The book object

Although I enjoy and appreciate modern technology and love the immediacy of browsing and communicating online, I admit I’m apprehensive about the trend away from print and paper publishing. Even now there is a feeling of inevitability about the process. Online publications are common, and the world of fiction seems destined for cyberspace.

I read The New York Times online every day. I like the immediacy of online news published, as the stories unfold, ’8 minutes ago’ or ‘57 minutes ago.’ But I also enjoy holding a Sunday issue in my hands, pulling it apart section by section, and paging through the Book Review, the op-eds, and the entertainment sections.

When I’m reading a book, however, I don’t want the timely. I want the total sensory experience of the book object. I want to hold it in my hands and feel the weight of it as I turn over the pages. I want the conscious or unconscious awareness of the cover design, the paper stock, the type font and size, the page design, and the section and chapter breaks. I want to smell the paper and the inks, and savor the book’s newness, or its musty age.

All of these sensory elements make the reading more pleasurable for me. The thought of curling up on the couch with a Kindle or a Sony Reader is not my idea of pleasure and relaxation. I don’t anticipate ‘losing myself’ within the flickering confines of a digitized page.

In an interview in the March/April issue of Poets & Writers, a group of agents and editors cite technology as “simultaneously constructive and destructive” for the publishing industry. Now that we can download a book digitally, and read it electronically, publishing is less about guesswork and more about delivering a product when and as needed.

If, as the article contends, the book as an object is going the way of vinyl records, I know I can’t reverse the tide. But no matter how advanced our technology, I hope that I still have ample access to the inviting look and feel of folio sheets glued or perfect bound within the confines of a hard or soft cellulose cover.

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