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What makes a book a book?

My husband doesn't blog himself, but he follows my posts, and he has taken it on himself to point out items of interest to me, such as Richard Cohen's column in today's Washington Post.

Cohen's column is titled "The Book on the Shelf," and in it he laments the passing of physical books and bookstores. He recounts a story of finding good but obscure authors because booksellers recommended their books to him. He blames the Kindle for the imminent demise of the bookstore as we know it—he doesn't mention the role of the huge chain bookstores in driving out the neighborhood bookstore, only Amazon.com. The point I think Cohen is missing is the slump in reading as recreation, which the Kindle could alleviate. Today's young people grew up the digital age. If a hard copy book isn't what they're looking for, then the book has to adapt or die. The Kindle doesn't represent the death of books, but rather their evolution.

Here is Cohen's surprising closing paragraph (surprising because he bought a Kindle!):

"Feeling oddly guilty, I bought a Kindle myself. Someday soon, I'm going to see how it works. I hesitate because I know it represents the beginning of the end -- books as books, bookstores, book lovers and, inescapably, the brilliant Frederic Manning, resurrected by a bookseller only to be eventually reinterred as too obscure to be Kindled."

I think the charge of books falling into obscurity because of the digital age is missing yet another point. People will still talk about books, and being able to browse books will not go away because the "aisle" is virtual instead of physical. If anything, there will be better browsing because there's no shelf too low or too high to be read.

If you want to complain about the Kindle, go after Amazon's take-no-prisoners business model instead.




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