a note on the printed word

Book luddites unite! I have a new button, and you can have it too if you’re a printed-book lover, just click on the image below for the code. It doesn’t do anything except to look pretty and to help you say “I like books, wohoo!” even louder than before.

Read the Printed Word!

I am not one of those people who claims that reading words on paper is somehow more valuable than reading words on a screen. I just like reading words on paper. A lot. And I especially like the way that books, when I am finished with them, are capable of bio-degrading, or becoming a fire starter in my woodstove. Unlike the plastic and metal parts of my computer/phone/Kindle/whatever. When the world goes to shit those aren’t going to be useful at all.

Of course, industry can rain on just about any parade, and the book printing and binding industry are using nasty chemicals (that tend to end up floating around in all sorts of places where they shouldn’t be), and when I think about what a world post-industrial-civilization would look like, I often wonder what would become of the printed word. I have a friend intent on arming himself and defending the public library from looters, if it comes to that (ever read A Canticle for Lebowitz*?), and I know that if we lived in the same place in a collapse situation I’d be right there beside him.

That being said I can’t imagine that mass-market printing would continue in any form after a big economic crash or environmental disaster. (Though I bet there would be tiny pockets of steam punks running big bulky presses and laughing at the rest of the world from beneath their monocles and well-brushed top hats.) I can imagine enormous public libraries whose books are painstakingly re-copied onto paper handmade from the contents of this century’s trash bins. I can imagine traveling tellers, and evenings spent listening instead of reading. I can imagine printing very small runs on hand-run presses, and I can imagine the crafts handwriting and oral storytelling becoming highly valued art forms. And though the thought of having to become more social than I currently am in order to continue my trade, a world with neither Kindles or mass-produced books doesn’t sound all that bad.

Where do you stand on the debate about the printed word? Are you newly in love with your Kindle (depsite previous misgivings)? Or are you a printed-book fetishist, like me? Would you be beside us, defending the public library from the hands of the angry mobs so that humans could continue to learn from their mistakes and their successes in a world lacking the electricity to run electronic reading devices?

*In case you haven’t read it, A Canticle for Liebowitz is a post-apocalyptic novel that takes place thousands of years after humans destroy most of the world with bombs (nukes, if I recall correctly) and send the world catapulting back into the dark ages. After all the destruction, the masses get very upset with the scientists of the world for having made it all possible; professors are lynched and libraries are burned.

PS Next week I’ll be getting back to doing regular dumspter finds of the week on Wednesdays; I’ve got a heap of finds waiting to be photographed at home and a new submission from Nashville, TN.

0 Comments on “a note on the printed word

  1. I love the printed word, and I love to buy books. I don’t own a kindle and I don’t want one. One wall in my living room is a book case (It has two sliding glass doors in it, so there aren’t that many books) and there are quite a few things in it I haven’t read yet. Some books were gifts, or I just bought them in second hand stores because I liked the way they looked (the Somerset Maughm comes to mind), and post-industrial world, I’ll be glad I have a store of reading material to keep me occupied.

    I have a separate book case in the kitchen for my cookbooks, which I hardly ever break open anymore. But I’m still glad I have them all. I like books.

  2. when the post industrial apocalypse comes, i will be one of those steampunks running semi-bulky (but hand operated and non-electric!) presses and giggling wildly. which is to say, i’m already a letterpress printer (and i do giggle wildly), in addition to being a writer.

    in this world, i am so ok with the electronic word in whatever form is convenient — it’s only fair, i think — reading is great in whatever form it comes. i don’t have a kindle or other e-reader for cash reasons, but (obviously) i read a ton on the internet and i think it is great that some of my favorite short stories and even novels are available online so so easily.

