It’s High Time We Abandon The Printed Book Once and For all.

John Ramsey Miller

I’ve been thinking about books. Magazines. Newspapers. Sales Brochures. Mail.

I have stacks of books, magazines. I have a storage room filled with boxes of books. I have a wall-length book shelves packed with hardcovers. I don’t know that I’ll ever again open most of them. I’m not sure I’ve ever opened a lot of them. The pages of the newer hardcovers are yellowing, the older ones were printed on better paper with less acids. A Russian edition of one of my books was printer on what looks like tabloid pulp. I’m slowly turning against paper books. I’ve decided that I might be ready to face the new world where books are delivered through the air like lethal arrows were delivered to massed armies a long time ago. I’m not talking plains Indians firing a few at settlers and cavalry units, but more like Medieval armies where archers would loose thousands of arrows that would rain down like steel-tipped rain. Wow, and ouch.
I have a Kindle. I also have a Google Android “A-4 Panaramadingdong” with a 7″ screen. My wife bought a Kindle Fire that we promptly passed on to our 4-year-old screen-addicted grandson for him and his family. Christmas gift. We are giving our other grandchildren the Google color-screen thingamabobs for reading and gaming for Christmas. They are dang near cheaper than a box of Lincoln Logs. And they are not just gaming devices, but a delivery device for books.
For a moment let’s look beyond the typical “coot-ish” argument of “Owww, I must have the feel of a book, the aroma of paper and ink, the sound of pages turning. I need an actual book in my hands for the experience, blah, blah…” Hopefully the days of physical books are going away, and my suggestion is “Git ov’r it, y’old farts!” Okay, fellow old farts. I’m sure people, all now dead, felt the same way about the demise of clay tablets, cave drawings, scrolls, and smoke signals. Backordering was invented in the days when people wrote books one copy at a time.

I think I have boiled down the major reasons to turn away from the printed book for once and all time. There are just ten listed here but I have two others I’m holding back so I won’t have twelve on the list.
1) Libraries will no longer require huge buildings since the e-versioning of the books in the Library of Congress will fit into a single-wide with enough room left for a few reading TV trays. In these days of lowered city budgets, it’s great when one window unit can cool an entire library. No more cricked-up necks from browsing book spines in the library stacks. Plus librarians will be free to get real jobs or appear as contestants on Jeopardy.
2) The savings in “spine” string would stretch from the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis to the far edge of the known Universe. This saved string can be used for other things like making hammocks, for filling the insides of more yo-yo’s, and giving towns across the country the ability to create string balls the size of Sperm Whales as a method of drawing tourists.
3) We will save enough trees to build fifty-seven Noah-style animal arks a week for fifty years. Plus we will have 250 million trees left growing which give us oxygen, and give birds more choices of places to perch, and squirrel escape routes from pursuing cats.
4) Fewer paper mills will mean like 55% less air stink in the rural south.
5) Reduced weight on the Earth’s crust will mean a straighter trajectory and less wobbly course around the sun.
6) Fewer deaths of people and pets who are crushed by accidentally or purposefully overturned book shelves. Also an end of tripping over stacks of books in the dark. It is all but impossible to trip on a Kindle (depending on the thickness of the padding of the case). Also fewer hernias when moving boxes of books when changing residences.
7) There will be fewer rodents since there will be no making nests from the pages of books stored in boxes. The death of dust jackets will mean less food roach and centipede food.
8) More shelf space in stores for necessities like shampoos, laxatives, tennis balls, candies, and socks.
9) The cardboard presently being wasted on hardcovers can now be used to make disposable ping-pong paddles, the bills of baseball caps, and those “For Rent” signs that go in windows.
10) No more need for book burnings by fascists or wing-nut churches. Censorship of books can now be accomplished with a few keystrokes from a Government computer. In fact it will be far easier for officials to keep up with what everyone reads without having to look into our windows.
Feel free to tell me what you would have put on my list if it was your list.

17 thoughts on “It’s High Time We Abandon The Printed Book Once and For all.

  1. “In fact it will be far easier for officials to keep up with what everyone reads without having to look into our windows.”

    ROTFL!!!! I was just pondering my amazing Kindle this evening. In the 11.5 months since buying my Kindle, I’ve downloaded 271 books.

    That is many, many times more then I could have obtained in that period with paper books.

    It’s the best invention after computers. Now the only book titles I buy in paper are the non-fic titles that utilize graphs and charts that aren’t easily viewable on an ereader.

  2. No more taking thirty books with me on vacation and not having the one I REALLY want when I get there.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and Susan, John! My wish is that you get over that shyness thing. We all want to know how you really feel.

