Archive for September, 2008

Is the Internet destroying reading?

Some of us book lovers tend to consider those who get most of their information online to be nonreaders. We especially deplore the fact that many kids and teens turn to the Internet first for fun, facts, and fundamentals. Given a choice, would I first consult the S volume of my encyclopedia or click on Wikipedia to learn about Swaziland? Because I have access to both, I’d probably use both. But if I wanted to find out the latest innovations in laser surgery, I’d go online because I would likely find the most up-to-date information.

I’m fortunate that I’m equally comfortable in front of a book or a computer screen. Many kids, however, go straight to the computer, and a lot of parents are beginning to wonder if this is creating a generation of  nonreaders. Reading about a subject on the Internet is different from reading about it in a book. The Internet’s style often uses short sentences, bulleted lists, outline formats. Someone reading online expects information to be immediately accessible, to the point, and short. Mostly short. Someone reading a book expects more narrative, greater description, and a developed use of language.

Does this mean that Internet readers never really appreciate or even learn how to use descriptive language to weave a beginning, a middle, and an end into a clear idea or understandable document? Even more important, does the shortcut style of Internet sites prevent users from really learning how to read and write full sentences and logical paragraphs?

These questions are “at the heart of a passionate debate about what it means to read in the digital age. The discussion is playing out among educational policy makers and reading experts around the world and within groups like the National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association.” Read more.

I have to say that I agree with the points the experts make. We all must value different kinds of reading for different kinds of reasons. And both the Internet and a good book have their places in our increasingly complex world. AK

The smell of a new book

The new book smell is like the new car smell

I’ve always loved the smell of a new book, starting with my first new book when I was kid.

There is nothing like the look, the heft, and, yes, the smell of a book when I hold it in my hands for the first time. Okay—the first few times. It looks new and important, it feels substantial, and it smells fresh. The experience is akin to climbing into your own new car for the first time. I can’t identify the aroma, but it smells good.

This is why I believe the book and the printed word will continue to flourish in the digital age. Yes, we get much of our information today from the Internet or TV, and there are advantages to using electronic resources to gather information. As a recent columnist in the Chicago Tribune summed it up, there is the “usefulness of instant information from a variety of sources all at once.” A well put together book, however, offers a sensory experience as well as provides information. There is something pleasurable about turning crisp pages rather than scrolling rapidly down a screen. There seems to be a more direct connection with a book I can hold in my own hands.

Especially if that book is my own.

I have a sense of creating rather than posting. I can hand it to my family and friends and watch them flip through the pages while we all marvel that I wrote an actual book. I can explain that they can read my book without benefit of computer or Kindle or Blackberry. That adds to its specialness because my words aren’t instantly available to everyone. Instead, my family, friends, and I get to hold my book.

And I get to display it—on my bookshelf, my coffee table, my desk. I imagine how my books will look stacked on edge of the table at my book signing or seminar.

The book is here to stay. As long as there are writers like me who have something to say, we’ll have books— to hold, to read, to display, and, of course, to smell. AK

“It’s always okay to add five dollars”: pricing textbooks

Way back in the mists of time when we (Ann and Jim) were in college (The Ohio State University for both of us), all of the textbooks that we each bought every quarter cost less than half–sometimes way less than half–of what a single book for a single course may cost today.

“In protest of what [CalTech economics professor] R. Preston McAffee says are textbooks’ intolerably high prices–and the dumbing down of their content to appeal to the widest possible market–he has put his introductory economics textbook online free. He says he most likely could have earned a $100,000 advance on the book had he gone the traditional publishing route, and it would have had a list price approaching $200.” Read more. JK