'll be wishing I had one (and I'm partial to the iPad... have you seen its bookshelf capabilities? Awesome.) But for now, I'm sticking to print. I'll let everyone know when I cross to the 'other side'!

  4. I think if you travel a lot, it totally makes sense. I've listened to the pitch for the Nook a couple of times and have friends who love their Kindles. Tempting...

  5. Beautifully written post, Susan, and one I strongly relate to. I still resist letting go real books for the reasons Kim described, but if more luggage restrictions are added, I'll have to go for some form of e-book when traveling and living overseas. I do find the Kindle very easy to read.


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