Skip

Books, book bindings, and the death of the book
August 15, 2012 1:23 AM   Subscribe

Ever since something was invented to replace it, people have been predicting the end of the book: The Death Of The Book Through The Ages

Books (specifically, in codex form) contain so much more than text on a page. Folios ( making a comeback!) have instructions on folding. (via)

Codices provide opportunities for unique art forms like paper marbling, poetry, cover design (Previously) (and competition) (via), illustrations, and have inspired paintings. Some people are still hand-making books.

Used books can have a deep effect on the casual browser. You can go to school for rare books, but it is a good idea to get a sense of what makes rare books valuable.
(via)

Take a look, it's in a book ... bindery. Running out of storage room? Try your staircase.
Some people struggle to get the books they desire, while other have too many. Not for the squeamish: For unwanted books, there is no heaven. (a sometimes controversial practice)

If you read a lot, you may find yourself taking on attributes of fictional characters.
Or getting out of a Brazilian prison.

Previously: The Frantic Career of the Eyes

many links via the paris review
posted by the man of twists and turns (60 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
First link needs a change from https to http (or, at least, it didn't work for me until I changed it).
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 1:31 AM on August 15, 2012


Perhaps I should have tried to use Baskerville?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:33 AM on August 15, 2012


Books haven't died, they just evolved with the times. Less books printed means less trees cut down. Less waste all around really. Plus, your ebooks won't attract page-eating/breeding-in critters like roaches.

I had a friend with a huge book collection and kept a clean house, but the damn things kept making a home in her bookcase.
posted by Malice at 1:34 AM on August 15, 2012


[changed the https.]
posted by taz at 1:49 AM on August 15, 2012


You can take my books from my cold, clammy hands at some point after guns have been pried from the American people.

I love this. I love these. I dislike e-Books. And I have been impressed by scrap-booking lately.
I may be old, but damnit.... I have taste.
posted by Mezentian at 2:02 AM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mezentian: I think the point of the article was that books and e-books can exist side by side, just as books co-exist with television and television co-exists with radio.
posted by vacapinta at 2:08 AM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Books ... contain so much more than text on a page.

I cannot imagine not having the books I have read on my own shelves where I can see them. It helps me to catalog and remember everything in my own mind. It helps me to recall what I have read. I can pick up a book I have read in my hands and often without opening it again recall a specific page and passage and where I was when I read it - but if I put it into a box (or worse into some electronic memory) the book and all the words inside disappear from my mind as if I never spent the hours invested into reading it.

For me having a tangible, physical, printed book is really essential tool to arranging my thoughts. I don't really see e-books in my future except for novels read to pass the time which I would not anyway want to commit to memory.
posted by three blind mice at 2:30 AM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, I know that. But, personally, I many people ditched books for e-books, selling their collections. Smart people. Book lovers. And I can see why since Project Gutenberg has a special area devoted to more than 800 science fiction ebooks, for example.

I'm not sure they will co-exist.

People look at me funny for listening to the AM band.
posted by Mezentian at 3:34 AM on August 15, 2012


The phenomenon of finding weird shit scribbled in the margins of a used book is approximated by Wikipedia and TVTropes &c and their dangling footnotes, mid-page arguments and so forth. You can consume an ebook that way if you like. Presently I'm unaware of e-readers with this feature, though.
posted by LogicalDash at 4:02 AM on August 15, 2012


I feel for books, because I do think there's some truth that they're actually dying out. Of course, I also feel old. These things may be related.

I have most certainly not ditched my 4,000ish (?) books, or anything so rash, and I don't plan to. I still buy another bound book every week or two, even though the vast majority of the"library" remains in boxes in two different buildings on a very different continent.

Meanwhile, digital copies of a thousand or so of (mainly the same) books are also on my Kindle and/or tablet and/or phone, and they move with me across oceans just fine. I keep the paper copy, even if I handle it less than I once might have. The electronic version is much more likely to be read, these days, even as I fill up yet another house with pretty paper copies.

