– 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: Thatâ€™s a fast and loose use of the world â€œmedieval.â€ But the huge changes he lived through did strike me, as I was rummaging around about Melvilleâ€™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 Melvilleâ€™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 setsâ€”encyclopedias, legal codes, the standard edition of Sigmund Freud, the complete Harry Potterâ€”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.