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The Book: An Elegy by John Derbyshire


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#1 of 5 JParker

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Posted February 21 2013 - 11:15 AM

http://takimag.com/a...t#axzz2La75ITyN The Book: An Elegy by John Derbyshire Excerpt:

I’m nine months out of chemotherapy and getting back up to speed now. I started reviewing books again: just did Roger Scruton’s latest for the upcoming American Spectator, a couple on different topics for future issues of The New Criterion, and the new Coolidge biography for VDARE.com (this week, unless I miss the deadline). I get all the Coolidge books; I expect to get the next one for review any day now. You write a book about Calvin Coolidge, I’m your reviewer. I don’t mind: I let myself in for it. All of which has me thinking about books. The thoughts are not happy ones. I have a house full of books. After this recent close encounter with Azrael, I have been glumly pondering the fate of all my books when I finally turn in my lunch pail. For sure the kids won’t want them. Though they are bright and capable, their souls belong to the gadget age; neither reads books. Probably my books will just become landfill. Who does read books anymore? Well, some people do. A few weeks ago I had lunch with a senior editor at a major publishing house. When I asked him how the book business was doing, he said things were…OK: the fiction end nicely propped up by mass-market storytellers catering mainly to the female market, nonfiction likewise by human-sciences-lite authors such as Malcolm Gladwell selling to air travelers. (When I got home I checked the fiction side. What was Mrs. Derbyshire reading? This was the answer. The authoress, whom I confess I had never heard of, is doing pretty well.) But then a few exchanges later, my lunch companion observed: “Books don’t cause a stir anymore.” Being naturally argumentative, I tried to think of a counter. Nothing fictional came to mind, but I said I thought Steven Pinker’s last had been much discussed. Likewise Charles Murray’s last. “Nah,” said my editor. “A brief buzz in high-end outlets, that’s all. Not like it used to be.” On reflection, he’s right—as he darn well ought to be, given his experience and seniority. Interesting and unusual quality books, fiction and nonfiction alike, used to make a huge splash, and that “used to” is not so long ago. In 2001 everyone seemed to be reading McCullough’s biography of John Adams; and before that, Charles Frazier’s novel Cold Mountain. A few years earlier, it was Patrick O’Brian’s sea stories if you wanted to keep your end up at dinner parties—I read the first 17 of them seriatim. (And a biography to boot.) Even further back, in the 1970s, you could get a conversation going with lower-middle-class cube jockeys about James Clavell’s Shogun or Julian Jaynes’s Origin of Consciousness. It’s been a decade and a half since I worked in a business office, but I feel pretty sure they’re not talking about books around the water cooler nowadays.



#2 of 5 Sam Posten

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Posted February 22 2013 - 01:40 AM

Yup. I got rid of every paper book and magazine I had collected and gave them away or trashed them all while moving last year. As a kid I had dreamed of owning a beautiful library like the rich people I would see on TV and had steadfastly built up my collection for 40 years in anticipation of the day I would have a home worthy of displaying them all. And then suddenly I didn't care any more. I came to realize that I would never re-read any of them. Anything I cared to look up could be better done on the computer. And I wasn't romantically attached to the smell of paper and ink and dust as some are. I kept a small batch of those that had been signed gifts and let the rest behind me. I have no regrets.

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#3 of 5 Ockeghem

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Posted February 22 2013 - 03:58 AM

I love the picture in the first post above. It kind of reminds me of my home library, which my wife and I designed when we were building our home. For my own part, I read books every day, and have never read an E-book (and probably never will) since I don't like reading for long periods of time using a computer. I continue to collect books and journals, and will probably do this for the remainder of my life.
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#4 of 5 Aaron Silverman

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Posted February 26 2013 - 04:32 AM

For my own part, I read books every day, and have never read an E-book (and probably never will) since I don't like reading for long periods of time using a computer.

You are missing out. I don't like reading on a computer screen either, but reading e-ink is a joy (not to mention the bonus of being able to tap words to look them up and do text searches). I still read books, but I love my Nook Simple Touch too. Oh, there's also the bonus of being able to log into the local library's web site and instantly download (free and legally) a book that I get a hankerin' to read.
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#5 of 5 Ockeghem

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Posted February 26 2013 - 07:34 AM

Aaron, Thanks. As an academic librarian, it's interesting to ask students which format they prefer (E-books or print books) when I am helping them with their research papers. Thus far, the overwhelming favorite is print books (as far as reading the book is concerned). Of course, as far as text searches like that which you mention above, electronic formats are quite efficient and very useful. I have downloaded chapters of books for some students, but have never done so for myself. I prefer to have the actual book in my hand rather than trying to read it on a computer screen. On somewhat of a related note, I tried to watch a couple of episodes of my favorite television series on my computer recently but did not find that very rewarding.
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