Maybe it's a sad thing, but even when both flavors are within reach, the e-book version gets more attention, more love. How can I resist? It's younger, thinner, sexier. Easier on the eyes and easier to hold in the hand. It's a lot more pleasant to take out for a walk, or to the beach for the weekend. Sure, e-books feel more transitory, more fungible... but such are words, anyway, right?

Of course, these physical shelves and those boxes of paper books... they've dug in their heels. They're not going anywhere. But I do believe they're starting to feel the change in the level of attention they're getting. Next time I visit the stacks, I'll make them some nice new bookcases. Or at least give them a few hugs. I'll probably lie to them, sweetly, and tell them that they will last forever. Poor, poor things.

But, and here's where I must admit that I'm probably just old: I don't have anything close to this same attachment or affection toward physical music CDs or DVD movies or whatnot anymore. There was a time, years ago, when I would buy a music CD and rip it (or just download the same one) in much the same way I now buy a book but read the electronic version. But now, I have no interest in the physical CD or movie package anymore. Somewhere along the way, I stopped caring. Maybe it would be different if I was a vinyl person. Those do seem more real, after all, even as they're closer to ancient history, too.

So I have to imagine that people younger and/or less foolishly romantic already feel this way about paper books that I do about CDs and DVDs today: what's the point.

Right or wrong, the young will always win. I feel for books.
posted by rokusan at 4:08 AM on August 15, 2012


Incunabula will be the death of the manuscript!
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:28 AM on August 15, 2012


what's the point.

Anyone who doesn't get the point of physical books has not read very many books in physical form.

Right or wrong, the young will always win.

No, I don't think that's the case. There are plenty of young people who like physical books and plenty of old people who like ebooks. If anything, I've seen more people over 50 with ebook readers than people under 30. (Possibly because I see more people over 50 reading anything at all than people under 30.)

What is winning is money and control. If HugeCorp can sell you a $20 book, that's pretty good. If they can sell you a $200 book reader and then be your sole source for $5 books until the end of time, while also controlling how you share it with others (either individually or in a library), that's a big win.

Not to mention the fact that ebook readers are trendy. Everyone has to jump on the bandwagon, no matter how terrible the actual product is. Look at "smart"phones and, from a few years ago, Tivo. And a much earlier era: microwaves.
posted by DU at 4:31 AM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I suspect that the ebook will take much of the market share of the cheap paperback. As has been repeated often, old media never disappear. The newspaper survived radio, radio survived television, television survived the Internet etc.
posted by Harald74 at 4:42 AM on August 15, 2012


The Dead Of The Book
posted by GallonOfAlan at 4:42 AM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


ebooks will kill the book like the motorcar killed horses and the laptop killed pens.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 4:43 AM on August 15, 2012


> Oh, I know that. But, personally, I many people ditched books for e-books, selling their collections. Smart people.

I work for a library system (although I'm not a librarian*), and over the past few years the number of patron donations has gone from a steady trickle to a stream to a river to a flood to a tsunami. It's gotten to the point where we have to discourage people from bringing books in, because a) we don't have room for them and b) they don't sell, anyway. The vast majority of them will end up in recycling bins or landfills. Meanwhile, e-book checkouts are increasing exponentially. I have seen the future, and it doesn't include many paper books.

* a good friend is, though, and she says she feels like she's sweeping up and turning out the lights on the Book Era
posted by "But who are the Chefs?" at 4:48 AM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


What's this "book" thing?
posted by HuronBob at 4:56 AM on August 15, 2012


The newspaper survived radio, radio survived television, television survived the Internet etc.

None of those things is true. Yes, you can still buy something called a "newspaper" and listen or watch things called "radio" and "television". But they are vastly, vastly reduced from what they once were. There used to be multiple newspaper deliveries per day and extra/special editions, for instance, because people actually got their news from newspaper. There used to be dramas and comedies on the radio, because people actually tried to get entertained from it, rather than using it as background noise. TV at one point had things on it that didn't insult the intelligence of an earthworm.

