The teenager who said those words was shifting his weight back and forth from his left side to his right. He was still hanging around despite being unsuccessful in his mission.
He had just finished pitching me on why I should give him money and, if he got enough, his school would “kick him out of the country” on a trip to Europe. I had explained some economic conditions that discouraged me giving him money just then. To my surprise, he stuck around to ask a few more questions, such as what I did for a living (I should have sent him to the FAQ).
I threw out that I was writing for a living now and expected that to be the end of it, but he pursued the line of questioning with genuine interest. After hearing the premise of the book and some details, he uttered the titular line above. We exchanged a few more pleasantries and, in a fit of guilt over not rewarding such a personable teen, I suggested he return to see me in a year and if the book was a big seller I would pay for his trip to Europe. He laughed and said “deal”. While there is no reason to expect him to come back, if he did and the conditions were met, I would fill my end of the bargain. He was an engaging and imaginative person to talk with. If he cultivates that, he will be able to leverage that to get a lot of things he wants in life (just not that day).
The comment, though, sparks a flame of debate about the direction and health of printed materials in general and books specifically. There have been numerous times when the catch-phrase “print is dead” has been trotted out. Perhaps the 21st century is when that comes true.
I find in interesting how many people I talk to about the book suggest it would make a good movie. The implied statement is “I don’t have the time to buy and read your book, but I would watch the movie”. Rather than excite me with visions of Hollywood, it depresses me thinking about the death of bookstores.
I grew up with bookstores. No, this is not one of those maudlin “when I was young” riffs. I’ve always enjoyed reading and had the pleasure of working in a small bookstore for a few years prior to heading off to college. I worked all the way up to Assistant Manager (no great feat, since there was only the owner, his duaghter and me, and she didn’t like to get up early). This was the old-fashioned new and used book store, which allowed a customer to trade old books in for new (and a nominal cash fee). I was surrounded by thousands of books to read. Heaven!
It was natural, then, that my creative bent would be to writing books, not films. Which is not to say I don’t love watching films, have a big screen TV or eagerly await some film-version of my favorite books. All those things. But I still love to read. And, for my money, nothing beats holding a thick paperback with a bookmark (of whatever, business card, magazine reply card, Elsie stick…even a bookmark) in the pages. They go anywhere and don’t require batteries or recharging to use.
A while ago, a friend of mine bought me a Kindle. I like gadgets, I just don’t buy a lot of them. She thought this would be a way to get me to join modern society. It’s impressive. The technological leap from a heavy, awkward print item (book, magazine or newspaper) to a lightweight, easy-to-store “e-reader”. And, since it’s electronic, the newer generation isn’t “embarrassed” to be seen with one.
But guess what? It’s still print.
Just as printing presses advanced from chipping into stone blocks to hand scribing to setting lines of type to computer typesetting, the transferal of printed matter to electronic delivery doesn’t mean the “death of print”, just the transformation of it. I’m not suggesting that thousands of employees of printing companies should suddenly stand up and celebrate. The unfortunate truth about many technologies that we enjoy is we tend not to recognize the human cost behind that “modern marvel”. I am proposing, however, that the mere transfer of words from paper to screen does not mean the end of reading. We’ll leave that to texting.
It does emphasize the increasing shift of our society towards instant gratification. Why bother reading a book for a few days when you can watch the movie in an hour and a half? Which always brings up the ironically funny corollary when a film is over two hours: “Man, that film was way too long!”. Try the book if you want to “waste” some time.
So, does that mean people no longer have the patience to read a novel? Do the talents required to consider the nuances and exercise imagination when reading no longer exist in the human gene pool? Ridiculous, of course. Are books boring? Also ridiculous. But perhaps books just aren’t “cool”. They don’t flash. They don’t make noise. You can’t turn them on or plug them in. In fact, a book requires that you do ALL the work. In a world filled with video games played through phones, books must appear like a dump truck vs. a Ferrari. No wonder bookstores have turned into “emporiums”, attempting to grab you with all forms of media or hope you’ll pay for some expensive coffee. And free Wi-Fi!
So, I do celebrate e-readers. They may just save reading in our culture. But I sure hope we can still find some reason to keep printing books for old farts like me to enjoy. I’ve got all these bookmarks that would become utterly useless without them.
Oh, and for the record, yeah, I think my book would make a great movie. But I’m biased. Maybe you should read it first.