(Note – I’ve been offered the opportunity to begin blogging for my local online news outlet, The Glen Cove Patch. Of course, I’ve chosen my favorite subject as my inaugural post. This is simultaneously posted here with the Patch editor’s permission… – J.)

I’ve had a long romance with the printed page.

Growing up among the apartment houses of Brooklyn, I spent my weekend afternoons reading everything from The Fantastic Four to Classics Illustrated. My parents read at least one of four different daily newspapers that were delivered to the local luncheonette, sometimes twice a day in both early and late editions. At school, we leafed thru the Weekly Reader discussing current events while at class exams, we were judged both on penmanship as well as content.

My first job out of college, more as a result of serendipity rather than clear planning, was with a NYC publisher as a proofreader. At my first desk, I began every day with a red pencil and a stack of freshly run galley proofs. Under the guidance of the production manager, I learned the elements of typesetting and page composition.  At a second publisher, I learned how books were printed and bound, the raw elements that they were made from, and the labor that moved them from camera to pressroom to bindery.

You don’t turn away from a long marriage like this one easily.

Yet I was also an early adopter of desktop computers and still remember daisy wheel printers, 5-1/4 floppy disks, and glowing amber type on bland, monochromatic screens. We’ve come a long way.

So have books.

E-readers are now gaining ground and momentum on paper and ink and we’re already seeing a genre growing where books are being produced and distributed entirely on screen. The harsh reality for book lovers is that you can’t beat the convenience of e-readers.  Although a devoted book lover, I’ve always seen thei advantages of an electronic medium for reference and textbooks. Having put two kids through college where the costs of their books nearly equaled their tuition rates, I would have appreciated a less expensive alternative. This is actually becoming a reality where you can not only buy, or rather download, the books you need, but just the chapters that particular instructor or professor plans to use.

I’d also like  to cut down on my number of cookbooks that are gradually taking over my basement and kitchen countertops – although I’m not sure how to deal with the batteries going dead on my Kindle when I’m in the middle of making a Key Lime Pie. Yet, even there, I still enjoy leaving dates and notes in the margins of the printed versions for either me or my inheritors to find at a later time.

According to one blogger I’ve read, appropriately titled The Kindle Monologues, print lovers are misguided in their devotion and foolishly use reasons such as the olfactory attraction of the “smell” of real books, the fact that books don’t “burn your eyes”, and that e-readers killed Borders. We do agree on some things – books don’t really “smell” unless they’re of the kind you find hidden in basements and closets at the estate sales my wife and I visit. As far as killing Borders, some say it’s the company’s lack of getting on the e-reader bus early enough rather than ignoring the onslaught. But as far as screens go, I spend enough time in front of one during the day than to have to relax with another at night.

I believe my love of books is still defensible. I like sitting with a book in my hands and turning pages rather than dragging my finger across a screen. I don’t need word search mechanisms since I’d rather flip back through the book by hand and find that lost passage myself, maybe reread the paragraphs I’d enjoyed before and the ones I missed when tired.

Books of poetry are still rendered best as a printed page since e-readers still have difficulty with the odd line breaks and indents that authors use to punctuate their work. And photography books, like the Berenice Abbott book I’m reading now, where the photographs are rendered in both depth and size that can’t be duplicated on a memo-pad sized screen.

Books will survive – and they’ll certainly survive longer than any digital medium stores them or plays them back (remember 8 track stereo or those 5-1/4 floppy disks I mentioned above). They’ll be found on shelves long after the current crop of Kindles are buried deep in the technological junkyards. True – the printed population will dwindle while publishers push their e-collections more strongly. Convenience, cost of goods, and profit will drive that freight train. But books as a display medium, as a pure aesthetic, will remain.

Like most affairs of the heart, my seemingly impractical devotion to books is mixed with a bit of nostalgia. The technological age has no room for this since things move and change so quickly. Which is why, when all of my favorite bookstores, both independents and chains, have disappeared, you’ll find me happily wandering among the tiered stacks of the library, where most good romance stories can still be found.

Johann Gutenberg, inventor of movable type, reads a printed proof

Advertisements