    to me, as a writer and as a letterpress printer, the printed book in its current form (mass produced) represents all kinds of dysfunctions — the control over much of what is considered literature by a handful of large companies, the fact that a large percentage of books published are pulped before they can be sold (because mass produced print runs are large and some audiences are small, etc. etc. So I’m not that attached to trade paperbacks (which will yellow and become brittle and eventually disintegrate over the next hundred years due to all the bleach in the flimsy wood pulp paper) — but I am a definite fetishist for small runs of good-quality handmade books on archival cotton rag paper that really will last forever (or for as long as necessary).

    and sorry this comment is so long and rambling, but about those man-powered presses — it’s relatively easy to print a run of, say, one thousand copies. if the post-industrial world really does come, i don’t think we’ll have much of a need for mass-produced anything (all economies, even the intellectual economy, will probably become hyper local), so a thousand copies of whatever books we’re writing will probably be more than adequate. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. I’m a librarian, so people expect me to have strong opinions about this sort of thing, but I don’t. I don’t own an ebook reader, and there is something undeniably sexy about paper books, with their textures and smells and inky typefaces. But I really have no objection to ebook readers, their use or proliferation (other than the increased use of resources and toxic substances in their production, as with any electronic device). I just think it’s great that people are reading.

    That said, I just learned to use a real old-school letterpress and it is RAD.

  4. You guys are awesome. And Annemarie, I loved how long your comment was. I was mentally high fiving you the whole way through it too. So glad some people with hand run presses read this blog. Neat. I think I would giggle too, running an awesome old printing press. Hot damn.

    I am a total book fetishist myself. Sometimes I am just content to sit and stare at my bookshelves, or leaf through my favorites to reread random passages. (I keep the books I’ve read separate from the books I have yet to read, so staring at them also makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something impressive. ๐Ÿ™‚ ) I only keep the books I’ve really loved and think I’ll read again to keep things manageable and compatible with tiny house living, but I feel happiest when I’m surrounded by books. I like to think of them as incredibly useful decoration.

    I love books, I love the way they smell, and the way that they feel in my hand. I love wandering around libraries (wooo public libraries!!!) and the first thing I do when I’m at someone’s house for the first time is look through their bookshelves. That being said, it seems that Kindles could be incredibly beneficial for certain types of reading. Textbooks, for example. I would have really liked it if I could have spend my whole college years with just a slim pad to carry around with all my textbooks on it, maybe even get those textbooks a little cheaper than the insane prices they were since the material costs had been cut out. Would have saved a lot of backache and classes where oops I grabbed the wrong book on my way out the door. Would have been pretty sweet the whole way through school really. I wonder if schools will eventually do just that.

    And while I’m rambling on and on here, I heard something really disturbing recently about libraries that were starting to stock eBooks. And what I read was that publishers were trying to do shit like make the eBooks self destruct after the 26th reader so that the library had to buy the book again and again. Hoe fucked up is that? Publishers never had a problem with libraries just owning one copy of their books and loaning them out for forever before. And now they’re so freaked by the whole “is the internet destroying publishing question” that they’re becoming even bigger assholes then they already were.

  5. First of all: I love reading. Ever did, since I was a young boy – yeah, hooray to the public libraries. But I don’t give a shit about the form. Ok, I do like nice looking stuff more than ugly rows of letters using the times font, but I don’t mind if it’s analog or digital. Yes, it’s nice to own this first hardcover issue from Pynchon’s “Against the Day”, but have you ever tried to read a monster of a book like this while lying in bed? Well, using an e-reader suddenly becomes a nice idea;).

    Recently I was “forced” to fill the final space at my “bookwall” with additional shelves. When these are filled I need to sort out old books for new ones. What I do regulary anyway. And no plans of moving as all this books would be part of the problem. But Harddisk space is available and nearly endless. So, why not using digital books. No need for printers, publishers, shops … all this work and effort could go into the books. Besides the writing and lectorship hardly any costs. So for practical and also enviromental reasons I’d prefer conveniently copyable digital books/information as well. (Fuck copyright and don’t mix it into the discussion as it’s only an annoyance, but not an argument for/against different technics to transport “written words”. May the book industry share their special compartment of hell with the music and film companies soon.)

