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Aug 9, 2022Liked by Line Editor

We didn't have a lot of books growing up, but my folks, despite having limited education, loved books and encouraged us kids to read. What we did have, and revere, was our 80s-vintage "World Book Encyclopedia". Leather bound, gilt edges, yearly supplements, two-volume dictionary. Parents must have spent a fortune at that time. I inherited them, and kept them for a while. When I decided they weren't worth the space they occupied, I couldn't give them away. Sad. I think they went into the blue bin.

I also happen to have a set of children encyclopedias, from 100+ years ago. Those I'm keeping, not just because they belonged to my grandparents. They're a bit of a time-capsule. Even the smell. Now that I think about it that's a big part. The smell takes me back to childhood.

Great post guys, a nice read on a summer morning.

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Aug 9, 2022Liked by Line Editor

As someone who had the privilege of working at the Toronto Reference Library for twenty-five years my advice is to ignore this oblivious Philistine, not just because his notions about books and libraries and their respective roles check the half-baked, trite and obtuse boxes, but because it doesn't pay to heed people with no soul. To paraphrase Nietzsche slightly, every man repays careful study, but not every man is worth listening to.

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I'm the type of person who gravitates towards old stuff -- especially my old stuff. I still have my first road bicycle, even though it's really not particularly high quality or collectable. Same with guitars -- I still have the one I bought in high school. I still have my vinyl and cassettes too.

Objectively, most of that stuff could be -- or in many cases has been -- supplanted by better, newer stuff. I have newer road and gravel bikes. I listen to Apple Music. But, I still have an emotional connection with the old stuff. It's interlinked with my stories and memories. When I got a new road bike, it was measurably better in almost any metric, but at first it felt cold and offputting. I've had it for about five years now -- and many miles -- and slowly it too is accumlating history and stories with me. It's becoming mine.

All of which to say -- I think the objects that surround us along this earthly existance can get intertwined with our stories and our memories. That's particularly true for books which are intrinsically experiential. We don't revere the object, per-se, we revere what it means to us -- to our lives. It's why I can't let go of my weathered copy of The Beatles Let it Be, even though I can stream it in any quality I want. That object is tied to the memory of my younger self, going to a record store, buying the album because I liked the single, and discovering the rest in my childhood bedroom. It's tied to my story. I think a lot of us feel that way about books, too.

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What an interesting story. I've had the same experience when I've done a U-turn to examine an unexpected pile of books I've spotted. Often a lot of junk. I personally will take my e-reader over a paperback any day for the usual mystery novels that help put me to sleep at night. But when it comes to purchasing a body of knowledge that has meaning for me, I'll take a book any day. I like to mark pages, notate, and go back to re-read a well-turned phrase or passage. I rarely do that with e-books.

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As children in the North with many cold days and nights that were difficult to tell apart, unless one had school or work to divide the mostly darkness, books became a rescue from the harsh reality outside. I still remember my mother reading us the poems of Robert Service at bed time. It was truly mesmerizing as the story lilted along with my mother’s rhythm in the words and it was hard to hear the poems end. We could hardly wait for the next night so we could hear more poems, even though they were often sorrow filled, seemed less so because of the rhythm of the words. It brought to all us kids the want to read to which we all happily do to this day. She shared with us later the misery of the Second World War through books that were found in a cabin by the lake where the owner apparently committed suicide. She and my father ended up buying the cabin which stayed in the family for a long time. We learned from the books and friends enjoyed the beautiful views out of that cabins windows. Books have always been a huge part of my families lives and still are to this day. Burning them is truly a sin but even I have found that space becomes a needed commodity when in short supply. It is good to pass them around so others can read them too. It then becomes their problem to find a place on their shelves or to take them to the second hand store.

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I've been reading books on e-readers for a couple of decades. The biggest problem is when someone asks me what I've been reading, I have no idea. I can give a synopsis but can't for the life of me remember the title. When you aren't picking up the physical book, you never see the title after you start reading -- that and I've lost plenty of grey matter as I age.

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James…James - what has happened ? There are books that deserve to be read on an E reader - mysteries, fluff pieces. And there are books where the prose demands a hard cover, re-reads and contemplation. I have a bookcase that holds books that will be re- read - I loan them but want them back. I have bookshelves that hold books that are an enjoyable read but once read - passed on. And yes - there are some books where awful writing and poor binding scream - junk me.

Holding a beautifully written book is a little piece of magic and there is not enough magic in this world.

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The problem with the ereader is the books cost as much as the paperback. And you can't give it to others. I go to the book store.

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The thing about e-readers and their kin that I find disturbing is that the content on them might not be available in the future. Anyone who has been using computers since their widespread availability will understand my concern. Floppy discs? In my own world, I have updated equipment on a regular basis and I have the dinosaurs in my basement to prove it. If e-readers convince people, for whom the act of reading is not rewarding to read, then that's an important value.

I use an ipad to download books (smaller screens are not comfortable) and, if not for the Gutenberg Project, I would never have had the opportunity to discover great writers who are as long gone as their books. I am particularly interested in writers from periods of considerable social change. Before e-books, I would have had to be in proximity of a `great' library ( and in possession of the appropriate library card) because only these can afford to acquire and make room to store the types of books I am now reading. This was a barrier to many, even if our taxes were funding such libraries, so I see the great value of the democratisation of access to books via e-readers.

Having said all that, I still buy old-style books when I can convince myself I can afford to at that moment, and I borrow old-style books from my local library. I've been reading since before I went to school and am probably too addicted to the look and feel and aroma of paper and ink to be able to completely go `e'. But I do see the value. And I will still make room for book-books, despite the inefficient use of space.

