Saturday, January 14, 2006


A month or so ago, Science had an article called "The Real Death of Print." The digitization of hundreds of thousands of books old and new, and the advent of new display technologies such as flexible screens (e-paper) will soon put print out of business, says Science.

Well, maybe. This isn't the first time the demise of paper books has been ballyhooed.

To be sure, there are marvelous advantages to having books available on the internet, most important of which is searchability. Yesterday, I was asked by a magazine to check some possible discrepancies in quotes for an article I had written. I'm far away from the library where I found the original sources, but I was able to google both of the quotes in a flash. Voila!

And, well, yes, I'm getting used to downloading music. Over the years I've tossed out 78s, 45s, LPs, and cassette tapes. My CDs will presumably go next. Flash memory music sales are overdue, but may never come. CDs may be the last in-store format.

But books?

Readers will know I recently finished reading Sigrid's Undset's 1200-page novel, Kristin Lavransdatter. Why lug around all that wood pulp if I could read the book page by page on a single piece of e-paper? I'll tell you why. Because I love the feel of wood pulp. I love the heft, the crinkle of the page. I love underlining, and writing notes in the margin. I love seeing just how far I have come, and how far I have to go. I love those notes at the back of the book: This book was set in Janson, a typeface long thought to have been made by the Dutchman Anton Janson but has been conclusively demonstrated to be the work of the Hungarian Nicholas Kis (1650-1702). I love waking up from an inadvertent nap with a pound or two of history resting on my chest.