The Gutenberg Galaxy Goes Digital
The Kindle has also allowed me to free up space on my overflowing bookshelves. The London Independent takes that prospect to its natural conclusion, and wonders if the home library will become a casualty to the Kindle, which is one of their less preposterous predictions.
On the downside, as we rush into the world of electronic books, what happens if, say, Amazon's server farm gets nuked (literally or figuratively). One group in Northern California is building the dead tree equivalent of the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, in a case of real-life imitates the ending of Fahrenheit 451.
And what will happen to book covers? When LPs replaced CDs, the album cover went from being a work of art in itself to being a much smaller form. While record companies still invested in gorgeous cover designs well into the 1990s, in many cases, the point was lost if you couldn't really make out the images. Since at least early in the 20th century, book publishers designed book jackets to help entice sales. You can see some of the more lurid -- and fun -- examples in the wonderfully titled 'Breathless Homicidal Slime Mutants' -- the Art of the Paperback, a healthy slab of pulpy novel covers from the 1940s through the mid-1960s or so, all originally designed to pop off book store and newsstand shelves.
But today, if you're a publisher who knows his company's work is going to be mostly discovered via an online review or a search engine, does that create an incentive to dial back the expense of book cover design to the point of being almost an afterthought? And is relying on software such as Photoshop and Illustrator to design covers for e-books a throwback to the late '60s and early 1970s, when every book cover seemed to look almost the same? (Those days certainly made life easy for a designer: set type in Helvetica, add abstract graphic image, move on to next project. Rinse and repeat.) Of course for that reason, perhaps "analog" books are about to become luxury items, given at birthdays and at Christmas, the equivalent of giving someone an expensive necktie or sweater. Or these days, a compact disc, for that matter.
As should be obvious by now, I think the plusses provided by e-books outweigh the negatives. But for a more Luddite point of view, naturally enough we can turn to the L.A. Times, for an article whose arguments are quite similar to those made when physical newspapers began to lose out to the Internet. Which dovetails into an observation that James Lileks made in a Ricochet podcast last year at the conclusion of the gang's interview with Bill McGowan. McGowan is the author of Gray Lady Down, his postmortem for the New York Times, and Lileks noted that everybody longs for that nostalgic Annie Hall-like feeling of having the Sunday New York Times spread out alongside the bagels and orange juice on the kitchen table. Or as Marshall McLuhan, the source of this post's headline, quipped decades ago, “People don’t actually read newspapers. They step into them every morning like a hot bath.”
Similarly, I think everybody has that memory of buying a book, or taking it out of the library, bringing it home, and taking it outside on a sunny weekend day to become utterly absorbed in it. Perhaps that tactile feeling is lost or greatly diminished with the Kindle, but the flexibility it provides offsets it in many ways.
At least I think so. But how has the Kindle, the Kindle software, or another brand of e-reader changed your reading experience? If you've made the leap, are you rushing off to replace your back catalog of "analog" books?