pat walters

freelance journalist in memphis

death of the book

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I’m a big fan of Scott Karp’s journalism blog, Publishing 2.0, but I think his post about bookstores earlier this week missed the mark.

He wrote:

I used to love bookstores — they were magical places where the whole world of information and stories was at your fingertips. But I realized today that the bookstore has begun its slow decent into obsolescence, just like every analogue media institution. The bookstore has been replaced by the Web as the place of wonder, and there’s no turning back.

To a certain extent, he’s right. Indeed, the Web is full of wonder. And no doubt, it is a whole hell of a lot easier to search than a bookshelf.

But Karp extends his argument to the book itself, positing that only a very few business books (a genre into which he seems to lump all nonfiction books) have any more value than a consistently updated and rigorously reported blog on the subject. He might be right. But this isn’t a problem with books, it’s a problem with bad books.

What I find so useful about the nonfiction book is the way it stops me, tells me a story and reveals to me a big, complex, intellectually challenging idea (recent example: “Blink”). The physicality of the book is integral to this process. I disconnect from the computer and sit down in a cozy chair to study the meaning of all that has been happening so frenetically in the world around me.

And then, of course, I fall asleep.

Not only is this a beautiful and fulfilling process, it also seems imperative to living an educated life. We’re lost if we never stop to consider the big picture. The power of books like Bob Woodward’s “State of Denial” is rooted not so much in the new information they display to us, but in the way they connect the facts we already know.

I’ll finish by saying that you can do this on a blog, and perhaps you should. Karp points out that you cannot link from a page in a book the way you can on the Web. It’s also difficult, perhaps impossible, he observes, to invite book readers to interact with the subject matter, the author and the other readers (without using the Web, that is).

So blog on a topic (a story, an idea, whatever) for a year, then step back to consider the meaning of all you’ve written (as well as all the pages you’ve linked to and all the things your readers / colleagues / contributors have written), and then write a book.

And please print it, bind it and put it in a bookstore … I just love the way they smell.

(Oh … and then keep blogging, and write another book, like these guys.)

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Written by patwalters

August 31, 2007 at 12:01 am

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