Saturday, July 11, 2009

Books: the constant as technology permeates society

Very recently my friend was accepted into a post-graduate publishing course. It means exciting times ahead, and the industry is lucky to have a young woman with a wise head on her shoulders enter the publishing world. I have no doubt in my mind she is set to become an authority!

We were talking one day about the fact that books will always be sought after. A physical book in the hand can never be replaced by the e-books one can purchase now, it is impossible to fathom every piece of literature being published on the web.

I can’t imagine a world without bookstores, and yet Wellington has already seen Dymocks face liquidation. Whether it is due the recession, or there simply being no need for 5 major book stores on the stretch from Bond Street to Lambton Quay North, I’m unsure.

Incomprehensible to me is a home without books. A book is solace when you want no part in any kind of interaction with humans: this includes television, phone, computers, stereos.

I cannot envisage a train or bus that doesn’t sit one person, nose buried in a book about ‘it’ being not about the bike, or Fabio on the front in some sort of water coloured hue gripping a woman with a perm. I cannot imagine seeing no person (regretfully young or old) reading Harry bloody Potter, or (shudder) The Secret.

When I travel on the old PT system, I’m likely to only have a copy of Turner’s something in my bag, or the latest Vogue. This is because I day dream, or (in a non creepy sense) watch people. Ok, glance at people. Watching is creepy.

You’ll find that a man (possibly wearing a dark trench coat) is likely to be reading the paper in the mornings. He’ll have a two seater to himself, and he’ll have placed all other sections barring ‘World’ and ‘Business’ beside him. In the evening after work, he’ll be reading Obama’s biography.

You’ll be surprised to see a young lad with massive noise cancelling headphones on reading something like The Poisonwood Bible and whisper to yourself ‘good on him!’ before raising an eyebrow at yourself for vocalising.

It won’t surprise you to see 3 different Jodi Picoult books around the place, or at least one copy of Marian Keye’s variously fluro coloured books.

Someone will be heavily involved with For Whom The Bell Tolls or and without doubt Marching Powder will be captivating a 20-something young professional about to embark on their OE. That, or Anthony Kiedis’ Scar Tissue.

So, imagine if everyone turned to owning a PDA, complete with e-books, and books themselves became merely objects of reference for the researchers and the academics of the world?

Now, that cannot ever be me. I don’t see myself owning a PDA. Well, perhaps owning one, pretending to know what to do and reverting back to the Nokia 3330 that finally gave up the ghost and was replaced with a more modern version by my very lovely friends- in turn this was then stolen by kids (but that’s another yarn)- so now I have a generously loaned, very flash Samsung flippy top cell phone.

I think about the 3330 pretty much every day. Seriously.

On that, a slight digress to discuss the flip top: it has Who Wants to be a Millionaire? on it (you play it like the quiz game!), and my goodness does that keep me going! Who can afford to don rose tinted glasses over Pac Man when you’ve got that bad boy stored in your WAP compatible phone! (I don’t know what WAP is: I just chucked that in there for good measure).

We would be in a dreary environment without books. Not just rich leather bound books, surrounded by mahogany furniture, but trashy books, ‘chick lit’ (a dubious term, one I’m not too comfortable in pronouncing in haste….), Shakespeare, contemporary fiction, old faithfuls, the controversial, the classic; the biographical, the diet guides, the self helps and the Bible.

Naturally the old adage ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ comes to mind, but these days aren’t we spoilt for choice in the way books have developed aesthetic appeal? Beautiful presentation almost makes the purchase of a book for those who are less...'regular' in their procurement of literary pleasure. Recipe books, heavy volumes and coffee table books are ideal examples of this.

Travelling from your armchair, relying on your imagination and the imagery an author conjures up for you seems so much more satisfying than having everything at your fingertips.

In terms of historical tomes, technology was limited or non-existent when various subjects lived or incidents occurred. Laborious, extensive research by those passionate enough to delve into the lives, societies, wars, buildings and politics of any past epoch is invaluable to the way we learn about human nature and the significant 'same meat, different gravy' events that shape the world we live in. Naturally much of the world's history can invariably be found on the web, and this is great. But my first thought is not JSTOR, or Wikipedia (as a first point) or any kind of history site. It's not "ooh, I'll flick onto Channel 73 and see if something about Wakefield moseying out to New Zealand is on", it's Michael King's History of New Zealand, it's down to the library to go through old reference books.

The opinions of figures in history are ever changing, and as we become further removed from them, particularly in a young country like NZ, I suppose biases change, science pulls through with tangible evidence of events/mystery surrounding events, and new conclusions are able/have to be drawn.

Anyway, that was a huge offshoot of books in general and how we should treasure them, so I'm going to head off now.

Last night in the latest issue of Vogue, I noticed that 50 Years of Australian Vogue is coming out in a beautifully presented hardcover book.



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