My Book Problem

by Warren Adler

In another few weeks, I will be moving to another apartment in the same building in Manhattan where I have spent the past few years. While moving in itself is a traumatic event as everyone knows, my principal problem is books.

I have a huge collection of books. In the three or four major moves in my lifetime I have culled, boxed, given away and donated thousands of books. During each nesting experience, however, I have acquired yet more books and have repeated the culling process each time. I could never pass a bookstore without buying one or more books.

The fact is that I am probably a bibliophile in my soul. I love books. Reading books takes up much of my time, when I am not writing books. For years I have collected sets of leather bound books by favorite authors. It is a valuable collection. I have leather bound books by Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Dickens, Hardy, O’Henry, Balzac, Henry James, Turgenev, Twain, de Maupassant, and on and on. To list them all would make this essay endless.

I also have duplicate copies of my own books in every language in which they have been translated and published. They amount to hundreds of copies. I will never part with them. They are as much a part of me as my DNA.

I love reading novels, older novels and contemporary novels. My tastes are eclectic. I have many non-fiction books as well, on politics, history and religion with particular emphasis on American history, which is yet another passion.

Now here is the kicker.

I am a pioneer in electronic publishing. All of my books have been reversed from major publishers and digitized since the late nineties. I have for years been touting the inevitable switch from print to digital. It was a no-brainer bound to happen. And it has reached the tipping point.

I made the first pitch for digital books on handheld reading devices at the Las Vegas International Consumer Electronics Show for the SONY reader when it was introduced in 2007. I bought one of the first Kindles and for kicks have been collecting other reading devices like the iPad and the Nook.

For years I have been addressing groups on the joys of reading content on screens. At first my reception had been hostile. I have listened to the same complaints ad infinitum. They all have the same ring. I love the tactile feel of a book. I love the smell of ink and paper. I love to hold them. Books are my friends. I like to see them on my shelves. A curse on screen-read books.

My response is always the same. I feel your pain. I cite other examples of lost items, both corporeal and emotional: The clip-clop sound of a horse’s hooves on city streets, the beauty of horse-drawn vehicles, the smell and sounds of sizzling logs in fireplaces, the fading art of writing letters, the lost joys of childhood, the reassuring scratches made by pen points dipped in inkwells, my mother’s cooking, the reassuring house calls of the family doctor, the old New York Herald Tribune, penny candy, knickers, saddle shoes, the Brooklyn Dodgers. It didn’t bring tears to the eyes of my audience and did not soften the blows to my advocacy of digital books.

I would explain to those early listeners and those I speak to today that there is a lot to say for the psychic joys of a physical book, but, in the end, there is one hard truth that is inescapable. The heart of a book is its content. Content trumps all. When all is said and done reading is a one on one communication system, an author’s presentation of his or her insights, stories, opinions, a distillation of his or her thoughts, instructive, inspirational, original, and, in its own way, a miracle of transference through words. I suppose one can find numerous other definitions, both literary and instructive. Content and its dissemination is the beating heart of civilization. Enough said. I’m sure the point is made.

In one tiny device, Kindle, Nook, iPad et al, I can fit the content of every book on my shelves and can, if I chose, soon be able to download at my whim the content of my choice among most books ever published since the discovery that content can be portable.

That said, it does not diminish my love of physical books as objects of admiration and devotion.

But here I am culling once again. I find I am being more ruthless than ever with less second thoughts or pangs of conscience on what to keep and what to discard. I no longer really want to shelve paperbacks and am making my culling judgments on the basis of my emotional attachments, my love of the content presented by those authors who have truly moved me, whose content has given me hours of pleasure and made a difference in my understanding of the human condition.

I will keep those books in my new apartment as a monument to my love of books and my favorite authors as well as a symbol of enduring friendship.

Oh yes, one more thought. While I can enjoy the sight of seeing many of my “friends” tucked comfortably on my bookshelves, I can now carry these “friends” everywhere I go and in both a physical and symbolic sense hold them close to my heart.

Posted with permission from Warren Adler, author of War of the Roses, who also happens to be an ebook pioneer and rabid digital evangelist

2 Comments on My Book Problem

  1. curiosity killed the.. // 12 April, 2011 at 10:33 am // Reply

    I’m still on the fence of this analog to digital reading revolution happening these past few years
    even though last xmas I received my 1st e reader and enjoy reading free books that i can easily find online. i think the biggest problem with the whole system as it is right now is the pay books drm.
    i can feel the anguish writers are having lately as to which direction to turn when it comes to their ultimate paychecks on the table.
    everything’s going digital the publishers will probably hound any and all authors new and old about selling their works through ebooks. but i can see the wheels turning in their heads about where its all leading and if there will become a time when its all digital(with drm restrictions) with only made to order hardbacks/paperbacks are the norm.
    and i believe some of the largest reasons this revolution hasn’t already become more so engrained in the minds of the masses is
    digital copies are the same price as the physical forms(roughly) and if that changed and it became much cheaper to buy digital most e reader friendly people would flood the markets ensuring a prosperous income.
    another reason it hasn’t yet become absolute norm is the price of e readers. sure $114 for kindle and like devices but until it reaches in the 50’s range the average lite reader will probably pass up the opportunity for the real books.
    What i think authors need to realize though is the book industry has been built up from its birth to handle the costs of printing the prices on the cover reflects not only its worth but that of the manufacturing/distribution marvels that have transpired so many generations of reading.
    digital is a clean slate for pricing and the “loss” of pricing if/when it does start to fall verses the physical forms will most likely increase revenue for both publishers and authors when more people can afford their favorite new books and old.
    in fact I’m sure the figures they are seeing for all the digital book sales are further encouraging them to push ereading into super mainstream.
    i just think the drm could be less stringent to those that have the tendency to read and recycle(resell to pay for the next round of books)

  2. I have only owned my Kindle for several months and just love it! I love reading books on it, marking favorite passages and with a simple click, seeing them all at once. Just being able to choose and buy at any time, anywhere … well, what more to say. At book club or while chatting with friends, listening to radio or watching TV, I can check any book reference within seconds. Sigh. Who knew?

    What I do miss about books are the covers. Don’t miss the weight of books.

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