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I do enjoy my e-reader, especially the feature that allows me to borrow from the library right on the kobo. However I am still attracted to actual books and get a thrill going to the library. Sometimes I walk by a book and decide to borrow it even though I have never heard of it before. I am grateful that there’s still books in my lifetime. It will be a sad day when everything is digital.

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Like journalism is just “words” - eh?

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Paper books are now a drag on the market. Nobody wants them (except for the odd few writing here, I guess).

Each branch of the Ottawa Public Library has attached a used book store. People drop off their unwanted books and the library/bookstore sells then cheap -- 50 cents, a dollar, maybe three dollars for a magnificent illustrated volume. But they have too many books and are no longer accepting books. Every so often, on a Saturday, the public is invited to come and take all they want, for free.

The Library itself has "weeded" its collection several times now. Only popular books are left -- the kind people are trying to give away. Gone are the classics like Dickens. And why not? You can find them for free on the Internet. In the place of the books, are activities designed to appeal to adolescents and children. Books have been de-emphasized, we have community activity centers now.

I'm 76 nd we have some 6,000 paper and ink books in our house, the great majority non-fiction. Unfortunately, unlike good fiction, non-fiction does not age well. In science there are new discoveries and syntheses. In the social sciences, ideological swings make whole swaths of "knowledge irrelevant, dangerous even. And college textbooks are often at their umpteenth edition. So nobody will take our books, not our children, not our neighbors, not even the Salvation Army. They will eventually end up as landfill.

Very sad.

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While reading this, I wondered if it was originally written in 2007, the year the Kindle was born, subsequently rediscovered in an old drawer of papers long abandoned.

I found the telling line in this piece to be: "if a book is just a data storage and transmission device". In other words, if all that is happening is transmitting 'data' between storage devices, a book/e-reader and a brain, then the criteria of effective transmission and storage becomes the defining criteria.

If, on the other hand, what is at issue is perception and experience, then the 'medium is the message' becomes more telling. In other words, we aren't just talking about technological eras measured by the progressive effectiveness of data transmission and storage, but epochs of perception, experience and memory.

When reading an e-book on an e-reader, one becomes a multi-tasking data processor embedded in meshed electronic networks. When one is reading a paper-based book, that world of electronic interconnection is set aside. The paper book is not going to ping me with my multitasking alerts. Although a device in the next room may do so.

And yet, we can not simply re-enter the pre-electric world that once was by pretending to disconnect from particular contemporary surroundings. The world of the paper book library is no longer the central repository of culture it once was. The sacred world of the book is no more. Just like the sacred world of the oral ceremony is no more. At least not in their original states in their originary worlds.

Sitting with a paper book in our hands conjures a set of relationships, of past, present and future, that an e-book, as medium, can neither store nor transmit, between reader, author, audience and wider world. As was the oral world of cultural transmission between elder and child, displaced by the book, it is to conjure a world, a world of which the e-reader is not a part. While these worlds may intersect, their centres have shifted.

Saying so in an e-message can not undo the profound implications of the messages the medium is determined to communicate. The world it is condemned to conjure. The e-reader can not produce the world of the paper book, because a world is not just a pile of data.

As data storage, a paper book library is redundant to the point of insignificance. Piles of inefficient paper. Let them burn, or better, decompose into a patient hungry earth. As repository of a perceptual world in which we are less and less implicated, it becomes a visit to the graves of one's ancestors. With all that implies of memory and the perception of loss. A difference of telling versus being.


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I absolutely hate e-books and avoid them at all costs. If I'm going to read, l want to read a physical book, feel and smell the page and enjoy the sensation and act of reading this way. Garbage quality printed books exist, what a surprise... they also exist digitally too. If you're fussy about your reading choices, as l am, you're seldom disappointed.

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Neat little reflection on reading and books; it contained a many possibilities for further thinking. I’ll go down one path.

Reading is ambiguous as a virtue. It's not unfamiliar to see a villain depicted in a large library. Think of Moriarty from the Sherlock home stories or the antagonists in a John Buchan novel - wealthy and corrupt British nobility. Having a library, or knowledge, or an education, does not make you virtuous.

Yet the destruction of books, their oppression, makes us very wary. It seems to us there is virtue in fighting against censorship, in access to books and libraries, there is value in literacy and the great books that contribute to our civilization.

I recently read Farenheit 451. The author, Ray Brabury, is certainly a lover of books: he sees the as persons. The prose is a little slow but it's eerie how well Bradbury senses our direction as a society. Instead of reading, people in future world have walls covered with monitors and they can watch videos all night long alongside digital friends popping pills. In this world, some books are allowed, just not literature. You can read propaganda and how-to-manuals. Every other book is burned. You are executed if you hide books. What Bradbury discerns is that this state did not happen through authoritarian measures. It was the people who allowed the banning and burning of books.

He also comes to make a further point. It’s not just the book. There is an idea behind the book which is worth preserving. Will the character find a way to preserve the ideas being lost through book burning?

I think this is similar to the argument in today’s argument. Both printed volume, or e-version, can access and preserve the idea of the books.

Reading transcends literally reading a book. It is an activity. It is an act of leisure. We can read an artwork or the forest floor or each other's faces. I think reading books helps to also read our world.

With this in mind, I don’t think Bradbury would take issue with the e-reader, the medium, in particular. But he does sense how we lose things, in our technological shifts.

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Great article. I'm guilty as charged re: holding on to books I've read once and have no plans to ever open again.

Perhaps that comes from our grandparents and ancestors who were lucky enough to be literate but poor enough not to be able to indulge in the somewhat expensive portal to knowledge and escape that printed literature provided at the time.

As for e-readers..I have one and read many books in that format but nothing will replace a hot bath and a print novel

Cheers from SE Alberta

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