The Sunday Salon-Various and Sundry

The Sunday Salon.com

Lucky me, something woke me at the crack of dawn (quite literally, for there is a thin line of raspberry colored sky drawn across the horizon).  Seriously, I do feel fortunate to be awake so early, especially on Sunday, when the weather has been promised to be glorious and the entire day stretches before me to be enjoyed.

So I gathered my coffee and finished the last few pages of I Capture the Castle, an absolute delight of a novel by Dodie Smith. How did I ever miss reading this gem?  First published in 1948, I presume it was out of print, at least here in the States, for this is a book I would have devoured as young girl.  It’s narrator, Cassandra Mortmain, a lively seventeen year old living in “genteel poverty” with her very eccentric family, relates the story of one pivotal year in her life, a year when she discovers some very important things about life and love and family relationships.  Another one of those stories I was loathe to see coming to an end. 

I snagged my copy of I Capture the Castle during a trip to Bargain Books a few weeks ago, and I’ve now taken up another book harvested from that trip.  Jane Kenyon, A Literary Life, is just the type of literary biography I most enjoy, a book that aims to “provide a clear and accurate account of the life” of this poet, and then “examine how her art grew out of that story.”  I’m quite fond of Kenyon’s work, the way her poetry exalts and enlightens the ordinary, and invites the reader to examine familiar events and emotions in new ways.  Because she grew up in Ann Arbor, (about 25 miles from me) I feel an even closer affinity to her life.  John H. Timmerman, the author of this small, scholarly opus, is a professor at Calvin College (also in Michigan).  His writing style is very accessible, and not the least pedantic.  Although I’ve barely begun this book, I think it will be one I will refer to again. 

Last evening, whilst meandering around in cyberspace, I noted several discussions based upon recent pieces in the New York Times predicting the demise of book publishing as we know it.  In fact, Paul Krugman wrote in his Op-Ed piece that  “we may finally have reached the point at which e-books are about to become a widely used alternative to paper and ink.”  Like digitized music, Krugman opines, reading e-books will become the “common, if not ususal way we read.”  

 Within minutes of reading this, I came upon an interesting tidbit which seems to bear out Krugman’s opinion.  Alexander McCall Smith, who pens several delightful series, ( my favorite is the Sunday Philosophy Club, starring Isabel Dalhousie), is serializing his latest novel, Corduroy Manions,  entirely on line, where you may read it in installments,  listen to it (as read by British actor), or subscribe to the podcasts and have the latest episode delivered directly to your i-pod or telephone.

It seems odd to discuss the demise of book publishing when I’ve just spent a hefty chunk of time perusing blogs of numerous people who spend even heftier chunks of their own time writing about books. Over the past decade or two the proliferation of large scale book stores (Barnes and Noble, Borders, and their on-line competitors, Amazon and Powells) would seem to suggest the reading public is growing, not diminishing.

And yes, I download nearly all the music I purchase these days.  It never occurs to me to buy an actual CD – why should I, when I can press a button and instantly get exactly the songs I want on my computer, then transfer them to my i-pod, and burn my own CD to play in the car if I like, all for one low purchase price?

However, I was never in the habit of holding a CD’s jewel case in my hands while listening to the music, never enjoyed it’s particular aroma, or the glossy slickness of it’s pages, never admired my collection lined up on shelves.  Books are a tactile experience as well as an intellectual one.  For me, at least, a collection of words on a screen can never replace that, and it frightens me more than a little to consider the possibility of that happening on a large scale.  After all, the printed word has been an important part of society for centuries…I should think it would take at least that long to dispense with it.

I probably won’t read Mr. Smith’s latest on line, because I have a very small tolerance for on-screen reading.  As a matter of fact, if you’ve read this far into my post, you’ve probably read more than I would care to in one sitting. I might listen to the podcasts while I’m driving or walking, because I do enjoy the sound of someone talking in my ear (especially if it’s in a proper British accent).

And I do hope I’ll still be able to buy books – the real paper and ink kind – for the remainder of my lifetime.  I have plenty of CD’s I can clear off my shelves to make room for them.

Now tell me, how do you feel about electronic reading?  Do you think it will ever replace “real books”?

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18 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon-Various and Sundry

  1. Not for me, it won’t. I like your observation about the way “the demise of book publishing” doesn’t seem to match up with the reading community in cyberspace.

    I also share your liking for Jane Kenyon. I’ll look forward to what you have to say about the bio you’re reading!

