Return of the Book

I want to read Ulysses, but I need to finish the Internet first.

Anonymous, quoted here

Reading booksIn the the old world  circa fifteen years ago  B was for books. In our world, B is for bytes, beta, back-up, big data, bitcoin… You know all of those – they are our daily reality, where we need to constantly make space for new technologies, new trends, new distractions; they mainly begin with S. In our world,S is for software, social media, smart phone, streaming, synch, all symbols of how far removed we are from what we were even ten years ago, when we were turning the pages of paper books, reading was going on mainly in private spaces, the train and the library, and books were a break from daily reality. That was also the age where we had the time and the dedication to read long tracts of text on a regular basis  then known simply as “reading”.

If you think this is all BS, think again! For at least part of our day, we no longer read, we consume: traditional media, digital media, social media. We ingest large informational loads but we only digest little capsules of information; many of us can no longer regularly dedicate time to a single, all-encompassing universe, like you would find in the traditional book. For most people hopelessly entangled in the world wide web, the reading of books has become a privilege, a furtive pleasure, a well-deserved break, a statement. And this is the good news and where the strength of the book as we know it  lies. Its exclusivity, rarity, quality, sophistication! Commodified by the likes of Amazon, produced in factories, sold in batches and sometimes for free, the book returns anew. Book readers are the minority – they are the hipsters of the reading world, the bookshop-going cohort, the biblio-curators, the discerning literature buyers, the library-visiting crowd, the new upper class of readers. And they are strong; they know what “old-school books” can do for you; they patiently wait for things to even out.

So how do people DO read nowadays? We know that, for your reading material, you need don’t need to scour bookstores or constantly pester your more organised reader friends for new interesting titles. E-book readers can do it for you. You social media feed will throw titles at you every day if you are following the right sources. Online book clubs will provide you with reading lists. Book clubs are a hugely rejuvenated and effective medium that even celebs are flocking to: who would have thought Mark Zuckerbeg could start a bookclub, that Oprah helps authors more than their own publishers, that Richard and Judy would save the UK book industry?

Most of our fears are unfounded  the book is not dead. Because it’s been transformed, digitalised, the love for it re-Kindled, where having no time for a bookclub is no longer an issue with the likes of GoodReads and our own BooksGoSocial. And so the book returns, but not as you know it. And it is good. Whatever the book has lost, it has regained thanks to digital and social, which may have made the new generations read more, which gives more people more access to books, democratises reading, helps publishers with theirbusiness model and sales strategy, made self-publishing a phenomenon, creates some balance in the publishing world. It’s true  we may read fewer books, in shorter spurts, with less frequency, so the jury is still out there on the rewards of the digital era, but books are not gone from our lives, we just read differently, and, after all, books ARE social.

The book is dead; long live the book!

P.S. What do you prefer: hyperlinks or footnotes?

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