The Evolution of Reading
June 14, 2013
The written word has undergone many evolutions, from carving in stone to factory-produced paperback books. And with evolution, the variety of information and the number of people with access to that information has increased.
In the beginning, there were records. Writing was time consuming, everything copied by hand, and the materials to make books were expensive. So, mainly, writing was reserved for religious texts and recordkeeping. Paper became easier to produce, the printing press was invented, and books were available to more people, and more concepts were put in writing. Literature bloomed. But books were still for the wealthy. By the time of the great American Western Expansion, books were much more common but still fairly expensive. Libraries were only in big cities. People guarded their books jealously, lending them only to the most trustworthy of their friends.
I was reading an article in Smithsonian Magazine that detailed the advent of the paperback book. Before 1938, books were still expensive; bookstores only centered around the largest U.S. cities. And since Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites weren’t available, it wasn’t easy to get reading material. Paperback books brought literature to the masses, and because they were cheap to produce, more topics and books were put into print. Where would we be without Mickey Spillane, for instance? He might never have published a book if paperbacks didn’t exist. Some literary critics scoffed that paperbacks allowed trash to be printed, eroding the very foundation of literature. In reality, books that reflected contemporary times and appealed to ordinary people were printed and read in ways the inventors of the Gutenberg press could only have imagined.
Our newest evolution is the eBook. Yes, yes, so many of my friends, including my daughter (The Girl), eschew the eBooks as lacking in aesthetics. "Where’s the scent and feel of paper?" they say. To me, the point is the words. And I can read the words just as well on a screen as I can on paper. I have a device that can hold countless books and even receive my magazines like Smithsonian. I can buy or borrow, keep or discard at will. I can carry it with me, at the ready in case I have to wait in a doctor’s office or at a train crossing. Books in print are by no means extinct, but now we have better access to more words than ever through new technology. And I’m loving it.
Platte City Branch