  2. I’m with you re: e-books! I hate trying to read long things on the computer; I just can’t focus the same way.

    And I Capture the Castle is wonderful, isn’t it?!

  3. “However, I was never in the habit of holding a CD’s jewel case in my hands while listening to the music, never enjoyed it’s particular aroma, or the glossy slickness of it’s pages, never admired my collection lined up on shelves. Books are a tactile experience as well as an intellectual one. ”

    Yes, yes, yes! My husband recently hinted that he was considering a Kindle for my Christmas present, and I told him to forget it. I’d rather have the money to buy real books – and bookshelves to put them on.

    My sister called me last year and said, “You have to read I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.” Our library had it on audiobook, so I listened to it that way – and loved every single minute of it. I was thrilled to find that Smith wrote another book called The Town in Bloom. It’s not available in the US, but my best friend is traveling to the UK in the spring and has offered to look for any UK books for me and ship them home to avoid paying customs. I’m making my list and trying not to be greedy. 🙂

    Have a great Sunday!

  4. Great post! I enjoyed reading it.

    I think so many devout readers enjoy the tactile experience of holding a good book in their hands. Hard to curl up with a reading device in bed, you know? 🙂

  5. I heard a talk from a printer of books recently and he said he is glad he is retiring soon because when the Kindle or the Iliad or the Sony reader (I’m in the UK) get going there will be little call for the printed version!

    But I agree with you, I don’t think I will ever want anything but the printed page, there’s something so satisfying about physically turning them or flicking back…and also there’s the sense of progress through the width of the book. You just wouldn’t get that on a Kindle.

  6. I hope that the day never comes when printed books disappear. Like others, there’s just something about the experience of holding a book that can’t be replicated via Kindle. However, if the day comes when books as we know them disappear, I have more than enough in my TBR pile to hold me over for awhile (not to mention the books in the libraries … where would they go?)

    Great blog, by the way! This is my first comment here, but I’ve really been enjoying your blog for several weeks now.

  7. The Dodie Smith is one of my favourites and the Jane Kenyon book sounds really intriguing too. And I’d take both in book and ink format, thank you very much. Staring at a screen is just not the same thing.

  8. I’ve been thinking about that lately as well. I don’t particularly like being at the computer enough to want to read online (though I could see a good application for it in certain situations.) Like you, I like the feel of the book. One of the reasons I often buy used mysteries isn’t so much the price (though that’s nice!) but because Ihave this sense that someone has been through this before me, trying to figure out the plot, making their guesses — some right, some wrong. When I do that, I feel like I’m in a community. I suppose the same could be said of reading online — perhaps more so, if discussion is involved. Yet it seems rather cold and impersonal.

    Having said that, being an Alexander McCall Smith fan, I will probably check it out — just to see what it’s like before I badmouth the technology to bits! (It’s like the people who call to complain about something we are showing and we ask if they watched it and they said, “no!”

  9. I don’t think I’ll ever like electronic substitutes for the real thing. My eyes get so tired reading on the screen I can’t even go through a days’ worth of google reader in one sitting. Like has been said here, I love the physical feel of a book, the different textures and odors of paper and ink reminding me of ones before, a screen can never replace that. It’s not at all nostalgic and comfy.

  10. I think you’ve said it quite well. I don’t see the printed word being replaced in our life time (anyone alive now). I agree that music and writing are two very different things. I look at things like Smith’s online serial novel as proof that reading in general is becoming more popular than ever. Granted, I don’t like reading large amounts of text on a computer screen, but I will definitely download the podcasts to listen to. Just one quick look around the blogosphere shows just how many people are dedicated to reading and discussing books, and electronic media has just given us more chances to do that.

  11. Holding a book in my hand is always always an experience. It is a tactile adventure, a visual joy (based on the color, the design, the paper) and it is the only way a book will endure if the lights all went out. A book, in print, is a treasure.
    I’m with you, Becca. My tolerance for reading on-screen lasts no more than minutes.
    What about journals? egads, electronic journals, too? No.
    Books rule.

  12. I loved I Capture the Castle – I read it a few years ago. As for e-books, forget it, I’m not interested. In part, because I find it hard to read continuously online, and mainly, mostly because I love feel of a book, the colours of the cover, the texture of the pages, even the typescipt of the printing. There is a very definite connection with books through touch, and I wouldn’t give it up or trade if for anything. Great post, thoughtful and intelligent. Thanks!

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