The ramblings of a freelance writer, novelist and avid reader.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ideas Are Like Stars

Now that Amazon has replaced the Macmillan buttons and life in the publishing world has almost returned to normal – or as normal as it can be in 2010 with the electronic book wars far from over – I thought I’d throw in my two cents. Well, my two cents on books vs. e-books. If you want to know more about the whole thing above and which pricing model should/could/would be used I highly suggest the following blog post by YA author Scott Westerfeld, which is the most comprehensive/insightful take I’ve read so far.

The more general question out there is: Are e-books a good idea or a bad idea for the book industry? Are paper books, and thus, libraries and bookstores (including school media centers) going to become extinct? It boils down to the age old question about technology and industry (man vs. the machine) – are we getting ahead of ourselves? I don’t think e-books are going to bring about Terminator like apocalypse or anything, but the question is a serious one. Are books disappearing? Maybe. Is that scary? Yes.

I realize that the argument I’m about to lie down is really not logical, it’s just how I feel. As you will discover (or perhaps you already know) I’m messed up and all over the place, so be patient. I promise I have a point. I haven’t weighed in before now because I’m a writer and not a publisher; as long as I can produce words, I hope somehow people will read/pay for them.

My DO list:
I DO have an iPod with the Barnes & Noble book reader app and books downloaded on it.
I DO author a blog (this one).
I DO freelance for websites.
I DO have a mother who is SO excited about the different book readers out there that I’m sure she will own one shortly.

My DON’T list:

I DON’T want to see independent bookstores go away.
I DON’T want to see mass market bookstores go away.
I DON’T want to see libraries go away.
I DON’T want to see school media centers filled with only one medium (just the computer…or just the book for that matter. It’s called a media center for a reason people – as in plural)

My WISH list:
I WISH everyone in the book industry would get paid for whatever it is they do (i.e. editing, publishing, marketing, agent-ing, or writing). I’m pretty sure our system (capitalism) fails if we don’t buy and sell things. Just saying.
I WISH every child in America got to experience the Scholastic book magazine – ordering and receiving real life books! (I actually wish this for the children of the world, but that would make Scholastic a monopoly. Please see my note above about capitalism…psst – monopolies don’t work in that sort of economic structure)
I WISH everyone reading this blog goes into a library or bookstore this week and just smells some books. Or browses (not on your web browser) through some paperbacks, you know flipping pages, running your hand down the spines of titles, watching other people experience the written word in a tangible format).

What I KNOW: Words are power and ideas are like stars!

The sepia tones of a lost afternoon cradled a curio storefront
And inside the air was thick with the past, as the dust settled onto his heart
And here for a moment is every place in the world and ideas are like stars

They fall from the sky, they run round your head
They litter your sleep as they beckon
They'd teach you to fly without wires or thread
They promise if only you'd let them

Mary Chapin Carpenter, “Ideas Are Like Stars”

I just simply can’t imagine a world without tangible words on a page. No matter how many things I see in the world, how many countries and cultures I witness, I can count on one hand the moments in my life that have completely awed me into speechlessness. Those moments include the ancient library at Ephesus in Turkey and the Trinity College Library where the Book of Kells is housed. I can’t imagine not every smelling the musty paper smell in a used bookstore, not feeling the ink words under my fingers as I run m finger over a favorite verse or passage. I can’t imagine never feeling the silent awe that hits you when you walk through an old library or the feeling of adventure and excitement I felt when I checked out my first book from the school library. I know this is where my logic fails. I am saying I want people to pay for books and yet use the free ones in the library. eBooks, paperbacks, books on tape, blogs and all (YES, even newspapers and magazines) – I want people to have the options, all of them.

I’ve worked myself up into written word frenzy! I may be old fashioned – I don’t have a microwave or cable/TiVo, but the written word is sacred and not just because it’s my chosen profession. I actually can’t find words to describe how I feel on this subject. I want everyone to experience heavy book bags and breaking the binding on a new book. I want everyone to love (or hate) dog-eared pages and notes written in the margin. If life really is measured by the moments that take our breath away then I want everyone to experience Trinity College Library and the Celsus Library at Ephesus. I can’t imagine an iPad manuscript will take your breath away like an illuminated manuscript.

And that’s my two cents plus about a buck and half more. Thanks for letting me work through that rant.

If you’re still with me, I’m leaving you with a section of my first novel (the one that I still go back to time and again but have yet to finish). The protagonist, Aria is on a research mission in Ireland and has made her way to Trinity College. Yes. If something affects you that strongly, write about it!

She was still thinking about the rude woman when she turned the corner and entered the library. Instantly tears welled up in her eyes as she stopped short with her mouth open in awe. Aria had no idea, no conscious thought, she was utterly overwhelmed. It was the most magnificent emotion she’d ever felt. All of the books, rows and rows of really old books; it was absolutely unbelievable. Time stopped for a full minute as Aria looked around the room, taking in more than most when they first walk through those same doors.
Slowly Aria became conscious of the voices around her, the people streaming by her, the smell of the old books mingled with the perfume of the woman standing next to her. She heard foot steps as people walked down the long room; she saw the dust drift through the air as the sunlight from the windows highlighted each speck. Aria was completely intoxicated by her surroundings. She walked down one side of glass cases all the way to the end and then walked up the other side. She took time to read at least 400 book spines along the walls on both sides of the room. Some books from as far up as she could clearly see and some books she had to bend down to catch the writing on.
Almost an hour later, Aria left the room behind and walked back into the glaring reality of a tourist gift shop. She was still a little dazzled from her almost religious experience in the library, so she didn’t even hear the man walk up behind her.


  1. I feel fairly similarly to how you do about books. I like simply being at the library because I'm surrounded by possibilities, tomes of knowledge, other worlds, thousands of characters. Like you, I love opening a new book. I like marking my books with noes and post-its and reliving my experience with them later on.

    However, the electronic book is fantastic. I will some day soon buy a Kindle and download books from amazon like rich people do today. I think that traveling with a Kindle would be so convenient. I could bring 10 books with me and they would only weigh a few pounds.

    Too many times on trips I have left beind books that I wanted to read because the would take up too much space or be too heavy. With the Kindle I wouldn't have to worry that I hadn't brought the right books, because I'd have several to pick from instead of two or three. When we went to Greece and Italy, all three of the books I brought with me have turned out to be duds.

    Can't we live in a paper and electronic book world? Can't we, Mariah, please?

  2. I certainly hope so, but reports of schools without any books in their media centers are scaring me a little. And yes, I'm all for progress and change and carrying less around while I travel, but at what cost? That I'm not sure about yet.