Thursday, August 19, 2010

On Missing Gary Shteyngart and Pondering the Future of Books

Circumstances, waning memory, and my eagerness for this reading resulted in our inadvertantly missing the Gary Shteyngart reading at BookCourt on Thursday. We showed up a day early (ouch) and then a prior commitment prevented a return for what was no doubt a funny and highly literate evening at the always delightful BookCourt on Court and Pacific. I read a digital chapter of Shteyngart's new tome, Super Sad True Love Story, and was again enthralled by the humor, speed and sheer literary brio of the book. Ironically, I read the digital sample chapter on the Kobo app on my BlackBerry  on the way to what I thought would be the reading on Wednesday evening.

Gary Shteyngart, author of "Super Sad True Love Story"

I haven't yet purchased the book. We are in the process of reorganizing our home. Books, books, books---ours, our kids, plus library books, newspapers, magazines. There is a constant paperflow and clutter in the house. I began to think - should I go digital with my reading? [NOTE: I purchased and read a hardcover copy of this entertaining and future-gazing book shortly after this posting appeared.]

There was a recent article in the NY Times that discussed the potential impact of digital editions of books on mega booksellers, such as Barnes and Noble. The article noted that, as in the film "You Have Mail" the romantic comedy which had Tom Hanks' "Fox Books" book chain pushing Meg Ryan's "The Little Shop Around the Corner" out of the book business, digital books sold online at lower prices may now be threatening the large book chains with their relatively high mortar and brick overheads, in the same way the big chains previously muscled the little book stores out of business.

The Times article notes, ironically, that the independent book stores that have survived have proven that they can make it (BookCourt is only a couple of blocks away from a large Barnes and Noble also on Court Street).  Like music/CD stores, the big book chains may be fighting a tough battle for survival. The little stores may prove to be the Last Bookstores Standing.

In any case, as I was reading the sample chapter of Super Sad True Love Story, I happened to think that it was ironic that one of the charms of  author readings was the opportunity for booksigning. With the move toward digital by many readers, What now? I mean, the point of the reading is of course seeing the author in person and hearing him or her read aloud and perhaps answer a few questions. But it was also always fun to buy and walk away with a signed copy. It definitely gave the act of reading a certain extra frisson

Will printed books now go the way of the vinyl LP record? A specialty item, less available and higher priced, perfect for signing and collecting but not necessarily for reading?  Will the remaining bookstores (or Starbucks for that matter), offer downloads at the reading? Will that offer a better "vintage" than an e-book purchased at a differnet time online? Maybe the store will throw in a signed photo of the author.

The late Serbian writer Milorad Pavic (author of Dictionary of the Khazars and many other volumes), believed in novels taking many other forms - dictionaries, acrostics, nonlineqar works, books with 100 possible endings. Prescient, he also was interested in the novel as computer file or program.

Although it is a great to hold and read a book -- that connection between the internal (reading) and the external (the book as commodity), in some ways, it would be easier without the physical burden of years and years of accumulated books --  In conversation, one of our daughters (15) acknowledged preferring bound books. Buit part of the joy of books is gonig to a shelf, having something pique your interest again, and picking up the book to delve in and enjoy the experience again.  In my opinion, browsing books on a shelf  is completely different than browsing CDs on a shelf or music files on your Ipod. I enjoy reading stuff online, but just as often, I will print an article out to read later.

I tend to think that people appreciate that you are paying  for the author's talent (and occasionally, genius) and the bound book is only the medium for the author's mesage. But there is still something special and wonderful about that antique commodity, the printed book.  If it is black and white and read all over -- I am on it. I for one hope the printed book never goes away. Completely.

Sample excerpt at Barnes a nd Noble website here. (Ironically, the first edition of the book avaialble at the B & N website is the e-version. The printed copy says "also available as an e-book.)

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Current Reading

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