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A new chapter

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06/02/2011

I am filled with glee in anticipation of Chicago’s Printer’s Row Lit Fest June 4 and 5. I can’t wait to smell the books, sift through rows of old postcards and albums and surround myself with a bunch of lit geeks, just like me.

Admittedly, I’m a bit like that blonde in the Amazon Kindle commercial—I am stubborn about retaining my right to fold down the pages—and I don’t care if “there’s an app for that” or will be soon. I’m not yet ready to cave and buy an e-book-reader.

I worked for a large-scale newspaper and experienced, first-hand, the growing pains newspapers are grappling with as they adapt to new technology. I now work for an online publishing company editing food sites, and we don’t even bother with a print edition.

In fact, I attended BlogHer Food 2011, a food bloggers’ conference (nerdy, yet delightful) in Atlanta, GA last week, and food writing giants such as Molly O’Neill talked about the future of magazines and cookbooks: The future is in e-zines and e-cookbooks, and this history is being written right now. I could bore and/or inspire you with why the Internet has democratized how we consume information and all you need to do is start a blog; or I could lend you my sob story that every journalist is telling about how we’re befuddled and upside down about the whole thing. But, I won’t. If you’re already reading Oy!, you understand at least some of the bigger picture that is modern media.

On one hand, I embrace all of this change. Want a news story on five platforms? Sure! The nerd in me actually gets excited when I overcome new challenges in HTML coding. My manager smiles and nods when I do a little happy dance in my desk chair.

However, I still love my books—actual printed books, with pages—and my cookbooks, for that matter. No Kindle, iPad or cell phone is going to fully replace the relationship I have with the actual printed word. And while the book’s demise is imminent, I’m still holding on.

The sensory experience of handling an actual book is very dear to me. I love the moldy smell of old books. I could pick out the smell of a synagogue prayer book amidst a sea of smells in a second. As a Bat Mitzvah, I cherished watching the ritual unraveling of the Torah; handling the wand on the delicate parchment and reveling in the Torah’s artistry. Are we going to eventually use e-readers instead of prayer books in synagogue? I certainly hope not.

I have affectionate childhood memories of going with my mom every summer to sift through damp, musty books at the Brandeis book sale at Old Orchard mall (now called Westfield) in Skokie. I’d find odd poetry collections or random books from the 1960s and 1970s with overly dramatic titles. Just last year, my friend returned from the sale with a 1970s’ era edition of Joy of Sex and I was so thrilled for her—disturbing as that edition now is to a modern reader.

I grew up in a household filled with tenderly-worn, hand-me-down books I’d receive from my two older sisters. I also loved going to my elementary school book sales and picking up books with crisp pages and vibrant pictures for my mother to read to me before bed.

To this day, I am protective of the sense of ownership I feel in handling a book’s pages, folding them down to hold my place, feeling through pages read and eagerly anticipating a book’s ending with the weight of 300 pages in one hand and two pages in the other.

I have an emotional connection to the library I’ve collected. I feel that it tells its own story about me. I held on to many books from college courses that I felt shaped my thinking today. I want to display those books proudly on a shelf for others to see. I also collect cookbooks, and love the story they tell with my scribbled notes, cooking stains and photographs. An iPad or Kindle just won’t do.

Just as my bookshelf is a record of my history, so too is the actual printed word a record of our collective history. Call me old fashioned, but computers, hard drives and servers fail. What if backing up ultimately fails us? And, don’t even get me started on photographs…

I understand the benefits of the e-reader devices for their light-weight handling and portability. I don’t deny the value of wasting less paper and placing fewer burdens on the environment with production and printing presses. I also know that we live in a world in which everything must be accessible all the time and the book is no different.

But, what kind of readers are we becoming with this technology? Will we skim everything like we skim articles on the computer? Is there no time to pause and soak anything in, just for an hour? Will we all be far-sighted from these screens by the age of 30? Perhaps.

Meanwhile, I’m going to soak in that musty smell this weekend, and fold over those pages until I can’t anymore. 

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