On Books

It is a threatening, blustery, wind driven, and rainy, gray day outside. The causative weather system has been given the name Irene, and we’ve heard nearly non stop coverage of her genesis, growth and travels for almost the entire week. I don’t mean to make small of the impact this hurricane,ne tropical storm has had and will continue to have on people and places in its more direct path, but as I sit here in metropolitan Boston, the net result of this undeniably inclement weather is an archetypical great day to read a book.

The fact that as I mutter these words, my minds eye pictures a person reclined in an easy chair with a paper volume in their hands and perhaps a cool lemonade or warm coffee nearby is surely indicative that I am a creature whose age numbers three score and more years. As a matter of fact the notion of reading anything that isn’t a backlit plasma screen, smart phone or “I” pad is fairly archaic these days; something that simultaneously saddens and alarms me.

As I intend to self publish a photo book in the near future, I’ve been doing some research and in the process came across in informative but frightening article entitled “Some Unvarnished Truths About the Book Business” written by Brooks Jensen, a dazzling editor for Lens Work magazine. While the article’s purpose is to shed a brutal spotlight on the realities of self publishing, especially in terms of photo books, the opening pages lay important groundwork by establishing the facts around Americas’ reading habits in the twentieth century. My jaw dropped and heart sank when I read the following statistics.

  • 1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
  • 42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college.
  • 80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.
  • 70 percent of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
  • 57 percent of new books are not read to completion.
  • 70 percent of books published do not earn back their advance.
  • 70 percent of the books published do not make a profit.

(Source: Jerold Jenkins, http://www.JenkinsGroup.com)

  • About 120,000 books are published each year in the U.S.

(Source: http://www.bookwire.com)

  • A successful fiction book sells 5,000 copies.
  • A successful nonfiction book sells 7,500 copies.

These facts sit uncomfortably with me in many ways. Aesthetically and nostalgically I am fond of books. The act of reading and my joy of so doing connect with a spirit of desire to learn something new; to explore a subject or a line of thinking in depth. I enjoy the process of thought, rumination if you will, on a subject for more than the average current attention span , which responses in “Google Answers” vary from 7 seconds to 25 minutes but certainly not long enough to ingest a couple of chapters from a good book. The question becomes has our sense of enjoyment in the pursuit of pleasure been amputated by the onslaught of instant gratification or simply atrophied from lack of exercise? Can we no longer wait even a little while for the answer to the question? Is it that we think so poorly of the author that spends endless hours crafting a well written journey into a world created by the interaction between his/her semantics and the readers imagination or perhaps that our imagination no longer exists, having been rudely exorcised by the blink-of-an-eye access to every possible answer to any conceivable questions via the ubiquitous internet and all knowing Google. If any of these possibilities are true than I am a saddened individual. Myself, I’ve read at least five books this year with four more in process and additionally consume a host of photography magazines and select National Geographic articles monthly. I’m old fashioned but not a Luddite; this is after all my blog, thank you. But for a moment, let’s step back from the romanticism of a good book and consider two other troubling thoughts.

A good friend of mine and thoughtful social activist George Mokray, sent me a link to an interesting article the other day. The initial paragraph is an eye opener because of the screaming clarity of the fact that the internet is an entirely censorable and controllable source despite the apparent façade of individuality. It begins…

When Wikileaks was thrown off Amazon’s servers, some people began to wonder about the security of their communications on the Internet in a new way. When Egypt shut down access to the Internet and mobile  phones for the whole country, more people began to think about how easy it seems to be to pull the plug, even in the USA.  News that “Beijing plans to track all mobile phone movements (http://topics.scmp.com/news/china-news-watch/article/Beijing-to-track-all-mobile-phone-users-movements), a test run in two areas of the city going on this summer, doesn’t help either.

Let’s think about this for a second. Who owns and supports the gazillion internet servers that comprise this thing we call the “internet”. Are we naïve enough to think that such powerful communications channels as Facebook and LinkedIn are even remotely below the radar of Homeland Security and the FBI? And simply one other question that should put a chill between your shoulder blades… Do you think Rupert Murdock only hacked phones? As long as the internet is this malleable and owned directly or indirectly by interests which may seek to suppress or even invent “truths” to protect their interests, it is the publics only backup to be able to purchase books and other publications as tangible objects whose veracity and legitimacy can be verified as sources of information and knowledge outside the sphere of influence of large self interested entities.

Second, do any of you out there have a 3.5 inch disk, record album, Zip drive, VHS video tape, 35mm camera? Here’s the deal. With increasing frequency the medium of support for the treasured media advances of the current day, are replaced by “new”, “better”, “flashier” technology. Then all the “outdated stuff has to be replaced by new versions in the latest format. As you and I rush to the Apple Store, Target or Best Buy to get the latest “I” gadget, do you ever think that somewhere someone is making the decision about what does and does not get translated onto/into a format that will be accessible for future generations? Just how objective are they? History is important and to whom we entrust its guardianship is critical.

 I suggest we each become individual guardians of a little segment of history. Keep you books proudly. Turn your home into a mini library. Collect your favorite author or subject matter. Fill two bookshelves, slowly but deliberately.

Don’t rush out and buy a Kindle, Nook, KoBo or other wireless reading device just because everybody else has one. Go to a brick and mortar bookstore. (Too late for Borders though. We turned our back on her and she dried up and went away.)

 Buy a book and read it, today. (If you don’t like Shakespeare try Stephen King.)

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August 2011

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All Photographic Images ©Arni Cheatham, Segami Images and Eyes and Ears, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of photographs without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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