Printed Journalism May Be Dying, But Books Still Have a Future (The Conversation)

An interesting article by John Potts in The Conversation today musing about the future of printed presses and how the experience of reading has been changed by the advent of digital technologies. The article certainly does not say anything new, but it struck a chord with me in that I have been considering acquiring a tablet for reading e-books, and as a portable notebook.

I’ve been a regular patron of the Save the Children bookfairs that take place at UWA. Over the years, i’ve acquired a stash of books ranging from $3 Lonely Planets to a poetry anthology that was published in 1897. I’ve also been living a relatively nomadic life – shifting from apartment to townhouse, townhouse to townhouse, apartment to apartment…..even I have lost track of how many times I have moved since moving to Perth. And it follows that with every move, the books go with me as well. And so, the wonderful assortment of bargain books have begun to be a logistical impediment. This has made me re-assess my views about e books. On my recent flight back to Perth, in an attempt to travel light, I took only my laptop bag and my gig bag onto the plane. It was a nightmare stuffing two books into them. On the plane, while I am rummaging through the bag trying to get my books out, a man sitting across from me casually flicks through pages on his Kobo……

So on one hand, electronic books do make the experience of reading a lot easier logistically. I remember commenting to a lady in an airport bookstore about the length of Hugo’s Les Miserables. Imagine compressing all that into a single PDF!

But the move to reading vis an electronic medium has its challenges as well. As Potts writes:

“What is front page news in the hard copy may be hidden online. I’ve had conversations on current events with a friend, based on my reading of the Sydney Morning Herald paper, and her reading of smh.com.au – it became apparent that we had read quite different versions of the news.”

Issues such as priming and political agendas then begin to creep into the picture. Thankfully, my background in communication studies has embedded a practical sense of scepticism with regards to news outlets, but what happens when the consumer/reader is not as discerning?

This is why I find Clive Barker’s Mister B Gone so fascinating. It is a book that celebrates the power of the written word. There is something about the physical, tactile sensation of holding a book in one’s hands that cannot be replaced by whitewashed PDF’s.  In the words of Walter Benjamin, books have an irreplaceable ‘aura’. Which is why, on my trip to Europe later in the year, I will make it a point to check this out:

Shakespeare’s First Folio

But at the same time I am also reminded of Ray Bradbury’s dystopia in Fahrenheit 451. Bradbury imagines a world where books are banned. A world where nobody reads. In Bradbury’s vision, this world destroys itself, and cities are eventually obliterated in the haze  of atomic war. But at the end of the novel, Bradbury gives us a glimpse of hope. Some survivors have learnt a method to memorise the contents of a given book wholesale. So even if books are destroyed, their contents live on in the minds of these select men. Some excerpts:

Would you like, some day, Montag, to read Plato’s Republic?”

“Of course!”

“I am Plato’s Republic. Like to read Marcus Aurelius? Mr. Simmons is Marcus.”


We’re nothing more than dust-jackets for books, of no significance otherwise. Some of us live in small towns. Chapter One of Thoreau’s Walden in Green River, Chapter Two  in Willow Farm, Maine. Why, there’s one town in Maryland, only twenty-seven people, no bomb’ll ever touch that town, is the complete essays of a man named Bertrand Russell. Pick up that town, almost, and flip the pages, so many pages to a person. And when the war’s over, some day, some year, the books can be written again, the people will be called in, one by one, to recite what they know and we’ll set it up in type until another Dark Age, when we might have to do the whole damn thing over again.


‘I hate a Roman named Status Quo!’ he said to me. ‘Stuff your eyes with wonder,’ he said, ‘live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in  factories.


There was a silly damn bird called a Phoenix back before Christ: every few hundred years he built a pyre and burned himself up. He must have been first cousin to Man. But every time he burnt himself up he sprang out of the ashes, he got himself born all over again. And it looks like we’re doing the same thing, over and over, but we’ve got one damn thing the Phoenix never had. We know the damn silly thing we just did. We know all the damn silly things we’ve done for a thousand years, and as long as we know that and always have it around where we can see it, some day we’ll stop making the goddam funeral pyres and jumping into the middle of them.


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'horror': Middle English: via Old French from Latin horror, from horrere ‘tremble, shudder’.

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