Paper Love

I’ve been noticing for a while now that there are a lot of stories out there about the demise of print — stories that have the same trajectory:  news of some paper substitute (the Kindle being the most recent), news of some grand  paper institution going under, and then something about how MUCH paper means to us and how awful it would be if it disappeared.  

I ignore these stories.  Really.  I’m too busy reading the next book on my list of things to read and writing more things for other people to read someday.  But today I am thinking more about them, because I have been reading (in print, I’d add) about the dire straits many print newspapers find themselves in and also about National Geographic being in trouble.  What kind of world would it be if we didn’t have National Geographic to bring us beautiful pictures of what we can’t go and visit ourselves? And what would we do without newspapers to dig up the dirt on people who’re doing bad things and hiding behind powerful institutions?   So, today, I am taking stock of my relationship to words on paper and words online.  Why?  I’d like to know whether I’ve deserted my  paper love without even knowing it.  

It turns out, I get plenty of words electronically (blogs! pictures of celebrities wearing bad clothes!).  But they don’t replace the things I get on paper.  I still read newspapers in their print form, because I like being reminded that there is, in fact a world turning one day at a time.  There’s something about having the paper hit my porch that makes me feel like I’m part of that world.  I rarely look at the news online, unless it’s a story that’s developing more quickly than it can be covered in a daily paper (the election, for example).  But it’s been years since I’ve looked up the starting time for a movie in the paper.  It’s faster to do that online.  And I’m afraid that what’s happened to newspapers is that maybe they haven’t figured out how to replace their money making stuff (like theater ads and classifieds) with other ways of getting people to pay for the news.  

As for books, I’m devoted to paper.  I recently decided that I don’t need to get a Kindle.  I only read one book at a time when I go out of town, or at most two, and I don’t want to spend over $300 on something that basically compresses books so you can carry a lot of them around with you.  But someday, if the Kindle can give me something that expands on print, I might buy it.  Many magazines are already doing this “print plus” thing beautifully —- every magazine I subscribe to has a really terrific website, which I think is the most successful way for a magazine to stay vital — by using the web as an adjunct to the magazine, rather than a replacement.

 The New Yorker, for example, has a great website — the fiction podcasts are just one of many cool features.  And my favorite cooking magazine, Cook’s Illustrated, has a really, really good website, which I even paid extra to access because I love its search function.  Poetry Magazine?  Another fine web presence.  The Poetry Tool is particularly wonderful.  (Want to find a poem appropriate to celebrate your friend’s engagement?  This site will lead you to John Donne’s The Bait.  You should read that poem today, you know.  Life is short.  John Donne matters.)  

So, today I subscribed to National Geographic.  One of my children is a non-fiction, magazine reader.  I think he’d like National Geographic.  Our subscription ran out some time ago and I didn’t renew it because they were too young for it.  Now, they’re not.  Do they  have a good website?  Yes, they do.  How much does a subscription cost?  $15.  That’s really, really cheap, if you think about it — $1.10 a month for a lot of pictures and articles you can read in bed at night.  The funny thing is that I have no idea where I read that National Geographic was having trouble — all I know is that I’m glad I thought about it yesterday, because my kid is going to love getting it.  

I am certainly not representative of the public as a whole.  A lot of people don’t read.  But, among people who do read, I’m going to guess that I’m pretty typical in my love of both things on paper and things online.  They’re different media, and so it makes sense that they fill different needs.  But what I’m most interested in is seeing how they can enhance each other — how one’s love of paper need not be diminished by one’s love of the online world.  I’m in favor of marriages — where paper and the web make beautiful music together, rather than one killing the other off.   There’s a  long, weird metaphor in there, but I’ve got a lot of reading to do today, so I’ll stop right here.


12 thoughts on “Paper Love

  1. When I was in seminary I worked in the library building boxes for the preservation of rare books. The oldest books in the seminary’s library were clay tablets from Sumeria, and so I became familiar with how the book has developed, and the evolution of the book has been a progression away from objects that last. First we wrote on clay and stone, then animal skins, then parchment, then cotton rag paper, then wood pulp paper, and now our writing is preserved in electronic code. Each step has made reading more affordable which is wonderful, and each step has made the written word more disposable which is a shame.

    I’m glad for the ease of electronic media, but I also feel a need surround myself with the longevity and the ancient wisdom of books.

    Incidentally–since you mentioned him–when I was in seminary I discovered in the library an extremely rare first edition John Donne, with a handwritten inscription by John Donne’s son. It was a magical moment–something that could never happen electronically.

    Thank God for the internet; long live the book!