All of those things are dead now, it's just that the corpses haven't rotted away yet.
posted by DU at 5:02 AM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Books are a versatile, durable technology. They're just superior to e-readers in every way, except perhaps in terms of use of resources and space. They can take an almost infinite variety of forms. They can document almost any kind of knowledge. They can be made to last.

e-readers are transient things made by businesses that want (and get) far too much control over them, that rely on batteries and an industrial infrastructure that won't last as long as a well made book. It would really be a serious loss, in the really really long run, if there were a major shift to data over paper.
posted by byanyothername at 5:05 AM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


If they can sell you a $200 book reader and then be your sole source for $5 books until the end of time,while also controlling how you share it with others (either individually or in a library),that's a big win.

Luckily, there are multiple markets for ebooks, and removing drm and changing formats is so trivial that they exert no effective control.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:06 AM on August 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Anyone who doesn't get the point of physical books has not read very many books in physical form.

Well, I've read a lot of books in physical form. And then I got an ebook reader, and noticed that my arms no longer got tired, that I could fit my entire library in my pocket and take it anywhere, and that the text is now searchable. So I stopped buying printed books, mostly.

Not to mention the fact that ebook readers are trendy. Everyone has to jump on the bandwagon, no matter how terrible the actual product is. Look at "smart"phones and, from a few years ago, Tivo. And a much earlier era: microwaves.

People still have these. Because they work. You cranky old fart.
posted by indubitable at 5:13 AM on August 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


I have Kindle on my iPad, and I like it well enough for fiction -- something I read fairly linearly, rarely going back or jumping ahead. I find it extremely inadequate for non-fiction, where I often want to go back and check something or reread a section in a previous part of the book. I realize that you can place bookmarks, but I usually don't know that when I am reading a passage for the first time, and the Kindle lacks the visual and tactile clues that physical books offer to quickly find an earlier page. Searching only slightly fixes the problem, since it turns something instinctual into something planned, and breaks the train of thought for me.

Obviously, this might get fixed in the future, but, for now, it's a drawback.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:17 AM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Some types of physical books are definitely on the decline in favor of electronic delivery. We'll probably look back on many of the printed books as a misuse of resources and be glad that ebooks came along. Some types of books really should be physical and they probably have enough of a following to remain in print. I think what we are seeing here is a shift in priorities and on the whole a better set of options for reading.
posted by dgran at 5:20 AM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Microwaves work? For something other than popcorn?
posted by DU at 5:23 AM on August 15, 2012


Every time this happens I can't help but think it's the weirdest thing to fight about.
posted by shakespeherian at 5:26 AM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


DU

There used to be dramas and comedies on the radio, because people actually tried to get entertained from it, rather than using it as background noise. TV at one point had things on it that didn't insult the intelligence of an earthworm.

All of those things are dead now, it's just that the corpses haven't rotted away yet.


I live somewhere (Norway) where those things still exist to some degree, so apparently we have different experiences. What you say is probably correct where you live (the US?)
posted by Harald74 at 5:29 AM on August 15, 2012


Yeah, seriously. I use microwaves for the things my microwave is good at and a stove for the things a stove is good at. I use my iPhone for the things my iPhone is good at, and my landline for the things my landline is good at. I listen to the radio in the car and I watch sports on TV, even as the Internet has replaced certain things I used to use radio and TV for.

And I use a computer, tablet, or phone to read some things, and paper to read other things.

