Wednesday, August 06, 2008

It ain't me, babe

I had to post again so quickly to differentiate my general position on this blog from the position of Richard Cohen in this Washington Post op-ed, which I found through a Shelf Awareness link.

I'm concerned for many things in this world, including the pace of our cultural discussions, but I am not against digitization across the board. Reading this op-ed, that becomes more clear than ever. It's a tragic piece of writing, as many of the commenters note (sometimes nastily). Poor Cohen is misguided. He's right that bookstores offer a special and important environment, of course, and I'm all for someone promoting independents, of course. But you can find books online, using recommendations from any number of people - reviewers on Amazon, bloggers, bookstore employees who keep blogs, etc... And then when you buy that book, you may have no idea where you got it, just like he doesn't know where he got some of his books. He tells an anecdote about a bookseller guiding him to Her Privates We - "The Hemingway blurb sold me." I don't even understand that, but the reality is, one could stumble upon this book just as easily online.

In fact, I went to the Texas Observer site for some reason recently, where I found this terrific article by Robert Leleux about gay East Texas novelist Edward Swift. I'm now reading Leleux's book, as noted in "Now reading" on the margin here, and have Swift's novel, Splendora, out from the library, as well, to chase Leleux's YA-like memoir (sorry!). All done online! (The TX Observer, btw? **** (four stars). The New Yorker of the South! You heard it here... )

But Cohen says other tragic things, like:
- "I understand that it's bulky and expensive to ship and that it entails the consumption of paper, which is probably not green, but then what is?" What is green? Really?
- "If I were younger, I'd go [to the bookstore] to pick up girls. I'd look over their shoulders and say, "Oh, 'The Prophet,' a book of eternal truths" -- or some such tripe. (It used to work.)" Ugh. I mean, honestly. UGH.
- "It is called the Kindle, which must be one of those focus group words. Sounds like the German word for children. Sounds like kind. Sounds innocent. Of course, it is not." Oh Dick, the drama!

There must be a middle road, or at least a more sophisticated manner in which to navigate the electronic age. My concern is valuing knowledge and art and their (or its) production. I love bookstores and books, yes, but I also welcome technology.

So it's clear now, right? I'm not a luddite, and I'm not naive, and I'm all for moving forward. AND I don't buy books with Hemingway blurbs, I don't care what some ol' bookseller says.

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