Wednesday, January 13, 2016

ON eBOOKS

Cathy Suter has been working as our managing editor for the past five and a half years. Earlier she was employed by Columbia University Press, Abrams, and Philosophical Library where she did editorial work. A resident of East Hampton, she is also a painter whose works have been exhibited nationally at well over a dozen galleries. In her spare times she’s also raised four daughters. It’s been our good fortune to have her on our staff, and a pleasure to share her unique blog with you.


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“As with any new form of communication based on technology, eBooks have sparked their own brand of controversy.  Some readers fear that eBooks have pulled down the quality of writing. Others feel that the experience of reading an eBook is vastly inferior; they miss the smell, the look, the feel of the printed book. There’s an artist named Rachael Morrison, who’s made it her project to go through the Museum of Modern Art’s library and smell each and every one of their 300,000 books, cataloging their unique scent. 

“Like other technological innovations, they will most likely work their way into society, subject to momentary trends, but ultimately sticking around, evolving, and becoming routine. Readers can take innumerable eBooks with them on a trip to Europe or on a hike up a mountain. A passenger of a two seater plane can take thousands of eBooks with them on a kindle. Charles Lindbergh, who took stamps off his letters so as to reduce the weight on his aircraft during his first trans-Atlantic voyage, would have had the option of taking a lot of reading material to Paris.  In the future, eBooks could be a valuable resource in prisons if the right kind of eReader is ever developed, since, sadly, printed books are considered dangerous because they can be used to smuggle in contraband or flood a toilet in a prison cell in order to create diversion. A company called Library For All seeks donations of eBooks to send to libraries in developing countries around the world, where poverty and disorganized infrastructures, as in places like Haiti, make getting print books nearly impossible. And Digital Book World just reported that libraries lent a record number of eBooks and audiobooks to patrons in 2015. There is also another layer of responsibility that comes with this instantaneous (almost), organic and globalized way of sharing books, because the bestseller in one culture could be heavily censored in another.

“Throughout history, most every major change in communication has been greeted with skepticism.  Socrates elaborates in Plato’s Dialogue The Phaedrus, written around 370 BC, on the dangers of writing as opposed to the spoken word: ‘Writing, Phaedrus, has this strange quality, and is very like painting; for the creatures of painting stand like living beings, but if one asks them a question, they preserve a solemn silence. And so it is with written words; you might think they spoke as if they had intelligence, but if you question them, wishing to know about their sayings, they always say only one and the same thing. And every word, when once it is written, is bandied about, alike among those who understand and those who have no interest in it, and it knows not to whom to speak or not to speak; when ill-treated or unjustly reviled it always needs its father to help it; for it has no power to protect or help itself.'

“In his book Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirkey discusses the printing revolution:  ‘There was an abbot, Johannes Trithemius, who was so alarmed by the changes that threatened the livelihoods of monastic scribes that he wrote De Laude Scriptorum (In praise of scribes), but ironically, to achieve widest possible distribution, had it published via the printing press’

"And in the esteemed Scientific Journal Nature, this excerpt from an article entitled ‘Nature’s Revenge on Genius’ appeared in November 1889.  ‘At present our most dangerous pet is electricity—in the telegraph, the street lamp and the telephone. We have introduced electric power into our simplest domestic industries, and we have woven this most subtile of agents, once active only in the sublimest manifestations of Omnipotence, like a web about our dwellings, and filled our atmosphere with the filaments of death.

“ ‘The telephone is the most dangerous of all because it enters into every dwelling. Its interminable network of wires is a perpetual menace to life and property. In its best performance it is only a convenience. It was never a necessity. In a multitude of cities its service is unsatisfactory and is being dispensed with. It may not be expedient that it should be wholly abolished, but its operation may be so curtailed and systematized as to render it comparatively innocuous.’

“At least eReaders are mostly wireless…”


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I’d welcome your comments below. If you want to contact Cathy directly you can reach her at cathy@thepermanentpress.com.

COMING NEXT WEEK a blog from Charles Davis, whose historical, philosophical, inventive, and hysterical novel, Hitler Mussolini and Me, will be published by us in May.

1 comment:

  1. What a thoughtful, informative, quirky, sweet essay. What the hell is it doing here? Ought to be in Harper's or something. Anyway, thanks Cathy (& Marty) for making it available. Oh, and when she finishes her project be sure to give us a full report on that artist who's smelling library books. This I want to see.

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