Books, EBooks, Minneapolis, and Kale with Brown Rice (for Claudia).

It was sales conference time, with Consortium Book Sales and Distribution, the winter version at their Minneapolis headquarters, someplace I always love to visit. Killer airport, Minneapolis, the only one in the world where you can get brown rice and kale as an entree at an airport cafe. And I LIKE brown rice and kale. For breakfast, on my way home, I had a big plate of fruit with two slices of toast, organic peanut butter and little mounds of sunflower seeds and raisins on the side. This may sound like a small thing, but it almost makes me weep with gratitude and pleasure to get real food at a normal price inside of TSA security gates.

Minneapolis 4ever, is what I say.

One of the things I like to do, going back and forth to both the fall/winter and spring/summer conferences, is check out what people are reading on the plane. This is always quite enlightening. Last year, flying back from MSP, every single person who was reading on the plane, with the sole exception of me, was reading on an electronic device of some kind. I, of course, was deep into not only an actual book, but a LIBRARY book. Some kind of Luddite nut, I could hear them all thinking around me.

But things have changed.

This year, I noticed the guy next to me was reading a book. An actual book. And when I looked across the aisle, the woman sitting there was reading a book, too. True, it was a book by Bill O’Reilly. But it was still a book.

Fascinated, I got up to walk to the back of the plane. I did a quick head count. And it was half and half. Half eDevices. Half books.

I sat back down, and thought about that, and about how at sales conference the dynamic Katie Khatib, of the anarchist AK Press, had put in a courteous and eloquent plea for us to talk at these things a little less about the future of the eBook, and a little more about the actual Book. The Book we all know and love.

Here’s the thing about Books. As objects, they are more than simple conveyers of information or pleasure. They have lives of their own. Holding them, you feel through to all the work that went into not just their writing and editing, but their design and manufacture, their sale, their passing from hand to hand. They are, I must repeat, alive in a way that the simple abstraction of their content is not. The difference here is analogous to the difference between homemade split pea soup, and Lipton Cup ‘O Soup. Both are soup. But one has a history and a living meaning that has been leached, for convenience’s sake, from the other.

They both have their place. And any platform for ideas is a good platform–at EAP we put ’em up on every platform going. But I, in my own personal private reading time,  prefer a little less convenience and a little more life. I’ll always prefer the real thing to the abstraction. In just about every part of life.


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