Tuesday, February 28, 2012

We Need More Books



Lately there is a frightening feeling in the air that books might by on a direct line heading from passĂ© to  obsolete. The average reader seems to have turned away from buying books to contemplating purchasing a new IPad or caving into a kindle.  Numerous newspaper articles and internet stories continue to tell us that statistically speaking, the majority of people do their “reading” on a screen. This might be true but the truth remains that we need more books.

We need more books and the places that house them. Remember when we all blamed the big chain stores for the demise of small, independent bookstores? Well, we had a right to be angry but now Borders is gone and the big multi-storied Barnes and Nobles across from Lincoln Center in New York City is now a clothing store. So we order books on Amazon (with due resentment for its contribution. to the closing of even more local stores) but we need books and so we buy them there. But we don’t just need to buy, we need to browse and linger and touch and experience.

Last week I was talking with a group of five people who aren’t big readers. But we all agreed we need more books. Our eyes hurt from reading the computer screen, and we want to be able to turn a page. We all expressed our deep need to indulge our olfactory senses and breathe in that unique real book smell while we see and touch and hear the page turn.

So what kinds of books do we need? Well, more than we have. Our curiosity about the world continues to grow in a way that goes beyond the restriction of subjects that fall within the curriculum standards. As I mentioned on our Facebook page, a devoted fifth grade teacher is trying to find a book that discusses what happens after people die but she hasn’t been able to find anything. A sixth grader told me he was interested in books about doctors but I haven’t been able to come up with anything. In the past year or two, children’s nonfiction has continued to expand to include more variety of subjects such as biographies on adult authors and musicians that most children have probably never even heard of before. So there are some signs that some risks are being taken and that we will have more choices. But it’s really not enough, not yet. Because there is a need to know that Wikipedia cannot mollify. Clearly, we need more books.

It might seem an act of futility to argue for the need for more books when signs point to a slow, painful end. But sometimes a true fan is rewarded for continuing to support the cause through the leanest of times. If you’re a Knick fan, you’ll know what I’m talking about. It was the early 1970s the last time an Ivy League graduate* joined the team and ignited a bunch of talented teammates to play exciting basketball and win the championship.   Stranger things have happened. We are, as always, talking nonfiction after all.

*Bill Bradley, Princeton graduate, New York Knicks forward, #24.

6 comments:

Annalisa said...

Powering a Kindle and iPad takes power/energy and money. Globally young readers don't have access to pay for the monthly fees incurred on such devices...so we stick to books.

Whether its the 25c bin at the Thrift store or even $25 one-time payment for a brand new book at the big store...the process builds confidence in children and the tangible book isn't subject to battery power loss, broken screens, or repossession for lack of payment etc.

Suffice it say, I think 'real' books are great and we do need more of them!

Lisa Richards said...

I'm in total agreement! I do occasionally read a very old book online if I can't find "the real thing", but after a while my eyes blur and my neck and shoulders hurt. I love prowling the aisles and pawing through the boxes of books at our library book sale and bringing home bags full of treasures to be read at my leisure for the rest of my life!
Who needs another electronic gadget to recharge and "books" that all look the same? I too love the smell of old books and turning the pages, not to mention the individual character of each tome. Thanks for this post!

Lisa Richards said...

I'm in total agreement! I do occasionally read a very old book online if I can't find "the real thing", but after a while my eyes blur and my neck and shoulders hurt. I love prowling the aisles and pawing through the boxes of books at our library book sale and bringing home bags full of treasures to be read at my leisure for the rest of my life!
Who needs another electronic gadget to recharge and "books" that all look the same? I too love the smell of old books and turning the pages, not to mention the individual character of each tome. Thanks for this post!

Mary-Esther said...

Real books look better on real bookshelves!

Btw, a good book about death is "I Found a Dead Bird", by Jan Thornhill.

T. said...

I'm so torn by this post because Amazon as a place to find the best price on actual paper-based books (which allows me to partake of more!) and my kindle allow me to experience books to which I would not otherwise have access. You see, the bookstore experience to which you allude is mostly gone. My most recent foray into a B&N store brought the stark reality of the problem into clear view. Crap. The sheer amount of non-book crap available to lure shoppers in cuts substantially into what space can be dedicated to books. And, oh, the state of available quality books, especially for children, is deplorable. Publishers are okaying so much crap that the sensory overload to a choosey parent trying to filter through the crap is overwhelming.

The popularity of Amazon.com and ebooks are symptoms of other systemic issues in the publishing industry -- and, ultimately, in our human culture. I, for one, am very grateful for the existence of these options. They allow us ready access to quality materials to assist in my family's cultivation. Me very much included!

Thank you, I.N.K. authors, for your persistent contribution to the palatable education of us all. Your books fall squarely outside of the 'crap' category!

Peggy T said...

Thanks, Linda, for saying what many of us are feeling. Books are not dead. Long live the book!