Sunday, August 15, 2010

Does the Format Really Matter?

It's not surprising that a book titled "Books" has me thinking, and talking, a lot about books.  Found this one at a used bookstore which fits the theme of this book.  It's a memoir of McMurtry's life as a reader, a writer and a bookseller.  An antiquarian bookseller which I think deserves its own distinction.  It's an ok book.  It has me on the lookout for "Lonesome Dove" or another McMurtry title to read his fiction.

The book starts out with McMurtry discovering reading.  His parents weren't readers and it took a gift of books from a cousin for McMurtry to enter the land of fiction and reading.  I can relate to childhood consumption, and over consumption of times, of reading everything you could put your hands on.  Then we move onto McMurtry starting to write and also starting to learn about the antiquarian book trade.  McMurtry continues to be a huge reader, even when he is on the hunt for rare and expensive books.  He starts an antiquarian bookstore in Georgetown, which later moves to Archer City, TX.

Ok, now bear with me.  So you have reading which is an activity.  Then you have books.  Added to that you have antiquarian books which are collected and could be considered works of art.  So the box that McMurtry received from his cousin, or the paperback reading room my parents had, would any of these be less powerful if they were in electronic format?  Is it the story that draws you in as a new reader?  The content rather than the cover design, the size of the book or the smell?  

Sometimes you hear that people don't read anymore but what is meant by that?  Because with blogs, websites, electronic newspapers, Facebook updates, Twitter feeds, text messages, etc. some people are reading a lot.  Maybe they are just not reading books.  And what do we mean by books?  Does it have to have a cover?  Or if it's a story with a defined start and finish could that be a book as well?  

I have to get the title for the Newberry book group for September.  It's not a book I know and it's not one I have been looking for to read.  I have to buy it so I can read it.  I was thinking if I had an e-reader I would just buy it electronically instead of having to search for it (not at the library, not at the local bookstore so I ordered it online).  I don't really care about the physical part of the book because I just need the content.  Plus I'm not a book collector, rare or otherwise.  Yes, I would like to someday display my curated book collection but I don't need to keep every book I've ever read just for a trophy. 

So that's what McMurtry has me thinking about.  Are people reading less?  Or are new formats making more readers?  I can't ever see making the 100% commitment to electronic reading, but I will be making the leap in the next few months to get an e-reader and can see where it makes sense in my reading life.  One that began because I had easy access to books and a family that encouraged reading.  That puts me onto another thought - you can see books on the shelf and many users can see the same collection but e-readers depend on a user having their own device.  So would my reading life have been different if I could not wander into a room with a huge bookcase but instead had to wait for my mom & dad to hand me a Kindle or an iPad?   Luckily I'm already on my way in life as a big reader but I will be curious to see what the future holds for new readers.

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