Tuesday March 11, 2014; 09:20 pm EDT
Who Says You’re Reading Less?
My husband worries that you’re not reading books. He worries because he’d like to be writing books. As a Washington newspaper correspondent, he’s an endangered species because everybody knows you’re reading fewer newspapers — and shorter stories — though not less news. So here he is in the age of tweets, with many more words still in his computer. Books are his hope of last resort — if only you’ll read them.
But you’re not, according to the agents and publishers he’s negotiated with in writing three books and publishing, so far, two.
I hope you’ll help me prove them wrong, for all our sakes.
If you’d sworn off books, why would there be more books in the world than ever before?
Once upon a time, books were scarce. Only a very few, very special people ever saw a book, for they were made one by one, by hand. Because they were so rare, they were very beautiful, and scribes and illuminators could devote years of their lives to copying a single book.
Technology transformed books from a rarity to a commodity. Printing presses made more books, and more books took more authors to keep up with a new culture of readers.
Change came quickly. Gutenberg’s printing press, put into service in about 1450, was the beginning. Within the century, other printers were following in his footsteps, among them William Caxton, who set up shop in England and in 1476 printed Geoffrey Chaucer’s popular Canterbury Tales, begun about a century earlier and until then circulated in manuscript.
“I have practised and earned at my great charge and dispense to ordain this said book in print after the manner and form as you may here see,” Caxton wrote, “and is not written with pen and ink as other books been, to the end that every man may have them at once.”
Now books are like dust, for they collect everywhere. People’s shelves are so full that every flea market and yard sale offers a section of books. Warehouses around the world are full of books printed on paper.
Today, you’ve not only got plenty to read but more ways than ever to read them. If paper and ink imprints have become old hat to you (or the print too small), you’ve no need to turn your back on books. You can read any book you want on your computer.
If your computer is bulky, or its screen washes out in daylight’s glare, read on a Kindle, Nook or iPad. Each technology improves the last, and age doesn’t make you a Luddite. I know electronic book readers from 18 to 78. They tell me they’ve encountered no shortage of books. Bay Weekly proofreader Dick Wilson, who has a Kindle as full as many people’s libraries, tells me he downloaded the complete works of Charles Dickens for 99 cents.
I’ve seen electronic book lovers reading happily at pool and in hammock — though I’ve not yet met anybody brave enough to take one to the sandy beach.
As you can a talking book, listen on cassette, CD, iPod or iPhone. As soon as I figure out how to get my iPod linked to my library (or iTunes), my book-listening time (now restricted mostly to driving) will increase marvelously.
Once I leap that technological hurdle, the only thing standing in the way of my reading is too little time. That’s the real scarcity I see endangering reading. So on vacation this week, I intend to give my time to reading books. In return, I anticipate great pleasures.
Read on, for books have devoured Bay Weekly this week. You’ll find plenty to your liking, in plenty of formats, if only you’ll give them a little time. Do, and we’ll give my husband a little less to worry about.
Sandra Olivetti Martin
editor and publisher; firstname.lastname@example.org
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