Monday, September 26, 2011

Books? The kind made from paper?

When audio-books appeared (on tape, then CD), I was not okay with them. I suspected they were yet another indicator of the decline and fall of civilization, but I was willing to concede them a role in society, to admit that drivers and passengers should not be cut off from the world of literature. I knew from experience that radio is unreliable, that entire portions of the interstate highways are audio wastelands - absolute silence where the "seek" button sends you spinning through frequencies without end; or finding nothing but lonely stations broadcasting Spanglish country, Indian rock or the farm report. Books on tape, books on CD - I did not trust them, but I accepted them as necessary evils.
But, consider the following conversation, which, for various reasons, we will assume did not take place in an ascending elevator in a skyscraper in a great metropolitan city, and did not occur between four people whom we shall call THE WIFE, THE KIDETTE, THE ATTORNEY, and THE INTERN:

THE ATTORNEY: Hi, what are you doing back? I thought you retired.
THE WIFE: Oh, I'm just visiting the office, saying hi to people to anyone who hasn't been fired yet, having lunch with my daughter.
THE KIDETTE: At least I got a lunch today; my supervisor wasn't going to let me have a lunch today because I'd already had one this week.
THE KIDETTE: I wish I were kidding.
THE WIFE: How are you doing?
THE ATTORNEY: Okay, I suppose, but my weekend plans went awry.
THE ATTORNEY: Yeah, I wanted to read some books this weekend, but my wife says I have to do the taxes since they're due Monday.
THE KIDETTE: That's too bad.
THE INTERN: Books? You read books?
THE ATTORNEY: Yes, why? I like to read.
THE KIDETTE: I love to read books, if I ever get off work in time to do anything but drop exhausted into bed.
THE WIFE: I read books all the time too.
THE INTERN: You guys are talking about books, the kind made from paper?
THE INTERN: Not on-line, or on an e-book reader?
THE WIFE, THE ATTORNEY & THE KIDETTE: Uh-uh (shaking heads).
THE INTERN: Wow. The only time I open a book is when I have to research cases for the office, but all those books are old. I didn't know they still made books out of paper.

You can't see me, Gentle Reader (who just happens to be reading this on-line...hmmm) but I am not only sighing in sympathy with three of the characters in our little psychodrama, I am shaking my head in utter disbelief, and trying not to weep for the end of civilization as we know it. I am usually quite happy being in absolute denial (watch out for crocodiles!), but even I have to admit that our flabbergasted INTERN has a point. While I know that a book is a book and nothing can replace a book (yes, made of paper!), I cannot ignore the facts, as repulsive as they may be.
During the second quarter of 2010, the giant on-line book selling company reported that, for the first time since its founding in 1994, the number of e-books sold for its Kindle device outpaced the number of hardcover books sold. Also, according to the Association of American Publishers, 2011 saw the sales of e-books surpass the sales of paperbacks. very sad...I weep for humanity.

People who know me will attest I am not all an alarmist, that I am not given to hysterical and irrational rantings and ravings, that I am not some wild-eyed Luddite throwing my sabot into the delicate machinery of modern society, that I am not some cultural curmudgeon who claims that all change is bad...nor am I some crazy prophet of doom crying that the end is near!
On the other hand, the end might be closer than we think...

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