    All this said, I just want to add, if necessary I’ll join you all at the post industrial apocalypse steampunk hand operated and non-electric presses. Although I offen think reading is a skill threatened with extinction even now, I’d do my share to keep it alive.

    Hmm. This was a long one too.

    PS: The post-apocalyptic movie “Book of Eli” could have been a nice one. Unfortunatly they messed it up with useless religious bullshit.

  6. I love books but in my quest to live more simply and get rid of all of my stuff I took the plunge and bought a kindle and man, i love it!

    im not a techy person but the fact that I can have a 1000 books on my kindle instead of in my apartment is just a huge space saver. I still have a bookcase that has all of my favorite books, especially art/photography books that you cant read on a kindle, but for everyday reading the kindle has been awesome.

    im trying to disconnect from cells, computers, etc but this is one device that has actually helped to simply my life but to each their own! take care!

  7. oh and one more thing, there are TONS of free books and pdfs on the internet and if you download calibre, a free download that creates a library of all your books on your computer, it can take these books and pdfs and change them into whatever format your e-reader is! it can even do that with magazines and newspapers. cool stuff! okay, ill stop geeking out now…

  8. I think this is a, excuse me, false argument. I just shipped 4 cases of books back from the US (yeah Book Expo) and always travel with my Kindle (no weight!).
    Readers read.

  9. @ gegengluck: You know, I was just reading something about ebooks in Germany (and how they cost about as much as regular print books here, whereas in the States ebooks are much cheaper), and they were making the argument that the cost of production, at least for the transition time and the initial conversion of the files, etc, was costing them just as much. Wonder if it’s true or if they’re just bitching and moaning because the publishing industry seems to be so weirded out by the whole digitalization of everything and uncertain of their paycheck’s place in it.

    I can’t say I really understand how these readers can be lauded as more environmentally friendly than print books though. Neither are doing a lot to help the environment, that’s true, but at least books aren’t made primarly of plastic and rare earth metals. (You can read an article about Kindles and rare earth metals here: http://www.goinggreentoday.com/blog/to-kindle-or-not-to-kindle/) The fact that I own a computer containing all this shit at all is distrubing enough to me. If I’m going to read something on a screen I’m going to do it on the machine I already own (laptop) instead of buying a second single purpose machine. At the end of the day I feel like the Kindle is mostly just another way to get us to buy more crap. But it does have its advantages.

    Def a good point about the reader being easier to hold as opposed to an enormous book. Follows my argument about textbooks being something I could imagine prefering to have on a reader as well.

    @ Chris: Yeah there def is a space-saving element to having a Kindle as opposed to lots of books. (Though arguably the public library serves this purpose just as well. God I miss good public libraries full of English language books!!!!) I just don’t want to be dependent on yet another product that requires electricity, especially for one of my favorite activities.

    @GinBerlin: Which argument are you referring to in your comment?

  10. A quote from the article I linked to above: “Even leaving this added energy investment out of the equation, a single Kindle could prevent the release of 370 lbs of CO2 every year. As the Kindle and other e-readers become more popular, the Cleantech Group forecasts they could prevent the release of 22 billion pounds (9.9 billion kg) of carbon dioxide in the period between 2009 and 2012. Thatโ€™s an impressive figure.”

    So there’s the environmentalist argument for ereaders. My perspective, to explain, comes from an angle where I’d rather we stopped mining completely, and plastic production and start living in a way that won’t continue to destroy the habitat we need to survive as a species. While we’re at it I’d be happy to give up electricity (and all the nuclear and coal power plants) and fossil fuel use as well. Unfortunately most people would rather have modern luxuries than a liveable planet, and I don’t shun all those luxuries either because here I am, and there is no way out of this time and place. I just try to keep my personal consumption of stuff like this to the lowest possible minimum.

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