Old Books Never Die…

ghost book copyMy friend Barbara and I were talking recently about the state of our local public libraries. (This is the same friend with whom I have long conversations about hot grammar topics.)

She was bemoaning the fact that, on a recent trip to the library, she couldn’t find a book she had borrowed years ago from that same library and wanted to reread. It was one of Linda Ellerbee’s autobiographical works.

“They have the first one and the third one, but not the one in between,” Barbara harrumphed.

She even tried track it down in the wider county library system but couldn’t find it.

“Where do all those books go?” she asked.

That’s a great question. Librarians have to constantly rotate their literary stock. Think of all those new books being published each day. Many library patrons want to read the latest and greatest, which means old books have to move out to make room.

How do librarians choose which books stay and which go? I’d imagine circulation numbers play a huge role in the decision. If someone hasn’t read the book in a while, why keep it? That doesn’t mean that it isn’t a great book, though.

There may be some other cabalistic librarian mumbo-jumbo that plays a part in that choice. Yet you can bet your bottom dollar that those books on their way out of the stacks don’t just get thrown into the trash. (I swoon at the thought!) They often find refuge in bibliophiles’ private collections.

I often worry about all those ebooks floating around out there. The sheer volume of books being produced electronically is mind boggling. I often picture obscure ebooks huddled in the corner of my Kindle.

Although we may worry about those books that are no longer popular enough to stay on library shelves, we can still find them with some concerted digging. They are not dead; they’ve just faded away.

Let’s give a shout-out to Linda Ellerbee, one of my journalistic heroines!


E-Books and the Changing Writer

I’m reading an e-book, APE – Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur: How to Publish a Book, by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch. It talks about how electronic communication is changing the face of publishing, especially for the writer.

Now, I’m a traditionalist when it comes to books. I like the feel of one in my hand and the subliminal sense of accomplishment as I turn each page. But it’s obvious that e-books offer many benefits hard copy books can’t compete with: convenience, instant access, less physical space, online dictionaries, and Internet connectivity.

I must confess there are times I turn to my Kindle before my bookcase. (Hey, I still wouldn’t have a Kindle if my daughter hadn’t given it to me as a Christmas present a couple of years ago.) Mostly this is for non-fiction and professional reading.

What really got me thinking, though, is Mr. Kawasaki’s repeated comment that traditional publishing and books will always be around for Annie Liebovitz-type coffee table books. I’m not so sure this will be true.

E-readers now are more computer tablets than the text-based offerings they used to be. This means photographs can be viewed in more detail. Not only that, we may see “e-readers” present illustrations in 3D format.

What could be even more exciting – for both the reader and the writer – is the interactivity this new wave of e-readers affords. Now, it is possible for readers to get involved with and even change the course of a story. This is a wonderful and scary prospect for writers.

How will this change writing? Well, writers may need to offer varying scenarios from which their readers can choose. Writers will need to change their perspective from omniscient storyteller to collaborative storyteller. The reader-writer relationship may become more like the storytelling game where one person starts it off and others pick it up along the way.

Even non-fiction writing may change. It may develop into shorter works whose subjects can be accessed on demand when the reader needs it. And the written information can be fused with video to increase the reader’s capability to process what she needs. We already see this on news websites.

This is all very interesting, but I see some drawbacks. The biggest one is the potential inability for readers to sustain their attention for long periods and process what they read.

We already see that, thanks to the Internet, most people are scanners these days instead of deep readers. They have access to more visuals like photos and videos. Writers, both fiction and non-fiction, already have adjusted to these shorter attention spans with briefer chapters and less description.

It will be very interesting to see where all this leads us. No matter what, there is no doubt writers will need to adapt.

Books–An Impossible Addiction to Kick

Hi, my name’s Annette, and I’m a book addict. It’s been shady bookthree days since I bought a book.

It all started innocently enough. I got my books free at first. My parents pushed picture books and easy readers like the Golden Books at me. Then I got into the good stuff – Dr. Suess’s Hop on Pop, Cat in the Hat, and the “primo” Green Eggs and Ham.

There was no turning back. Dolls or toys for my birthday or Christmas? I didn’t want no stinkin’ toys! Gimme books! And they happily fed my addiction. The piles started building. Books crammed my shelves, towered on my bureau, and scattered across my floor.

The Methadone Equivalent

Oh, I tried to cut down and quit. I can still remember the rush of my first library card (restricted to the children’s room at first). It was amazing! I could bring lots of books home with me! Of course, I had to return them, but then I could get another stack to take home for a while. Brilliant! Genius!

I made my acquaintance with Beatrix Potter and Dr. Doolittle. I swam in the high of new worlds and new characters. When I got my “adult” card, I hit dizzying heights. There was just so much to read – fiction, biographies, histories, how-to books. I almost overdosed.

Every Saturday I would head out to the library. I would cruise the card catalog, pull out a drawer, and run my fingers through the cards, the scent of countless others who had gone before wafting up.

Then I would saunter through the stacks, caressing the bindings as I went. I’d stop, pull out a book, and read the synopsis on the cover. Maybe I’d put it back to revisit another time. Maybe I’d tuck in under my arm to bring home for a an intimate snuggle.

Falling Off the Bookmobile

But then, I grew up, and trips to the library became rare. There was no time to stop in, and it was too far away. This is where I started getting into real trouble. I started buying books from bookstores. The problem was that I didn’t have a lot of extra money.

“I have to have this book! If I glue the soles back on my shoes, I can squeeze a couple of more weeks out of them,” I’d rationalize.

I couldn’t sustain that kind of spending for too long, so I ended up in the book buying “underground.” Yes, I’m talking about yard sales, estate sales, flea markets, and thrift stores. I got The Federalist Papers for a quarter, for crying out loud! Who could pass that up?

The library itself has become a book-buying source. There are fewer and fewer books on the shelves to borrow. They are being migrated to THE BOOK SALE, where you can get a bagful for $1.

“Wanna sign up to borrow e-books?” the librarian huskily whispered as I clutched my bag and plunked down my $1. I hid my face in my hands and sobbed, “Yes!”

The Book Pipeline

The Internet has proved calamitous to my addiction. Now, I don’t even have to leave my house to get used books. I can get them delivered from sites like Alibris and Thriftbooks. My fellow addicts and I rotate our books in a circle of readers. Only the Postal Service knows the volume we move.

E-books don’t help, either. If I’m not buying discount books from Amazon, I’m downloading free books from Project Gutenberg. (Although e-books are convenient, I still like the feel of a real book, with pages to turn.)

There is no hope that I’ll ever contain my addiction. Recently, my grandson visited and marveled at the number of books I owned. He looked over the books loaded into the built-in shelves in the guest room.

“Wow! Nonna,” he said. “You sure have a lot of books.”

“Which ones would you like to take home with you?”

And so it goes…