Day 234

Today, tomorrow, and Thursday, I will be doing my walking at Jacob Javitz Center, where the American Booksellers Association is holding the annual American Book Expo conference. Naturally there will be lots of buzz about e-books and the future of publishing. One thing I, personally, believe, is that the fate of the book is not the same as the fate of the novel, or the memoir, or the nonfiction literary book.

Writing and communicating has changed over time — from hieroglyphics to papyrus scrolls to linen paper for correspondence and record-keeping. The oral tradition gave way to hand painted manuscripts, leather-bound books, and finally Gutenberg made it possible to put a  Bible in every household and eventually one ever motel room, too.

The human need for stories is much stronger than any recording or transmitting device. Stories, books, novels, newspapers — they tell us who we are, where we belong in the  universe, and how we might live, or live better, or at least live well enough to love and endure. Stories are humanity’s way of speaking to one another across cultures, across oceans, and across time. We have a need to connect and we do it, in part, through the stories we tell and the stories we pass on and the stories we share.

I-pads, Kindle, google books, these things are not going to change our need for stories; neither our need to create them, nor our need to share them.

The book as an object composed of bound paper may someday become obsolete. Publishers are going to continue to struggle to stay ahead of the marketplace revolution and to stay relevant to authors and consumers. Writers and journalists are going to have to fight to be paid for what they write, and are going to have to evolve with the times.

I don’t agree with the guys at Wired who say that information wants to be free. Fire wants to be free, too. Water wants to be free. Anybody’s who’s watching the news in the gulf knows that oil wants to be free, too. 

People want to hear and share stories. That’s not going to change. And so as I go off to cover Book Expo America 2010 for Shelf Awareness, I’m going to be paying particular attention to the conference sessions that are covering the future of books in electronic form. Someday children may not ask to turn the page of a book, any more than they ask to dial the phone or put on a record. But stories heal us. Stories instruct us. Stories are the beginning of our humanity, and that is not going to change.

Watch for my updates from BEA.  I can assure you I will be doing a lot of walking at the Javitz Center to find the stories and the sights that I’ll be seeing, hearing, and sharing.