For me, personally, e-books haven't yet matched the convenience of paper books -- I have a reader, I have books on it, I've read one, but by and large the books on there just sit there unread. But there are a lot of different use cases and I don't think my personal experience determines the course of technological history.
posted by escabeche at 5:35 AM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have an e-book reader but keep buying paper books. You can't read non-linearly easily with an e-book, so it's best left for instructionals, easy fiction and "business" books. Everything I've bought in paper for the last year is either philosophy or mathematics, and it's a few thousands' worth and possibly 20 meters high. I need to read back and forward these things, particularly because my french ain't so grate yet.
posted by syntaxfree at 5:39 AM on August 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


* a few thousands' dollars worth. Sorry.
posted by syntaxfree at 5:39 AM on August 15, 2012


There used to be dramas and comedies on the radio,

There are podcasts now. The audio entertainment genre is going through a serious revival, from character comedies such as The Bitterest Pill and The Wiretap, to sci-fi and horror with Escape Pod / Pseudopod, and everything in between. I'm a heavy user whenever I need to use my eyes for navigating the world.
posted by syntaxfree at 5:46 AM on August 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


Very good point on the podcasts. And YouTube (etc) vs TV. I guess the lesson there is not that the internet killed radio and TV but that internet killed commercial radio and TV. Which is a reason for hope, but also means it doesn't apply so much to the ebook case, which isn't quite as open.
posted by DU at 5:51 AM on August 15, 2012


personally, I many people ditched books for e-books, selling their collections. Smart people.

If they're smart people discarding their books, I might want their books. Not-so-smart-people can give their 50 Shades Of Gray to the thrift store.

I continue to buy physical books and there are shitloads of books that I want. If very I'm lucky, someday I'll be surrounded by my books (and vinyl), stumbling around them, mumbling like the old man in Logan's Run.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:46 AM on August 15, 2012


Bah, this "book" thing will never last.

Goes back to petting his scrolls.
posted by bswinburn at 6:50 AM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've been a constant reader for ~35 years, and as soon as I figured out how to strip the DRM from ebooks I donated all my paperbacks. Now it's difficult for me to read a novel on paper... I don't miss it in any way.

Movies, though... I feel the same way about movies that the book hoarders feel about books. I have to have a physical copy of the movies that I'll watch again and again, and I just don't understand why people would pay for a digital copy of a movie. I still have a few laserdiscs, for god's sake... that I can't even watch, because I don't have a player.
posted by Huck500 at 7:12 AM on August 15, 2012


uses for unwanted books: A Decaying Book-Wall, a book Maze, a book igloo, and a house.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:31 AM on August 15, 2012




TV at one point had things on it that didn't insult the intelligence of an earthworm.

TV is smarter than it used to be - by a long way. Go back and watch TV from the '50s, '60s - it was much dumber (and it had to be, with no pause button, no replay, no DVDs).
posted by jb at 7:43 AM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Anyone who doesn't get the point of physical books has not read very many books in physical form.

What's not many? 1-5/week for 33 years? (assuming that I wasn't doing that much reading under age 2). That's not counting my qualifying exam prep, which consisted of 1-2 codices/day. I started reading 2 hours/day at age 8, and haven't often dropped below (long schoolbus commute). I've been paid in codices (okay, that bookstore was going out of business). Now I have 4-5 boxes worth on the floor in my hallway, waiting to go to a new home, because I have an ereader and a small apartment - that's after several major purges of my original collection, and I have never bought more than about 1% of the codices that I have read.

Anyone who makes statements like this is talking out their rear end.

Also, I am always shocked to find out that other people did not require a rolling suitcase to transport the books they used in undergraduate back and forth from the library. My friend and I both used one - we'd take the books out in handfuls, but by the end of the term the only way that we could get them back (sometimes 20 or more books per essay) was by using a rolling suitcase - and even then we had to sometimes make more than one trip. We called it "the Bookmobile".

What people say about reading non-linear books (like academic books) is true - they are harder to read than novels. That said, my SO found that he could do a major literature review with ebooks, so long as he was using a Kobo (7inch screen) as opposed to his phone.
posted by jb at 7:57 AM on August 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ebooks also have the advantage of being easier to read on the sly. You don't get any dirty looks from fiddling with your smartphone at work than if you're reading a book.
posted by dr_dank at 8:06 AM on August 15, 2012


1) Everyone who uses an ereader is a bad reader and hates books and tradition and is illiterate and has no aesthetics

2) Everyone who does not use an ereader is a hopelessly outdated troglodyte who never actually reads the books they own because they are too busy posturing intellectually and being stupid grandpas
posted by shakespeherian at 8:19 AM on August 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


dr_dank: also reading in line, while standing up on the subway, even while walking at night.

