December 20, 2011

On Butter and Horse & Buggies: An Ode to Reading

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 12:53 pm

Let me say right at the outset that I am thrilled when I hear that more people are reading in 2011 than in 2009, thanks in large part to e readers. Or that other folks are avoiding shin splints by not having to lug bagfuls of books on the plane. Or even that person X just finds reading on her device a better experience than flipping pages ever was.

If you’re reading, that’s great, and let’s talk story–not medium.

I am a live and let live kind of person. I believe that there are shades of gray and nuance to most things, and that wisdom is seldom found at the poles. It does take all kinds, and I’m so glad for all the kinds there are.

Ahem. All that said.

I love books. And bookstores as most of you know. I believe there are unique pleasures to be found with both of these things. A world without print books and bookstores would for me be a tiny apocalypse.

Maybe a not so tiny one.

I’m happy if people love their Kindles, but I’m less happy when they refer to the alternative as DTBs (I happen to think the jury is still out on whether cutting down trees/fossil fuel-heavy distribution is less green than making ever updateable battery-dependent electronic devices) or when people make the claim that 30 years from now books will be to e readers as horse & buggies were to cars in 1930.

Maybe that will turn out to be so [shrieking as I glimpse the apocalypse]. I don’t claim to have any great predictive powers.

But maybe alongside the convenience, cost-saving, and instantaneous benefits of e readers, people will rediscover a deep and abiding love for the medium of page turning and paper-sniffing and the eye-bending and tactile experience that a truly gorgeous cover can deliver.

Is the horse and buggy the right analogy?

Let me present another one.

In the 1950s we were moving into a whole new era of food. Better living through chemistry. (As a tangent, remember ChemLawn? Can you imagine a world where the pairing of those two words made the customer say, I want to pour me some of that on my lawn?) People, propelled in no small part by the margarine council or the transfats council or whatever it was, started proponing the health benefits of margarine over butter.

Flash forward half a century and we’re just beginning to understand that cholesterol actually doesn’t get lower when we eat saturated soybean oil–and even that cholesterol as we measure it today is only arguably responsible for heart disease. (Give it 10 more years. You’ll see).

But I’m not suggesting people will figure out that e readers actually cause cancer. Remember? I’m happy to have both, or some future, as yet unknown alternative.

What I’m trying to say is that even when margarine appeared to be coming in strong, people still ate butter. We didn’t have to kill all the cows. The butter could be churned and sold to those who wanted it, and when the slow food movement began, we could be offered even more varietals of butter than we once ever conceived of.

Maybe there will be a slow reading movement one day.

Or maybe we can all just figure out that there’s room for both camps and what we find in either is a great love of story.

I take that horse and buggy analogy and raise it…one pat of butter.


  1. That is a great allusion, butter to books. I think you are right! Merry Christmas and may all your reading be for pleasure!

    Comment by Connie — December 20, 2011 @ 1:05 pm

  2. I saw something strange at my local music store while I was out christmas shopping.

    You have to understand, that I’m a tech junkie. I was one of the first to start listening to my music in MP3 Format, way back in 1998, when listening to an MP3 was so intensive that you could do that, and ONLY that with your computer.

    Our local music store is carrying a wide variety of vinyl. And not just classic stuff, but recent, up to date music. Good ol records are making a come back, in a big way. We’re not talking a single column on a single shelf here. We’re talking a WHOLE WALL of vinyl.

    I like reading on my phone. But it will never replace a good book. It does however let me carry a book with me everywhere I go, and sitting and reading at home is when I break out the paperbacks.

    I don’t think paper books will ever go away. There’s so much demand for my paperback right now (which is yet unreleased) that I think it’s actually hindering my eBook sales. :)

    Comment by Thomas A. Knight — December 20, 2011 @ 1:09 pm

  3. Mmmm….. buttered boooooks. Droooool.

    Comment by Savvy — December 20, 2011 @ 1:35 pm

  4. I’m a recent convert to kindle, but I also collect books. Ereaders are great when you are travelling or you want a quick read of an novel you probably wouldn’t keep on your bookshelves for long anyway.

    But I would never give up my first editions, or my tattered out of print favourites.

    Long live diversity!


    Comment by Caroline — December 20, 2011 @ 2:42 pm

  5. I must be able to smell the book, to hold the book, to stroke the book, but I did receive a Kindle as a gift, and for traveling, standing in lines, etc. it can’t be beat. But I still prefer my books. :)

    Comment by Judy — December 20, 2011 @ 3:14 pm

  6. Slow reading! That’s so funny. But I think you make a good point. Who’s to say that books aren’t the more environmentally responsible answer. I love my Kindle in my purse but real books still make me happy!

    Comment by Johanna — December 20, 2011 @ 7:01 pm

  7. Ah but spectacular covers can be displayed electronically. And soon the image and words will be ported directly to your senses from devices wirelessly connected from the coloud to your brain.

    Comment by Greg — December 21, 2011 @ 12:17 am

  8. I have a similar analogy to make. When digital downloads of music became the rage I was delighted. The chance to buy the one song I loved instead of twelve that I might was amazing. Till, one month after purchasing several songs from a shallnotbenamed big box store, my songs came up on my computer as “unavailable” due to copyright blah blah blah. Turns out, the big box store hadn’t done something right with the copyright business end of things and my songs were gone, toast, bye bye, along with my money. When I tried to get them back, I was told I’d have to purchase them again. In that moment I realized the value of having an actual CD in my hands, tangible, solid and all mine.
    So buyers beware, there is room and always should be for both the digital and the tangible. I love my Kindle, and for my mother with bad eyesight the ability boost fonts is a godsend, but the feel, smell, touch and sheer joy of holding a paper book in my hands is something never to be forsaken.

    Comment by Karyne — December 21, 2011 @ 12:28 pm

  9. Slooow books. Like that too. And live and let live. I’m curling up with a paperback right now. Going down to Waikiki to sit in a hotel coffee shop I like to write and read some more. But I’m eyeing a Kindle Fire for next year. Looks like a good thing for what it can do.

    Comment by JLOakley — December 21, 2011 @ 3:49 pm

  10. I hope the new trend in e-book publishing works out well for writers in a financial sense. Time will tell.

    Jacqueline Seewald
    THE TRUTH SLEUTH in hardcover
    THE INFERNO COLLECTION, THE DROWNING POOL, both now available in ebook formats as well as hardcover and large print

    Comment by Jacqueline Seewald — December 21, 2011 @ 4:44 pm

  11. I was in Barnes and Noble the other day and looked at some of the trade paperbacks. They are so yummy looking. And they’re making them so neat with the covers that fold over inside like the book jackets on hard covers. It sure is a conundrum, that’s for sure. Some of them were so small too. So easy to hold in your hand. That’s something else that makes the book so neat, that I’m not sure an e-reader can duplicate. But I’ll have to ask someone who owns one.

    Comment by Julianne Carlile — December 22, 2011 @ 7:35 am

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