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Are books on the way out?

An article in the current issue of The Author raises, once again, the question whether the reading (and therefore the writing) of books is a dying art. Most young people get most of their information from the Internet, and reading on that is a quick choppy affair. They generally read just the first couple of sentences of a piece and then move on to something else. They follow headings and links rather than a sustained argument in a long piece of prose.

In fact, I can see the same tendency in myself, and it affects my writing. I tend to use shorter sentences and paragraphs now than previously and more headings. But I still read books and even write them. I care about the form and balance of sentences, choice of words, and punctuation. Does all this make me old-fashioned? Probably, and I sometimes wonder if what I am practising is something like Chinese calligraphy. Certainly more people buy my books as a PDF download than as a printed volume, though that may be simply because the PDF is cheaper.

Anyway, it's too late now to change radically, and I hope there will still be some, like me, who prefer the printed page for as long as I'm able to go on writing. After me, the deluge.

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John Floyd on :

I have more faith in the young technophile reader than you seem to. The younger generation has make good use of the internet, even if they usually skip through, reading only the occasional story in full. I do the same thing with a print newspaper, since I rarely have the luxury of enough time to read more than a few articles in full.

I am more concerned about the quality of the news they are reading, since so much of it is simple assembled information from "consolidating" sites that parrot or link to other sites, which in turn quote other sources. True, original investigative journalism seems to be something that print and broadcast news companies are less and less willing to budget for as they have historically. A critical, intellegent, news agency is necessary in order for a humanistic culture to thrive.

There are still some excellent fiction writers such as Peter Temple of Australia and Peter Robinson now of the U.S., but formerly from Yorkshire. It does seem that the non fiction writers are a bit more stilted these days, perhaps because the publishers or public have less appetite for long, though well-written tomes. There are exceptions, such as the cosmology books from Niel DeGrasse Tyson and the biblical analytical writings of Bart Ehrman, that are as much pleasure to read as any good detective fiction.

Jeff Bezos commented on a statistical analysis that Amazon did last year on the buying habits of people who bought a Kindle electronic book reader (like me). They found that before buying a Kindle these people had been buying 1.6 books/year from Amazon, but after buying the Kindle, they were buying 2.4 ebooks a year PLUS 1.8 print books a year. I don't think those are very big numbers since I buy more than that every few weeks, but it does suggest that these technophiles are still doing a lot of book reading.

Keep writing, it keeps you creative and me informed.

John Floyd on :

I pre-orded the first Kindle and have the 2nd generation Kindle. I may not buy another kindle, because currently it will read only one format, the Amazon proprietary format. The convenience of traveling with many books, and access to numerous periodicals on a single, compact device is
attractive to many people. I am unsure how all this will develop, but looking at my kids generation and their habits, I'm pretty certain that the use of electronic devices to access and read/view/listen to books, magazines, podcast, music, and other medial is going to contunue to grow at a rapid pace. I hope that the next generation will grow up enjoying
curling up in a comfortable chair or couch on a rainy afternoon with a good ebook, the same way we have done the same with a paper book.

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