I got a book in the mail today that made me very happy. But the future of anything on paper is obviously limited. My feelings about this are complex.
It is beautiful, a fine piece of design with delicately minimal typography and intelligent layout. Some of the pictures are amazingly good, and I find the effect of 59 different wildly uncoordinated photographic visions to be exhilarating, gleeful. From a Tantric point of view an act of worship.
Now, this could only have been done on paper. And you can publish one-offs for less than $50, here via Blurb. I’m wondering what else we really need dead trees for.
Newspapers · We’ve been watching what seem the death throes of the newspaper business. I think it may have a future. Our local paper for example, the Vancouver Sun, which has been getting very smart: On the front page, every day, is a hyper-local city story and one of the columnists, usually writing intensely. Also, I actually find the display ads useful sometimes. The decision to keep subscribing is easy. That doesn’t mean that they can necessarily recover from the Internet’s displacement of the insanely-profitable classified-ad business.
But, should they survive, there’s not a single reason in the world that they need to be on paper. I’d much rather have something small and electric beside my toast and jam.
Kindling · This piece is in part provoked by the Kindle 2 launch. With the advent of E-Ink, for the first time mass-market electronic displays are approaching the resolution, and potentially the typographic excellence, of ink-on-paper technology.
I am bookish; have been, my mother reports, since she found me at the age of six lost in a National Geographic, and I hope to remain that way on my deathbed. My wife is bookish. My nine-year-old is already bookish (inhaled all of Harry Potter in just over a month last summer) and the toddlergirl has already memorized her favorites (even some of the challenging Fox in Socks). I have published pictures of books, in Entropy and A Slim Book of Verse. Here’s another:
This is the cookbook my mother received as a wedding present in 1953; she knew little of cookery as a bride and this was a stepping-stone toward her present mastery. Isn’t it beautiful? When I took this photograph last Christmas, it was out on the counter because she was using it.
I offer these pictures in an elegiac spirit; books are starting to feel like artifacts of the past.
The Future of Books · What is it? It seems that the only virtue of printed books the electronic readers won’t match is pure beauty. While we can expect something less remarkably ugly than the Kindle, we will not I think soon match the pleasure given the eye and fingers by any of the examples illustrated or linked-to here.
So it’s Jean-Luc Picard’s future, I suppose; books as coffee-table adornments, art medium, and collectibles.
This is a Good Thing · We’ve all gotten used to saying “dead trees” now. A whole lot of them are killed pretty near where I live; the forestry industry is a filthy, dangerous business which despoils the landscape and mutilates a saddening number of the young men who labour in it. I love wood, and I suspect that, intelligently managed, our forests can supply us with houses and furniture for the foreseeable future; paper too, if its use is restricted to the pursuit of beauty.
The consumption of the forests in the interests of printing disposable paperbacks and superseded-every-year textbooks and whatever newspapers become is neither defensible nor excusable, looking forward. A true story: The other day the new phone book and yellow pages showed up at my office door and I dropped them, still sealed, in the recycling bin.