Most people I know read more since starting in on ebooks, especially if they go the phone/pda/ipod route. I was converted by the free ereader program and sample books on my Palm PDA several years ago, and PDA-based ebooks were also gateway drugs for my SO, my father-in-law, and my mother-in-law. Now I have both - actually, between us, my SO and I each have an ipod that we read on, and three e-ink readers. We realized that maybe we were a bit obsessive when we found ourselves explaining the kobos to other customers - and twice in one week we were told, "Kobo should pay you, you're great salespeople."

Kobos roxor, of course. Partly because they are Canadian Japanese, but mostly developed and still based in Canada, but also because they read epubs and pdfs and are super easy to load from calibre and other non-proprietary software. And mostly because they are not Amazon.
posted by jb at 8:20 AM on August 15, 2012


I like books. I like to be the first to fall asleep, and the rasp of my turning pages keeps my husband awake until I nod off.
posted by juniper at 8:49 AM on August 15, 2012


Whose arms have ever actually grown tired carrying around a book? When does this happen? Not the 79 books I checked out during my grad statistical mechanics course, but rather A. Book. What did you in? Infinite Jest? I've reread that sucker maybe two dozen times, and my arms never got tired. I would like to imply that I've got sweet book-toting guns adored by the ladies and bros alike, but.

Whose apartment is too small for books? Make it smaller with books. Encapsulate your living volume with books, books that you have read, books that will permit you to understand them when they speak about what they're thinking, and bookish girls and boys will make out with you AND THEY ARE OUTRIGHT FREAAAAAKS. Ohmygody'all, the things bookish people will do to you upon your bed if your bedside table is nothing but ninety-five books stacked up all higgledy-piggledy. People who fetishize paper and glue will put their tongues IN ALL THE PLACES. All of them. You feel me?

Let us consider a binary taxonomy: there are those people who, given a book, will use it for their own edification. Oh snap, a book! they remark dumbly from their monsterfaces. I shall read it and learn its material. Then perhaps I shall put it away somewhere, in some format, and maybe I shall look at it again later. These people are fools and villains. Give then the same book to those persons in the second kingdom, and observe as they Gollum The Fuck Out on the book. This is mine! This is precious. I will hide this away so that it exists forever. It must be preserved. Keep it secret! Keep it safe! God, I love books.

In conclusion, fuck the haters, books 4 life. Thank you, and please vote for me for homecoming court.
posted by samofidelis at 9:30 AM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


PS thanks for the articles; I want a bookshelf staircase but I'm afraid for the books. Also no staircase.
posted by samofidelis at 9:32 AM on August 15, 2012


Whose apartment is too small for books? Make it smaller with books.

Mine. I don't make a lot of money and I live with my partner in an apartment about the same square footage as a suburban living room. We're having enough problems with cleanliness (it's much harder to keep a cluttered space clean), both to keep down the mice and keep up our own quality of life. Since we DON'T want to live in some kind of hoarder-nightmare, and we realize that the magic of books is not in the paper (people don't love TP), but in the words, we are happy to part with what is, after all, just cheap woodpulp and continue to enjoy the true essence.
posted by jb at 9:38 AM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are lines being drawn over this book/ebook thing. I can feel it.

Blood will be shed.
posted by broadway bill at 9:44 AM on August 15, 2012




uses for unwanted books: A Decaying Book-Wall, a book Maze, a book igloo, and a house.

"No human being would stack books like this."
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 10:09 AM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Whose arms have ever actually grown tired carrying around a book?

A proper A4-sized edition of Proust with decent paper will leave its mark on one's stomach.

