Thursday, April 10, 2008

The future of books

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — In our family photograph albums and the minds of my siblings, I have always been the one with the book in my hands.
There are images of me sitting in a tree, reading; relaxing on the beach, reading; in a hammock, reading. There are shots of me reading on road trips (I never believed those old wives’ tales, that reading makes you carsick)...and even reading in conjunction with my favorite sport, swimming. There was a raft at my grandparents’ lake resort, and a time or two, I really did figure out a way to swim our there without getting my paperback novel du jour wet. Who says that reading is just a couch potato sport? I credit my splashless swimming skills (developed to a fine art while reading “Gone With the Wind” in lakes and rivers) with helping me get a spot on my high school synchronized swimming team.
When my big sister took a family psychology course and had to draw portraits of the whole tribe in characteristic poses, we all ended up in the family forest. Our little brother got a fishing pole and I think others got sports equipment, musical instruments, artists’ brushes, canoe paddles...
I got a book.
During my recent full-tilt spring housecleaning, I threw out a lot of stuff, but nothing in the book category. I did decided to lend small libraries in specific subject areas recently to good friends. I agree with Edgar Cayce that knowledge not used is sin (I have several shelves devoted to out-of-print Cayce tomes), and those books were just begging for an attentive audience.
Even, so I violated my new maxim not to bring any new storage items in until I’ve cleared out an equivalent amount of shelves or closet space. I bought two new bookcases and finally got all those review books off my bedroom floor and up where I could see them.
But with all of this, I’ve realized I’ve slowed down a lot from my usual rate of five to eight books per week. I’ve talked to other readers and found I am not alone.
Is it Baby Boomer ocular fatigue? I did manage to get through the last Harry Potter book in less than 24-hours, but that’s kind of a rarity, and frankly kind of disappointing for someone who used to be able to get through at least a 700-page book in one sitting.
I wonder if even dedicated old literary dogs are being taught new tricks — or ominously programmed into new reading habits and information assimilation techniques.
Just as I often have three or four story files and one or two search engines open at the same time on my office PC monitor, I routinely am simultaneously reading at least five to 10 books, magazines and newspapers, scattered about in various rooms and nightstands at home.
Sometimes, after a hard day at the office that may have included up to 100 e-mails and dozens of online searches, I find my will to read is pretty much gone.
The WTMI (Way Too Much Information) overload makes me sympathize with Slacker anthems.
“Here we are now, entertain us,” I sing, and crank up the TiVo. And I realize that TiVo, by eliminating irritating commercial breaks, has also cut into my reading time. I used to polish off at least a mystery, a novel or a biography or two each week during commercial breaks.
I’ve watched new generations, including my son and grandson, both enthusiastic readers, devote more time to games and DVDs of various kinds. I felt smugly superior until I contemplated buying a humongous Jane Austen anthology at the bookstore the other day.
Then I remembered I’ve been TiVoing the great PBS Masterpiece Theatre Jane Austen series. I thought about curling up with the big tome and decided to opt for another viewing of the Colin Firth-Jennifer Ehle interpretation of Miss Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.
I’d still rather read the original first before I see the movie versions. And I prefer rereadings to bad movie interpretations, but good dramatizations often win out over reading these days.
Am I a jaded canary in the literary cave, a sign that the book biz is in trouble? I’ve thought about it a lot, and I don’t think so.
There will be more DVDs and iPod downloads and recorded and electronic books for long trips. Forms might change, but humanity will always hunger for good stories, and need talented people to create and present them. And cuddling up with a good book is a pleasure not easily replaced, and likely to endure for generations to come.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

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