One Book, Two Book, E-Book, True Book

October 29, 2010 by · Comments Off 

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By Joe Richardson
joeyr@smu.edu

On any day of the week, Half Price Books on Northwest Highway in Dallas is full of people, wandering through the shelves looking for a new book. Throughout the large bookstore, people sit in chairs and on the floor, their faces buried in pages.

Kris Kiker, a manager at the store, stood in the middle of aisles and aisles of second hand books one day recently. His favorite book is Hells Angles by Hunter S. Thompson. He enjoys the access to different worlds offered by books.

“I get to experience new things,” he said. “I can experience new ideas, new places, and times that I’ll never be able to experience first hand.”

The people here are book lovers. But with advancements in technology and a general lack of interest in reading, the printed book may become a relic of the past.

People are reading less, and those that do read are reading in brand new formats. But there will always be books.

A study done by the National Endowment for the Arts found that Americans are not reading as much as they used to. In 2002, 65 percent of college freshmen read only an hour a week or less for pleasure.

That same study found that comprehension skills have declined, and that “these declines have serious civic, social, cultural, and economic implications.”

But there will always be “books”. iPads, Kindles, and Nooks are rapidly replacing printed books. Screens may begin to dominate and some are optimistic about the change.

In a 2010 study, the Pew Research Center found that within ten years “There will be a new fluidity in media creation. Visual representations and story telling will be important in new ways, so ‘screen’ literacy will emerge.”

Nina Schwartz, the chair of the English department at Southern Methodist University, sits in front of a backdrop of books everyday. Fiction and nonfiction are placed side by side, and her bookshelves were a focal point of her large office. She said that a world without reading would be a depressing and a less rich place.

“Literature is a way of accessing imaginative worlds that are richer than reality,” she said. “To lose literature would be a serious impoverishment of the world.”

Jasper Neel, an English professor at Southern Methodist University, was also surrounded by shelves of books in his office. He believes that the face of reading is changing and that soon books will all be digital.

“I can have five times the number of books on these shelves,” he said. “If I have a database, every book in the world can be at my fingers.”

But Joseph Mason, a manager of Borders bookstore in Dallas, believes that printed books will always be around. He thinks that people will always love to rifle through actual pages.

“The format may change, but books will never go away,” he said. “People will always read.”

Vincent Kelly, a freshman at Dallas Baptist University, is genuinely worried about the future of books. While he sits on a couch in his college dorm, he thinks back to the first “grown up” book he read. It was “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

He spends so much time staring at a computer; that an actual printed book provides an escape for him.

“I’m all for going green,” he said, “but there’s something about physically turning the page that will never be replaced.”

Reading has more to compete with now than it ever has. The noise of technology has become the background of everyday life.

The study done by the National Endowment for the Arts also found that 58 percent of middle and high school students use other media while reading.
Schwartz is sometimes nervous about the state of reading today, but she realizes that people aren’t giving up on reading. They are just reading in different ways.

“It isn’t that students don’t read, it’s that they read in different ways like iPads and Kindles,” she said. “I wish people today would have more patience to read slowly and to read literature they’re not familiar with.”

Neel believes that people are reading more now than in the past. He also said that they read in different ways and the texts might become shorter. But he feels that it is impossible for a literate society to not read.

“Once you become literate that’s a one way street,” he said. “I do believe that the phenomenon of literacy changes a preliterate or illiterate person.”

Stephanie Trout, a manager at Barnes and Noble booksellers on Northwest Highway in Dallas, does not see a decrease in reading.

“There will always be a place for the hardcopy written word,” she said.

“People in our generation and older need that connection. As long as there is an outlet they will continue to come here.”

Whatever happens in the future of books, Kelly will always choose a hardcopy rather than its digital counterpart. He will continue to get into stories, connect with the characters on an emotional level, and be inspired by new ways of thinking.

“There’s a lot to be told in books,” he said. “I get to see the action in my head where it looks the way I want it to.”