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Books: The Watering Hole

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I have been in publishing my entire working life -- not because I planned it, but because when looking through internship programs while in college at Barnard (a really long time ago) I saw an opening with a literary agency. I had no idea what a literary agent did, but I was a fairly typical book geek and it seemed like something I could do with my English major besides teach.

I stayed in publishing because once there, I found I couldn't do anything else. My childhood compulsion to read (and talk about how I thought the books could be better) became a way of life -- one about which I am deeply passionate, but also realistic.

For my entire working life, the world of books has gone through huge upheavals: expansions at first, then contraction, contraction, contraction. There were more books than ever to publish, and fewer people to handle them; more books, fewer people to read them; more books, fewer places to sell them; more books, fewer places to get attention for them, because everywhere -- The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Boston Globe -- book review sections were closing down.

So when Arianna asked me to think about a Books section for The Huffington Post, I thought, why a new books section, why Huffington Post, why now?

Because there's never been a better time or place. People who think books are dying don't understand the power of ideas to inspire. And people who think books will die at the hands of the Internet, don't understand the power of what happens when an engaged reader -- of both web and print content -- discovers new ideas, new thoughts, new thinkers, or remembers the impact of a classic. Word spreads faster than ever, and the ensuing debate helps refine ideas for the future.

Filmmaker Mickey Lemle (from whom you will hear in several blog posts), quotes Marshall McLuhan saying something to the effect that one medium doesn't replace another; it frees it to do what it does best. TV didn't kill radio, movies didn't kill theater, the Internet won't kill books. Nothing can replace the experience of settling into a comfortable chair, perfect reading lamp hovering above, favorite beverage on the end table (and for me, a little piece of high octane chocolate), opening a book on your lap and entering into a long, deep conversation of minds: the one that takes place between yours and the author's.

Thanks to the Internet, we have access to a wider range of books than ever before -- those from the conglomerates, to the regional presses, from the world of print on demand to pure digital format. We have access to a wider range of reviews and reviewers (book blogs -- wait till you see how many there are). We have the potential for immediate feedback, to find out what's working and what's not, what's being searched on Google and what's dropping off the map. We have the potential for more dialog than ever before about what we like and what we don't, what we want more of and what we want to see less of. We have the freedom to speak about it candidly but look for the Association of American Publishers' First Amendment warrior Judy Platt to alert us to when that right is in danger.

My hope for HuffPost's Books section is that it becomes a gathering place for all kinds of book lovers -- readers, booksellers, writers, editors, reviewers, book publicists, sales reps, book designers and printers -- to speak to each other, to exchange ideas, to honor where we've come from as well as the road ahead. Books are alive and well, but everything around them is changing. So come and speak to us and to each other. Tell us what you want more of and tell us what's not working. Let us know what books you love, and laugh over a few clunkers we found -- stay tuned for a voting slide show on silliest book titles. Because while the Internet won't kill books, boredom, earnestness and despair just might.

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