Been reading through the Paris Review Blog online. Good writing, stimulating essays. But I have to wonder why a literary magazine able to publish anything it wants also runs a literary blog, and publishes there as well?
Why is the weekly New Yorker Magazine also online? Who besides politicians can possibly have THAT much to say? Why is Karen Brown, of the esteemed Karen Brown travel guidebooks, publishing her annual guides this year only in electronic format?
Why do successful travel guides from Lonely Planet, Frommers and DK Eyewitness plus BBC Travel and TimeOut and Hearst now come in a new app for Pads and Phones and Touches, not to mention Androids? The Wenzani app combines amateur feedback with professional research, producing – well, if you read the early reviews from users – producing a flawed piece of software that crashes easily and doesn’t yet have a lot of useful information on it.
All this puzzles me.
Any time I feel a bit out of synch I can look around my study and gaze at seemingly endless shelves of books. The more obscure the happier they make me. These silent books provide inspiration just by standing on the shelf. I don’t have to open one to feel the joy. Blowing the dust off is enough.
Here is my high school copy of Candide (is Voltaire still read in American high schools?). Early chapter: How Candide Escaped from the Bulgarians and What Became of Him.
In this underlined passage the amazingly naive Candide is referring to his mentor, Doctor Pangloss:
“(He) was right in telling me that all is for the best in this world, for I am vastly more touched by your extreme generosity than by the harshness of the gentleman in the black cloak and his good lady.”
Candide has made his way across a bloody battlefield, seen villages ruined by opposing armies, begged unsuccessfully for a crust of bread, had a chamber pot dumped on his head for not acknowledging the Pope as Anti-Christ, and finally been rescued by a stranger who feeds and washes him. This adventure is detailed in two pages, by the way.
Why did I underline so much? Did I fear it would be on the test?
Jefferson and Franklin and the other reluctant revolutionaries were all alive in 1759 when Voltaire published Candide. No doubt many of them read the book in the original French or the immediate English translation. Voltaire was an effective agent of change. He gave courage to French intellectuals and to the Americans as well.
This week a book trade publication reported the results of a Book Industry Study Group survey on Consumer Attitudes Toward E-book Reading. Some of the findings are surprising. According to the survey, three-quarters of people who buy books have not yet purchased a single E-book. As many as 14% of people who own an e-book reader have not yet purchased anything to read electronically.
In other words, three out of four people who purchase books to read still read on paper, despite the rapid growth of electronic alternatives, and a significant number of people possessing e-readers don’t use them much.
The survey also reported that e-books continue to sell in increasing numbers, but the rate of growth has slowed substantially. Maybe the novelty has worn off. My unscientific guess is that people who read books on e-devices do so for specific reasons – while traveling, for reference purposes, to play Sudoku, but for long-form literature, not so much.
I have been asked many times, as if I had special knowledge, and I don’t, what to think of the e-book phenomenon, as if suddenly we had reached the end of the 500-year Gutenberg experiment. At first I didn’t know what to say – people were afraid the trickle of e-readers would soon become an avalanche, sweeping away everything – shelves, dust and all.
But that has not happened. Electronic access to reading materials is becoming simply another path to reading. E-everything E-expands the universe of choice, and will suit some more than others. More readers, more things to read and more ways to read them. How can that be a bad thing?
I look around this room, pull down a few dusty books from a high shelf, and flip through. Here is An A.B.C. of English Usage Price 2s. 6d., published in 1936 at the Clarendon Press, Oxford. It was once owned by Schuyler G. Urquhart, who has excellent handwriting, and Schuyler I want to thank you for the loan, probably to my mother, and let you know you can have your book back any time now.
Meanwhile, I’ll enjoy reading the explications of terms such as apodosis, apostrophe and apopthegm, which, apparently is much the same as aphorism.
Now I know something new, and I’m happy.
A new conglomerated travel app