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March 26, 2008


Marie Cannizzaro

Hi Steve! Just came across your site and I wanted to let you know that I'm a big fan of your writing (the book as well as the blog). As for your question about the evolution of books, I would like to point out that people have been proclaiming the death of books for a while now, although perhaps with greater frequency in the Web 2.0 age. But as someone who spends hours upon hours researching nearly every New Media craze, I can confidently say that I still find the greatest joy in turning the paper pages of a tangible book. No electronic device with a cold, flickering screen has yet to compare to that extremely intimate and enjoyable process.


I have a Sony eReader and I adore it. I have a Kindle and I adore it as well. I can pick a book out of thousands, straight out of the air, while riding the bus. How cool is that?

DRM is a huge limitation. Right now, it stands to pretty effectively tell certain customers based on their preferred reading device, "We don't serve your kind here." Naturally, people are afraid to invest in content that may not be supported by anyone in just a few years. As has been often pointed out, of all the forms in which a book is published, the easiest one to pirate is the printed version. A few hours and a scanner yields a really nice PDF. I hope this shakes itself out. I'm kind of tired of standing here, cash in hand, ready to buy stuff, while vendors cower in fear in the corner. Give me a break. If I want to read a book without paying for it, I'll check it out of the library.

I'm ready for the switch. I'm ready for all but books in which you need to write (puzzle books, workbooks, etc) to be purely electronic, and I welcome that revolution. It'll simplify the endless hunting for where this or that book went.

Audiobooks? Sure. I subscribe to Audible. I listen to audiobooks from podiobooks.com, and from my local libraries (I'm blessed with access to both the New York Public Library and the Brooklyn Public Library). I have a large number of podcasts that I subscribe to and I produce two podcasts of my own, the WritingCast and Knit Spirit. Same experience, different input method.

I won't give you movies and TV as being the equal of books for three reasons:

1- You don't get into the head of the character. Interior monologue is shut out. Without that, you can't really watch how a person thinks or understands life, only what they say and do. I can get that from just dealing with real people. No bonus there. Books let us get into the cognitive processes of another human being and that's amazing.

2- With a few notable exceptions, TV shows and movies are written to the masses. Books throw a wider net, writing to all sorts of audiences. Joe Haldeman's Forever War, which explores the effect of Relativity on the citizens of a future society in which near lightspeed travel is possible, will not make it to the movies. Look what happened to Heinlein's Starship Troopers. The movie is the book minus the entire point of the book. Could you picture Flatland: the movie?

3- Movies are constrained in time. A book can run 400, 600, maybe 1,000 pages if it's good. E-books blow away almost all barriers to book length (factors like story structure and reader expectation about degree of complexity will still drive the length to some degree). Movies top out around two hours. A story must be simplified to fit that limit. It can't be as rich as a novel. It can match a good novella or novelette for depth, but not a novel.

Randolph Hauser

Books on tape, and college lectures on cd are wonderful listening while commuting to work, but for me, reading a good book - there is little in life more rewarding.


Ah, I have an Amazon Kindle. The best thing about it? I'm reading about three times more books in approximately the same amount of time! I don't have to futz with page turning and my eyes don't wander off my place as easily. I never expected to love it as much as I do!

Jay Hardison

I don't agree with the previous writer. I love nothing more than to go into a library and start perusing their shelves. I usually start with the newest books but if I see something that catches my interest and it is 2nd, 3rd or more in a series, I immediately head over to find the 1st books and then I read them all. I love "discovering" a new author even if they've been around for awhile and I just wasn't aware of them. I read 3 to 4 books every week and it's not "just to read", it's my addiction. Someone can mention a title or beginning of a plot and I remember the book if it is memorable. I've watched movies I didn't know were taken from books I'd read and early on begin thinking, "I KNOW this"! It's exciting! I've tried audiobooks but I don't get the same kind of thrill. Kinda like in high school when someone had a book report due and would ask me about a book so they could write their report. Telling the story....that gets me. When the writer lets you into the mind of their characters, their feelings and what motivates them, that's a story and it resonates with me. I have cried, laughed and felt every emotion possible through books and that is what stays with me. Most movies are forgettable and I wouldn't waste the extra money when they come out on DVD but a good book, I can pick it up 1, 3, 5, 10 or 20 years later and feel like I've met up with an old friend, one where we can pick up our friendship as if no time has passed at all.

Wayne Wilson

Hi Steve - My answer is yes - I have just in the last year started listening to audiobooks, especially when I am commuting. I also have bought some audio classics eg, "The Republic" by Plato, and others which can be difficult to read with full understanding with just a single read through. The audio book often clears up passages I have misunderstood on an initial read. I also have bought a great many excellent Teaching Compamy courses that go along with a book or period of history I am interested in reading about. (I don't know if its OK to mention another company on your blog, so please delete it if "improper")


I'm very intrigued with the e-book format. I would have bought a Kindle (my cursor was hovering over the "Buy Now" button!) if the price was just a bit more within reach. The notion of reading a book with the entire web available to you is very tantalizing. Don't know exactly what a word means? Read the book, watch the movie, switch between the two. Fascinating. Fact checking! A snap. Bring it on!