I find that I enjoy different aspects of books and e-books, but as long as I'm reading something interesting, the medium is a secondary consideration.
posted by ersatz at 10:31 AM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Both halves of Agrarian History of England and Wales, vol 5, will wear you down if you have to carry them for any distance. Volume 4 (also comes in two codices) is even longer.
posted by jb at 11:18 AM on August 15, 2012


I just realized that there's a simple rule of thumb for e-books vs paper books. (In my estimation anyroad)

If you can't read a morsel of it in the toilet and then move on, you need a paper book.

"Bossypants" belongs on the Kindle; "A thousand plateaus" doesn't.
posted by syntaxfree at 11:30 AM on August 15, 2012


I'll be the first to admit that physical books carry a cultural weight that ebooks do not. The book as a physical object contains a number of powerful cultural connotation that I would be sad to lose.

That said, I was an avid reader before the Kindle, but after I got this wonderful tool, I am a compulsive reader. I read constantly now, and I read a wider variety of books as well. I know many feel that ereaders are not well-suited for research, but I could not have completed my dissertation without the Kindle. The ability to have my notes, quotes, citations, and random thoughts in electronic format that could easily be searched, coded, and organized was priceless in writing. I was even able to search what would have been a mountainous pile of physical books and artilces to find a single quote that I thought I remembered but had forgotten where it came from, more than once, to save my bacon while writing.

I've kept my important books. The ones that made me a person and continue to do so. I also will buy books in both formats. But I'll also scan those important books or find them in digital format so I can have them with me at all times. I just did two days of jury duty and read two books while waiting to be called. I killed off my first book mere hours into the first day. Without the kindle, I would have been trapped, staring at a blank wall, or muted daytime television for hours until I was released.

Simply put, my world is a better place with ebooks in it.
posted by teleri025 at 12:38 PM on August 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


I have a PDF reader on my Android tablet which essentially addresses the "linearity" of ebooks. Press a button at the bottom of the page and a horizontal, scrolling list of pages appears at the bottom,, with a page number and a thumbnail on each of the mini-pages. This has made it painless to jump around in the text. I do have to keep in mind a rough page number for when I want to jump back, but this isn't any harder than remembering the spatial position of a needed section in a physical book. The horizontal list scrolls very quickly, so its quite fast to jump around.

Page turns on the tablet are also instantaneous, making it simple and quick to go back a few pages for rereading.

I still prefer the Kindle for the e-ink screen, but the tablet is good enough for technical and scientific works. Once e-ink screen refreshes get somewhere close to what people are used to from tablets/laptops, and one there's a page-flipping interface similar to this pdf app, then many of the typical complaints will go away and physical book lovers can finally start to panic.
posted by honestcoyote at 12:44 PM on August 15, 2012


If you can't read a morsel of it in the toilet and then move on, you need a paper book.

Kevin Klein: People read Dostoevsky in the can.
Jeff Goldblum: Yes, but they can't finish it.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:01 PM on August 15, 2012


I know someone who reads books about Foucault in the can.

That said, it's for work, not fun, and he also talks an unusually long time in the loo.
posted by jb at 1:08 PM on August 15, 2012


Gen Y: The Most Book-Loving Generation Alive?
It turns out that while everyone was paying attention to more high-profile, headline-grabbing changes like the switch from print to electronic books, “a significant shift that has been under the radar” was quietly toppling traditional consumer publishing expectations. “With Baby Boomers accounting for the highest percentage of the general population, that age group has historically spent the most on books,” writes the Bowker Market Research panel, which, along with Publishers Weekly, helped conduct the report. “In 2011, however, that changed, when Generation Y… took over the book-buying leadership from Baby Boomers…”
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:41 PM on August 15, 2012






i actually don't like having a lot of books around, they're clunky and heavy and they just sit there, but i frickin love reading books, always have, always will. i'm not into those readers, i gulp enough information down my brain-gullet at work, i don't need to at home or on the train, too.
posted by facetious at 8:22 PM on August 15, 2012


Create A Screensaver of your favorite books

Looks like I posted this a week too late: August 9th: Book Lover's Day
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:06 AM on August 18, 2012


« Older Passacaglias...   |   Soylent Green is sad people Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post