It occurred to me the other day that our vocabulary is all wrong in this debate over e-books – in the same way it’s misleading to talk as if America actually had “healthcare, when we really only have very expensive sickcare.
We don’t read e-books or hardcovers. We read what people write.
Books – whether print or digital, whether downloaded or mailed, whether new or old – are just one way that writing reaches the people who want to read it. Books are just one way that people get paid for their writing.
Books are not what I read; they are where I read things that interest me. I find writing in books interesting, because I like writing that reflect the author’s authentic research, originality, and talent. I like the sentences and paragraphs they choose to combine to make a book; I like the way their long story begins and ends.
I think if books are to survive we have to stop thinking about books as a “consumer product.” Format usually follow price, but the quality of what’s inside a book does not.
We need to start thinking about books as a place where writers write and readers find them. If printed books morph into e-books, that’s really not a lot of change.
If we don’t want to lose writing that’s long, and thoughtful, writing that requires time to create – if we want writing we such as we find in War and Peace, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Dreams From My Father, or A Room of One’s Own -- we have to find a way to subsidize the places readers can read what such writers write.
I submit that we could learn how to live without books. It’s reading and writing we can’t live without.
And the possibility of that impending loss is what we should talk about.