  3. There are a few things I would take off your list. #3 is incorrect. First, consider that the trees that are turned into pulp are usually the junky trees that aren’t good for much else. There are more trees growing in America today than there were when Columbus discovered the new world. In part, this is because that after the forest management companies let logging companies harvest a forest they go in and plant new trees. By the time these trees reach maturity, they will likely be in better condition than the pulp wood would have been if it had been left.

    But I would add:

    More stores putting product on attractive wooden shelves because the lower price of lumber makes it more cost effective than metal.

    More jobs for nuclear power plant workers so we can recharge all of our battery powered book reading devices.

    More hazardous waste jobs to dispose of our broken devices.

  4. No more books???? Where will the dust in my house have a place to settle? And without a heavy stack of books on my nightstand, how will I keep it from floating weightlessly across my bedroom?

    You’re a book Scrooge, Miller, but if I didn’t have my ereader, I’d still be waiting for my mail delivery of THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY by Joe Moore & Lynn Sholes or would be fighting the crowds at the mall shopping for it–only to find they have to order it for me. After indulging my impatience with one-click of my ereader, I’m enjoying the heck out of Joe’s book. Boo-yah!

    Merry Christmas to you and Susan, John. May 2012 whack you upside the head with all sorts of good stuff.

  5. Cool essay! I also love my Kindle, although, being an “old fart” resisted for a long time, Now, I’m a solid convert. However, there are two things that come to mind that we lose or might lose with ebooks:

    1. Without print books, we would never again enjoy brilliant books such as THE ROACHES HAVE NO KING. Scenes like the bookburning one in “1984” couldn’t be written.

    2. When the apocalypse comes and we no longer have electricity, what will we read?

    The main problem, for me though, is that THE ROACHES HAVE NO KING wouldn’t have been written and that’s one of my five favorite books of all time.

  6. Timothy,
    Buy a generator in case of meltdowns. Get one of those bicycle powered deals and you can read while you gen up more units of electricity. Most modern pulp comes from the hardback copies of my books that were sent back to Bantam.

    I am Beta reading Gilstrap that he sent to my Kindle. Might be his best yet. Most difficult to say, given the material involved in the comparison.

  7. Okay, but . . .

    1. You can’t press flowers from your wedding bouquet in a Kindle. You need old engineering books for that.

    2. You can’t clamp things you are glueing together with a Kindle, unless you have a really big pile of them. Old engineering and law books are great for that.

    3. You probably wouldn’t want to level that wobbly coffee table with your Kindle even though the thickness is perfect. Books like “The Wisdom of Snooki” are perfect for that.

    However, the infection rate from untended paper cuts incurred when moving and pawing through old books will plummet, thus easing the burden on our health care system.

    And with a print book you couldn’t accidentally slip and hit the wrong key and email the Gilstrap beta to my Kindle.


  8. To answer John Ramsey Miller–in a way, John. There are five branches of the Edgerton family, all from England and Ireland. Clyde’s branch came to the U.S. through the Carolinas and mine through Canada. so, we are related, but not closely. I’m a big fan of his work also. We’re also related to Doc Edgerton who invented all kinds of photography stuff, including strobes. I’m the only black sheep…

  9. John . . . sorry, friend. I so disagree! Embedded deep in my brain is the Star Trek TV episode when Jean-Luc Pickard is holding an “antique” book in his hand. As he gently turns another page, he says to La Forge (or whomever) . . .”It’s a book. Very precious. It’s how they used to ready a long time ago. I love the feel of it in my hand.”

    Books may one day be made with something other than paper in order to save our trees, but the tactile part of our primal being is always going to want to fondle the pages.

    So bring on the future technology, but leave one or two books behind for us old farts. πŸ™‚

  10. Good list but there are downsides too. For instance:

    -Nerds would have to come up with a new martial art, because book spines would no longer be available as weapons.

    -It will be harder to impress people with how smart they think you are, because they won’t be able to see all of the fancy-dancy titles on the bookshelf that one hasn’t read.

    -Can’t make flip cartoons on the ends of ebook pages.

    -Can’t hide a pistol inside a kindle.

    -Can’t use an eReader as emergency toilet paper when camping.

    Happy Christmas.

  11. No more having to worry about dropping a book into the bathtub, especially when reading a new release only available in hardcover. It takes FOREVER to dry one of those suckers out, the the pages get all crinkly, and if you’re not quick enough at separating the pages post-dunk, they stick together permanently.

    My Kindle fits perfectly into a medium sized Ziplock freezer bag so as to protect it against any accidental bathing fumbles.

    Try doing that with a book!

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