Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Book: Death or Resurrection?

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The Book: Death or Resurrection?

The rise of digital reading devices such as the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook have marked a turn towards literature that's user-friendly. These devices, and a slew of others now on the market, allow readers to download content without a computer and take their library with them. The Kindle, a device most of us are at least familiar with by name, holds approximately 250 MB of memory (which adds up to about 200 non-illustrated titles). You can "bookmark," highlight, look up content, and "save clippings" as you go - a godsend for travelers and environmentalists.

But for neo-Luddites and tree lovers in the opposite sense - that is to say, scholars, ex-beatniks, and hardcover aficionados - the Kindle means the book has officially been extinguished.

For some, digital reading devices may seem counterintuitive. They make reading easier by erasing the work of supporting bookstores and the authors themselves. They make reading seem like a duty, like checking email. For others, they are a refreshing sign of our ever-modernizing times, and a green light, ecologically speaking.

The question of whether the book is on its way to the grave has been asked ad nauseam, maybe because "the future" arrived a while back. Around 1962, to be exact, when Marshall McLuhan prophesized that the Western world was entering a new mental universe held together by post-printing technology. Or perhaps the nearer future can be dated to 1993, when Canadian futurist Frank Ogden ("Dr. Tomorrow") came out with his novel The Last Book You'll Ever Read. Nearly two decades ago, Ogden predicted that the printed page would soon meet its demise. Today, the era of e-books is making its way into university classrooms.

In the end (or new beginning, rather) we have to ask ourselves: does digitization mean death? Or might the Kindle be a way of creating a new type of readership? An audience more attentive to literary detail? Digital books allow readers to search for words, phrases, and page numbers at lightning speed. Quick: Joyce's Ulysses takes place over what period of time? Where is brother Dmitri exiled to in Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov? Locating minute details is easy with the Kindle, and that also goes for keeping up with news at it happens, and sharing it just as fast using the various online social networking tools many of us have already subscribed to.

We are entering the new age of the book, which may lead to journals without pages and libraries without walls. This is not evidence that book culture is dying; rather, it is being reincarnated. That the conundrum of trees vs. technology is a lively debate is indeed evidence that the death of old fashioned codex is a far cry. Moreover, digital books have opened up a space for the extension of learning. E-books bear as much intellectual legitimacy as their paper counterparts. In the end, it might be a question of taste.

Paperbacks might not need upgrading, booting, or any power other than eyesight, but digital books offer a new way of seeing - and if their distribution means more people get into the habit of reading, then let us welcome them into the house and on our mantels. True to its name, the Kindle bursts onto the scene with flames that might very well be the old book we once knew. But alas, it brings a peculiar light.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Adebe D.A.

Adebe D.A. is a writer whose words travel between Toronto and New York. She recently completed her MA at York University, where she also served as Assistant Editor for the arts and literary journal, Existere. Her debut poetry collection, Ex Nihilo, was published this year by Frontenac House, and subsequently longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize, the world’s largest prize for writers under 30.

Go to Adebe D.A.’s Author Page