  2. Ben, What a great job — and an amazing find. In a novel, you’d hide that book, and be chased from glamorous locale to fabulous locale by sinistee forces looking to harness the power of Dean Donne. (Wasn’t that his job for a while?) In the end, you’d marry the lovely opera singer and get a job ministering to a diverse flock in northern California. Which, of course, is just what you did.

  3. Ben, What a great job — and an amazing find. In a novel, you’d hide that book, and be chased from glamorous locale to fabulous locale by sinister forces looking to harness the power of Dean Donne. (Wasn’t that his job for a while?) In the end, you’d marry the lovely opera singer and get a job ministering to a diverse flock in northern California. Which, of course, is just what you did.

  4. I have loved newspapeers since I was a tiny girl…loved the way they smell and sound when you turn the pages, even loved the way their ink stained your fingertips after reading them. It makes me so sad to hear about one newspaper after another dying away.

    Of course I love reading online.
    Of course I love reading books and newsprint.

    Of course I want to have it all.

    I think I’ll subscribe to a newspaper and magazine today.
    (And I’m also thinking about buying shares of General Motors stock – just because.)

  5. I love paper. I couldn’t bear to be without books or magazines. Why must the debate always be either/or when having both is a happy state of affairs? Well, apart from here, of course, dear Bloglily, where you are bound to have something more sensible to say about paper than other commentators.

  6. I find that, although I will read anything at all in any format, I’m not a big fan of reading magazines online, for some reason.

    And I love the fact that I live in a house overloaded with books. If books were ever truly to disappear, one of my favorite pastimes, “browsing the shelves,” would be lost (some librarians I’ve known already bemoan the fact that people don’t browse library shelves as much as they used to, when the old card catalogs didn’t indicate whether or not a book was checked out, and people were forced to go look on the shelf, and, in the process, discover other books they might want to read). I love just to browse my own shelves and think about books I’ve read/books I’ve been meaning to read/books I probably will never read but still want to own, etc.

    However, when we moved to a place where I could no longer have The New York Times delivered daily, I became a fan of reading it online and now see no reason to have a hard copy. And I’d like an ebook reader at some point, too, even though I see lots of drawbacks to them. I’d really like to see ebooks not replace books, but just live along side them, the way radio and television have always done.

  7. I would never want print to go away. THere’s just something about going to a real bookstore and perusing the books that you will never get electronically.

    That said, I own a Sony Reader and love it. I’ve read several novels on it and I can say the experience is nearly the same as reading a paper novel. However, when I do read a good book on the Reader I almost feel like I should still buy a physical copy of the book, just so I can point to it on a shelf and say “That’s a good book there, you should read it.” Make sense?

    Thanks for the well-wishes on my blog. I’m tired, but I expected that.

  8. It’s a bit ambiguous for me. I love the feel and smell of proper paper books a lot, but some time ago I realized that I love trees and forests even more, so I would like to see some kind of mark on books that are printed on 100% recycled paper. Also, an e-reader doesn’t fall close in the wrong moment and the idea of carrying a whole library is appealing. I already carry many books in my mobile phone (which is great when you have to wait somewhere, there’s always a book at hand), but of course an e-reader is so much more comfortable.
    I’m thoroughly tempted by e-readers, if only they weren’t so expensive.

  9. Hello Anne, I think you must indeed do both. The trick is finding out which things are best suited to the online environment and which are right in paper.

    Edwin, I think for electronic books to really make sense, the readers must indeed be cheaper. The fact that they’re over $200 right now is the biggest reason why I don’t try them.

    SW — It is nice to have the “real thing,” isn’t it? This is particularly true if you like to lend books to people, or give them away.

    Dear Emily, I love picturing your book-filled vicarage! And I agree — books and e-books can certainly live side by side.

    Litlove, Like you, I am not a fan of either or debates. Maybe this comes from hearing too many of them in my day job and just not wanting to have to have them in my fun time. But I will be most interested to hear whether you get one of these, and what you end up thinking about it. I can imagine some sort of arrangement where it would be terribly useful to get hard to come by books online rather than through inter-library loans, which can take a long time and can be really frustrating. In fact, I think there might really be a place for e-books to team up with libraries, so that books can be checked out in either form, kind of like netflix, where you can get the physical dvd or you can stream the thing you want to watch.

    Yay Becca. I want to know what magazines you subscribe to. And good luck with your new relationship with GM. Those people are going to have to start figuring out how to design cars people want to buy, I think.

    Dear Marie, OOOO. I like the Amen part. Amen to words.

  10. I still love reading a book, feeling the paper (different grades of paper can be smooth or more porous). I like seeing the pages of the book turn and having the pages grow from one side of the book to the other as I read and get closer to the end. In a blog there isn’t an end you can see coming, there is in a book. I don’t read newspapers often any more. I don’t listen to the news at all on TV or radio either. But I will never stop loving a new book that still has that new book smell.

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