Saturday, November 13, 2010

"The End of Books" by Octave Uzanne: A Short Story Saturday Feature

There's been speculation that the physical book as we know it is on its way out. What with Kindles, audio books and the plethora of articles online, sometimes it feels like print could disappear and the world would still function. This is an issue my classmates and I have been discussing and it hits a tender nerve with me. Honestly, I think it's going to be a long time before digital resources could be in the position to trump print. I have my reasons which we'll begin to explore today and more so in my next post.

This man started it all. Johannes Gutenberg's movable type press, invented in 1439, lead the way to the mass production of books that we revel in today. Many thanks Johannes! Print's role as King of Text has been challenged for quite some time. The print vs. digital saga we're experiencing now is just another skirmish in an ongoing battle for textual dominance. Would it surprise you to to know that people have been thinking about this issue for over a hundred years?

Octave Uzanne  (1851-1931) was a French bibliophile, author, journalist and book snob extraordinaire (see link for photos of his lavish books). If you're a book lover or intrigued by the print vs. digital issue, I think you will enjoy this short story.

I give you "The End of Books."

My Reactions: 
I was surprised at how accurate some of Uzanne’s predictions were. Of course, the phonograph with wax cylinders did not last long. But the idea for audio books is there which I found interesting. However, Uzanne pokes fun at the idea of audio books. He suggests people can’t be bothered to strain their eyes to read (or they’re just too lazy to read) so they listen to books instead. What do you all think of this idea? Do audio books offer the exact same experience that reading a book does? I’ve often wondered about this (hmm… maybe I should research this topic!). What is the same? What is different?

New media brings new possibilities and challenges. Edison’s phonograph made recording audio possible. Uzanne envisions authors becoming narrators and since anybody can talk anybody can record – good writers or not! Surely the quality of self-published material will be far inferior to anything recognized by peers and published by a respectable publishing house. Right? Or, no? What about blogging? Isn’t it the same concept – anybody can publish whether they’re good at creating content or not. Unlike Uzanne, I’ve never bemoaned this fact. I find it exciting that more and more people can reach a greater audience though self-publishing efforts. Good content will, in time, find more readers and the not-so-good content will find less readers. Marketing strategies aside, I think it’s that simple.

What I agree/disagree on with Uzanne:
  • Agree: Other forms of textual media will rise that will become popular (like audio books and e-readers) but they will not utterly replace the book. 
  • Agree: The mass production of books means many will be created that are not meant to last.
  • Disagree: The mass production of anything less than “literature” of the highest quality will lead to the doom of man’s intelligence! Smart people are naturally drawn to nerdy, smart things and won’t stop because someone wrote, and they read, a subpar book (example: I read and relatively enjoyed Twilight. No, my brain has not quit working).
  • Agree: Print is a large, integral part of our industry and will not be snuffed out in only a few years because new media emerged. Even though bookstores have been closing (we are in a recession after all), book publishers are hanging in there and still produce large numbers of physical books.
  • Agree: The aesthetic experience of holding and reading a book cannot be duplicated. Either it’s paper or it isn’t.
  • Disagree: Author as publisher means too much bad literature! Author as publisher means more good literature (that might never have surfaced under other circumstances).
For all Uzanne’s foresight he does not envision the complicated digital world we live in today. My posts live online (via the server who stores them for me) and in a document file on my computer. I have no physical copies. Will Blogger store my blog posts for the next 10 years, my lifetime, forever? What if my computer crashes and I lose all my documents? What about online articles and ebooks?

Keep an eye out for "The Saga of Print vs. Digital Continued." Today’s post scratched the surface of why digital resources are not ready to act as King of Text. In my follow up post I’ll discuss exactly why digital media are not yet trustworthy enough to store all of planet Earth’s information as well as ongoing efforts to remedy this issue.

This has been a Short Story Saturday feature. Happy reading!


  1. Oh, I pray that I never live in a world without books. At least I can feel confident that if that does happen, it won't be for a long-long-long-long time.

  2. Just wanted to let you know I gave you a blogger award!