I love libraries. One of my earliest memories was going to the Ocean Beach Public Library, possibly still in a stroller, so my young mother could feed her reading addiction with old musty novels from the 1930s and 1940s … wait, they wouldn’t have been old and musty then but rather new and shiny. After the library we would do a little shopping on Newport and maybe have a cherry coke.

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Reading, One Library At a Time

images.jpgMany years ago I would travel down to the local library every few days and scan the stacks for any books that caught my eye. This was a leftover habit I shared with my mother back in Southern California. But she was the champ: she would walk into that library with  a stack of books she had just read and would end up walking out of the library with a new stack of books to read.

My mother surprisingly had read most of the well-known classics and in her later years had turned to mysteries and then when those were all gone she took up those big fat historical romances with Fabio on the cover. It’s hard to believe but she would regularly read three of those romances in a single day. So when I suggest that she read a lot, it’s true. My mom didn’t always read books I would be proud to read and she was seldom up for a rousing discussion of the merits of English Literature, but she did read a lot.

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Paper Books vs. Digital Books

There has been a long, highly repetitious discussion of eBooks vs. proper books, fueled mostly by a mention in Freshly Pressed (which highlights sites on this service) and I don’t see a good reason to post any additional comments but rather will post a few considerations here.

First, the viability of printed books in the growing age of digital books is strictly a reflection of market forces. No matter how many subscribers to a weblog dedicated to reading announce that they prefer books, the smell of books, the juvenile prestige of being seen reading a big fat book, the love of idly flipping through pages or desperately flipping through pages looking for a vaguely remembered passage, or the glory of bookshelves full of books (read or unread), if the publishers can make a bigger profit off of digital editions, the traditional books will soon be priced as luxury items and effectively disappear from most of the reading market.

I don’t suspect all books will disappear. There are many that are more easily accessed in traditional book form, at least for now. Two types of books I have heard mentioned are children’s picture books and student text books. These are bad examples.

Printed books are a relic of the past and will never improve whereas digital books are today mostly just copies of traditional books with a few digital enhancements like a keen search feature that eliminates endless page flipping to find a passage. But we are beginning to see more digital books incorporating other digital media which expands and enhances the book. I have several digital books today which are interactive, embed video or audio, link to footnotes or alternate texts, allow changes to text size, bookmarks, notes, etc. The best I have ever seen a proper book do in this direction is to tape a CD on the back inside cover.

Some first edition hardbound books are printed using different colored text where the author indicates and including color plates but this is very expensive and usually disappears after the earlier editions. By the time the book comes out in paper it is all black and white. Multiple colors (not just four but thousands) are trivial enhancements to digital books. True, color requires a color reader but most vendors have been enhancing their readers and a color option is readily available.

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