Dr. Justin Young, a competitor in The Amazing Race 19, has just transplanted to sunny southern California from Atlanta, looking to re-energize himself. I recently ran into him at Bru Café in Los Feliz. He was Skyping on his smartphone about a cool new academic and cultural exchange program, Burma Educational Exchange Program, that he's involved in. He explains BEEP seeks to "empower student leaders and health professionals here in the U.S. and in Burma and beyond."
Physician Young also had an iPad sitting next to his coffee, along with, wait for it -- two hard copy books, including, The War of Art, whose basic premise for artists and non-artists alike is that all that stands between who we are and who we want to be is... resistance.
Young was also going to visit local Skylight Books to pick up a cookbook because he found "following recipes on a downloaded cookbook is a little messy when your hands are into prepping foods and you're trying to swipe your iPad or Kindle."
Indeed, the new world of books is still evolving. But book fairs continue to flourish. The Guadalajara International Book Fair (November 29-December 4) reports that nearly 700,000 attend including the trade and the public. The Miami Book Fair (November 17-24) involves a Street Fair and includes the Festival of Authors with more than 350 authors reading and discussing their works.
By the way, despite the very cool and relatively recent trending of e-books, hard copy books still account for over 75 percent of trade publishing revenues.
On a local level, circulation of hard copy books at my Los Feliz Library is up, possibly because of continuing tough economic times and people watching their spending. But, as with other libraries that continue to exist, the branch has also seen a major uptick in use of its Wi-Fi and computer workstation services. Nicknamed the Leo Library because of the actor's investment in the "Leonardo DiCaprio Computer Center," the facility also offers something that many Millennials didn't grow up on -- the sensation of opening, smelling and reading an actual book.
Dr. Young, 33, explains:
"I love my electronic tools and apps. But I grew up when you felt like you'd achieved something, a reward, when you closed a book after going on its journey. It may be old-fashioned, but I don't take my iPad to the beach. I like to disconnect there, and you can't truly do that with Facebook or Twitter updating from coast to coast. Sometimes it's important to just reconnect with oneself. And there's something unique about having my own book to read in my own space without prying eyes." Making reference to the A.I. system that features centrally in the Terminator movie franchise, he quips, "Just in case Skynet becomes self-aware and takes over!"
Dr. Young has plans to set up his own library of real books when he settles into his new SoCal home, explaining that one's personal library and the books selected "says something about the person, and having an iPad full of digital books on empty shelves wouldn't quite say the same thing!"
Skylight Books, a thriving indie bookstore, offers the same tactile sensation that a library does, plus more -- including online ordering and podcasts of the many monthly author readings which is a nice balance between the two book worlds.
Skylight's author readings often sell out and audiences sit in the intimate setting in amongst the bookshelves. It makes you want to reach out and open them. Smell that distinctive new book scent, hear the new spine of a hard cover crack. Let's face it, books are personal and sensual. And there is a sense of accomplishment when we come to those two words, "The End" and close the "book" on the journey we've just taken.
Indie bookstores like Skylight and surviving libraries are resilient. Perhaps even more so than the digital books on our e-tablets.
People say, Isn't it awesome that no trees were chopped down, that my 'library' of books are in one place -- okay, it's only a digital place, but I have my own digital library. However, what are the risks of having all our eggs in one basket, of having increasing amounts of our information and entertainments available only digitally? And what if the Net was shut off and we had no physical back up for the Fifty Shades Trilogy or Game of Thrones or War of Art?
So Dr. Young and others emphasize a balance between the two worlds. That's why painter Licsko's "Kindling" provocatively and cheekily depicts the specter of a modern digital book burning.
Years on from Fahrenheit 451, caveat emptor -- be careful what we wish for.
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