On this date in 2003, 16-year old Emerson Spartz traveled nearly 4,000 miles, from Chicago to London, to buy a copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Spartz could have stayed in the United States since the American release of the book was on the same day as the British release, but Spartz said that he wanted to be "where the story began" and to "feel the weight of that book" (1). The fifth installment in the Harry Potter series, Order of the Phoenix weighed in at 768 pages.
Almost ten years earlier the New York Times featured an article called The End of Books that speculated whether or not books and other print-based media were on their way out, being superceded by computer technology, principally hypertext. This is certainly not the first time that anyone prematurely declared books dead. As early as 1894 Scriberner's Magazine had an article entitled The End of Books relaying the predictions of Arthur Blackcross, who claimed that inventions like the photograph and the Kinetoscope, the first silent movie projector, would replace the antiquated written page.
John H. Lienhard, Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering and History at the University of Houston, makes an interesting analogy, challenging the conventional wisdom that says that new technologies replace old ones:
So, are paper books doomed? Oddly enough, they're not. Think about pianos. Pianos evolved from harpsichord improvements. But soon they were something wholly different. You still need a harpsichord for harpsichord music. In this century, cars replaced horses. But cars aren't much use in rough, roadless country (2).
Lienhard continues to argue in the article that books do something for us that no other media can. Instead of just supplying us images and sounds in a passive manner, books allow us to participated in the creation of images as we read actively and interact imaginatively with the text. Perhaps that's why readers like Emerson Spartz are willing to travel to distant cities to feel the weight of a book in their own hands.
And speaking of distant cities --the Greek word for book biblos originates from the name of a Phonecian city, Byblos, renowned for its manufacturing of paper from the Egyptian papyrus plant. It's the same root from which we get the word Bible, meaning book of books.
Today's Challenge: A Stack of Book Words
A book for all book lovers,(sometimes called bibliophiles) is A Passion for Books, a treasury of stories, essays, and lists all related to books. In a chapter called Bibliolexicon, it lists a number of words with the biblio root. See if you can match up each word with its correct definition. When you finish, go to your local bookstore and buy a book.
A. One who steals books
B. One who buries or hides books
C. One who worships books
D. One who tears pages from or otherwise destroys books
E. A book fiend or demon
F. One who eats or devours books
G. One who reads too much
H. One who fears books
I. One who throws books around
J. One who gains wisdom from books (3)
Quote of the Day:
For books are more than books, they are the life
The very heart and core of ages past,
The reason why men lived and worked and died,
The essence and quintessence of their lives.
Answers: 1. G 2. D 3. E 4. A 5. C 6. F 7. H 8. I 9. J 10. B
1 - Grobman, Paul. Vital Statistics: An Amazing Compendium of Factoids, Minutiae, and Random Bits of Wisdom. New York: Plume Books, 2005.
2 - Lienhard, John H. Engines of Ingenuity Episode No. 2009: "The End of Books: 1894" http://www.uh.edu/engines/epi2009.htm
3 - Rabinowitz, Harold and Rob Kaplan (Editors). Passion for Books: A Book Lover's Treasury. New York: Times Books, 1999.