Monday, June 12, 2006

Books and other ways to avoid housework

I have had my head in the sand this past week, working almost every day and brushing up on books of authors whom we had to interview this past weekend. I learned so much from all the writers whose presence I had the fantastic fortune of being in: the mystical Diana Gabaldon, the warm Anita Rau Badami, the intense Kevin Patterson, and the friendly newcomer Robert J Wiersema -- who reminded me of a literary Kevin Smith. I was so inspired after my weekend that I actually began my novel. A few pages in my notebook, but a definite start. I have begun the journey with my characters. I hope I do them justice.

So I was at Book Expo all weekend -- a convention and conference for booksellers, publishers and authors. A lot of talk from the people at Google, MSN and Amazon about the need for publishers to step into the 21st century and the general consensus that the printed book is going the way of the dodo bird.

I guess with the advent of iPod style eReaders, the desperate need for trees to clean our filthy air, and the cost of printing books, this may hold a grain of truth to it. I think it will take a while, but if you told me 5 years ago that I would read the newspaper online everyday, I would have shaken an ink-smeared finger at you and called you a psycho.

Yet at the same time, I spent the weekend snuggling under the covers with books. The sensuous feel of the paper, the sound of turning pages, the faint smell of the print. How can we ever live without these things?

I remember a director talking about the smell of the Steinbeck machines they used to cut film -- actual cellulose. Now a generation of filmmakers and editors smell only Starbucks and hear the whirr of the Mac as they "cut" their films on a computer. I remember people talking about the smell of a vinyl pressing, or even my early days of tearing cellophane off a cassette tape, and then my first CD. Now an entire generation will be obtuse to the joys of cover art, and discovering that song that never makes it to the radio, podcast or online top 40 list.

As our media becomes smaller, more customizable and portable, I realize that a book has always been all these things. So why the need for change? As I sit under the shade of one of the last remaining elm trees in Toronto, I can think of one good reason. As I look at the stacks of books collecting dust on my shelves, and possibly mildew in my basement, waiting to be given a good sweep of my wand, I can think of another. The idea of having your entire library in your hand is appealing. (No more hiding my less impressive guilty pleasures) But oh, how I will mourn the bookstore and the library. Since my childhood they have provided me a place for meditation and reflection, a quiet home for my early scribblings, as well as a tome of knowledge, available to everyone.

Nate's in daycare and I have the day off. I have finished the book I was reading, wiped the last of my tears and completed this blog post. Laundry and dishes await. I'm sure that next decade, they'll be putting computer chips in our brains, so we can read internally while ironing. *sigh*

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