Morning Links

– Robert Birnbaum has a fascinating interview with Andrew Delbanco over the Morning News. Here is a snippet I found thought provoking:

RB: You say that the world that Melville came into was close to a medieval world and the world that he left was a world that more closely resembled a modern world.

AD: That’s a fast and loose use of the world “medieval.” But the huge changes he lived through did strike me, as I was rummaging around about Melville’s world, [that] he was born in 1819 in New York City. It was a place then where there were no mechanical form of transportation, no suspension bridges, no tall buildings. But by the time Melville died in New York 72 years later the place had come to feel like the New York that we love and love to hate today. And the way I tried to express this was to say that when Melville was born, the fastest way you could send a message more complicated than could be sent via drum beat or smoke signals or semaphore was to write it down and send it by a messenger on a horse. And that has been the case throughout human history. But by the time Melville was 25 we had the telegraph and then the transatlantic cable, and before the end of Melville’s life, the telephone and electricity, and the Brooklyn Bridge. So the way I tried to represent this, I had one map from 1817, a year or so before Melville was born, and it has all these empty streets, and New York City consisted mainly of the tip of Manhattan. Another map of New York from 1890, a year before he died, and that map is so crabbed and crowded. I put the two maps side by side at the beginning of the book, and they tell the story, I think.

– Richard Brookhiser takes on the future of the book in the New York Observer:

Writing is an unkillable impulse. It is like second sight or a blood disease, a gift or a state beyond our control. Writing is older than writing, as the songs and stories of the illiterate attest, and will go on, in whatever should be the prevailing technology, as long as intelligence thinks in language. But the book, the bound collection of written or printed pages that has been the main vessel of writing for 1,500 years, may be on its last legs. So those who tout the e-book tell us.

[. . . ]

In sum, the e-book loses, or at best ties, any one-on-one competition with an existing traditional book. But when books are considered en masse, in libraries or even in multi-volume sets—encyclopedias, legal codes, the standard edition of Sigmund Freud, the complete Harry Potter—the e-book begins to look like a future that will happen, because it serves a need.

Count me in the camp that likes physical books. The aesthetics of books are too big a part of it for me to see myself going electronic anytime soon. I love the look, and feel, and I confess the ownership of books – there is something about having bookcases full of books that gives me pleasure.

About the author

Kevin Holtsberry

I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season - oh, and watching golf too).

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8 Comments

  • It has been argued that the generation that saw the most change, was the generation born in the 1870s. For example, Winston Churchill, born in 1874, took part in cavalry charges as a young officer, and in deployment of the hydrogen bomb in his second term as Prime Minister.

  • The 19th-Century lifespan has been noted before as being a dramatically transformative one. The book The Birth of the Modern presents the various factors that set this course.

    I remember a nice speech from the movie Angels and Insects (which takes place in the late 1800s), where a family patriarch noted that at his birth, the world assured him he was God’s creation. By the end of his life, it was assuring him that he was the end result of evolution. The transformation had as much to do with mindshare as tangible developments.

  • The 19th-Century lifespan has been noted before as being a dramatically transformative one. The book The Birth of the Modern presents the various factors that set this course.

    I remember a nice speech from the movie Angels and Insects (which takes place in the late 1800s), where a family patriarch noted that at his birth, the world assured him he was God’s creation. By the end of his life, it was assuring him that he was the end result of evolution. The transformation had as much to do with mindshare as tangible developments.

  • One of my YA authors wonders about a world where information is mostly electronic, even in storage. What if, she asks, someone could alter that information (in her story, with the mind)? Who would know?

    This link shows the real world aspect of her theme. It’s the tampering story at Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Marty_Meehan#Congressional_Edits.3F

    You have not said here, but I really think the reading experience with actual books differs from the same experience with electronic media (PC, e books; etc.) I know my eyes work differently in each case. How a physical book is constructed does matter; that’s one reason for editors and publishers. I wonder if someone has asked questions about the nature of the reading experience according to format?

  • One of my YA authors wonders about a world where information is mostly electronic, even in storage. What if, she asks, someone could alter that information (in her story, with the mind)? Who would know?

    This link shows the real world aspect of her theme. It’s the tampering story at Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Marty_Meehan#Congressional_Edits.3F

    You have not said here, but I really think the reading experience with actual books differs from the same experience with electronic media (PC, e books; etc.) I know my eyes work differently in each case. How a physical book is constructed does matter; that’s one reason for editors and publishers. I wonder if someone has asked questions about the nature of the reading experience according to format?

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