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Book Sale

October 22, 2007

The occasion of a library book sale brings to mind the fretful topic of the place of books in our lives. Hardcover books for a dollar? Paperbacks for a quarter? Books have always been burnable, but have they become disposable, too?

Although I wish people would take better care of library books, I don’t fret too much about the future of books. About 1.5 million new titles are published around the world each year; 450,000 in English. That’s thirty percent; only 6% of the world’s population speaks English as a first language.

Of course, the printed word looks pretty reliable when our modern words prove fugitive. The first version of today’s column died with my laptop. I went to my computer in the library to write another only to find I couldn’t connect to the Internet … not crucial to writing but critical for delivering it to the inner sanctum of the Mountain Mail.

I found a stalled network router and gave it a kick start, and so you are reading this. Certainly, the printed word has always faced such technical challenges … broken pencils, dry ink pens, or a prankster getting into the typesetter’s California Job Case.

I was recently reading a newspaper from the typesetting days … the Ulster County Gazette from January 4, 1800, reporting on various things including the death of George Washington.

I wonder if typesetters ever tired of sentences such as “It is with extreme concern I inform your Lordship, that an attack has been made on the allied army, the result of which has been favorable to the enemy.” (Microsoft Word’s grammar checker doesn’t approve of the first comma.)

It feels like a rare thing to hold such a newspaper, but in fact this particular issue was reprinted numerous times over the next century. Several hundred thousand were sold at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876. So this issue pops up everywhere.

We have a long history of inundating ourselves with print. Modern technology has merely enabled our addiction to print, as modern agriculture has for fat and sugar.

As part of the vision of a paperless office (if not paperless society), Xerox first invented electronic paper (e-paper) 35 years ago. Only recently has technology caught up with the idea enough to make an electronic display that approximates paper.

The original inventor, Nicholas Sheridon, envisions a personal device in the form of a small tube out of which will scroll the e-paper when you want to read. Content would be delivered wirelessly and displayed on the e-paper.

I chuckled at the return to a scroll, which was how early libraries were kept, when papyrus scrolls replaced clay tablets.

We have a great market now via the Internet for used books that makes it possible to find many obscure titles rather easily. In fact, some of the regular buyers at our library book sales are online book sellers.

This relatively new book market has actually made the book less disposable than before. Many used books find homes they might not have twenty years ago. In any case, the library book sale tradition continues …

The book sale will be Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in the library basement. As has been the case for most of two decades, hardcover books will sell for dollar and paperbacks for a quarter.

We will also have other media – CDs, DVDs, tapes – plus our usual “free” room. Don’t miss it.

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