Robert Ferguson

Hi Steve,

I loved your comments on the diversity of information we call books. For me, one form of communication is not necessarily better than another, but just another choice of how I wish to access that information. There are advantages and disadvantages to all the forms books take. I enjoy listening to an audiobook on my iPod. I'm being read to instead of visually scanning pages and listening to my mind try to put it into perspective. I think the traditional form of books is here to stay. One of the wonderful things about books is the use of the imagination when reading. Audiobooks are more like story-telling which I hope will never die out.

I just realized that what started out as a comment seems to be turning into a book. I'd better stop and let others comment.

Thank you for the Well-Read Life.

Larry Lingerfelt

Movies, TV and audiobooks are, for me, less engaging because of their passive nature. As I read, I savor a book at a leisurely pace, considering the nature of the character, appreciate the skill with which the author has conveyed a feeling for the surroundings, interactions and the flow of the story. I actively form mental images of the characters and their surroundings.

When I have attempted to listen to audio books at home, I've had a tendency to drift off, lose my place and then have a problem getting back to the proper place to pick up the thread where I faded. I can enjoy an audio book on a trip where the activity of driving keeps me from going to sleep and the story helps the miles pass pleasurably.

For their look, their feel, their portability, their convenience, it's books for me. I don't think they'll be going away anytime soon.


I use both depending on the circumstance that I am in. Electronic books are great for travel. I can read numerous books at any given time. I don't know about you, but I've sometimes brought a single book with me on a business trip only to develop a lack of interest in reading it along the way. With an electronic reader, I have choices without having to bring an abundance of books with me.

When I am at home or at a place I know I will be for a long period of time, then I don't mind reading a actual book. The turning of the pages and the pleasure of moving along your bookmark gives a feeling of accomplishment.

Either way, I would certainly not want to be only limited to one or the other. They both serve their purpose.

Barb Thames

I really enjoyed this edition/addition to your blog. And I agree with you for the most part.

I have a lovely physical book collection and love to dig into them and I learn something new every time.

However, I've been 'reading' audiobooks for 20 years, originally renting them from Books on Tape and Recorded Books. I thoroughly enjoy hearing a good narrator read interesting books although, once in a while, I find that I have to re-read the paper version for understanding (i.e., A Brief History of Time -- I could never grasp it from the audio!)

I've been a Levenger customer for years and enjoy your additions to the corporate image by blogging and designing new products related to reading and writing.

D. G. Ogilvie

I occasionally read an e-book, and on long drives I often listen to audio books, but I prefer to read an actual book, either hardcover or paperback. There is something about curling up with a good book that just can't be matched with e-books, Kindles, or audio versions. Often I will flip back a page or two and re-read a section for clarification - you can scroll back electronic books, and rewind audiotape books, but it just isn't the same. If I have selected a book as a learning tool, I often highlight and use Post-it type flags in the book so that I can refer back to the material easily. My personal "library" is full of books that I often read multiple times. They are like old friends, and often I will glean a new or different understanding of a character or of the book. I also enjoy loaning out my books, but to ensure that they are returned, I put a bookplate with my name inside each book, and I keep a record of each book loaned out (date, to whom I loaned it). This way my books always return to me. I also keep a record of the books I read, and often refer to it to select an old favorite to read again. Good books are worth reading multiple times!

Mary Sloan

I'm not really interested in e-books. I am currently buying good books in good bindings such as Library of American and Folio. There is nothing to match such a book.

I also use bookplates and am very careful to whom I lend my books. They are treasures to me.

I agree that there are many that need to be read multiple times. Each time I see and learn something I missed the first time.

Right now, I can recommend anything by the late Norman Cantor - a great writer who wrote about interesting times.

Mary Sloan

I'm not really interested in e-books. I am currently buying good books in good bindings such as Library of American and Folio. There is nothing to match such a book.

I also use bookplates and am very careful to whom I lend my books. They are treasures to me.

I agree that there are many that need to be read multiple times. Each time I see and learn something I missed the first time.

Right now, I can recommend anything by the late Norman Cantor - a great writer who wrote about interesting times.

Greg Gallardo

Possibly the most promising technology for storytelling is the video game. Players (readers) interact in a multimedia environment, and every game can be different, but the course of the play takes them in a pre-determined direction. A written form with similar properties is hyperfiction.

Beth Van Vorst Gray

Dear Steve:

I am enjoying this series immensely. I have strong feelings--both ways--paper book vs. electronic and I hope we can peacefully co-exist with new technology and with that which is yet to come.

First, I love the sensory experience of holding a book, seeing the print, feeling the weight of the paper and (I am one of those) writing in the margins. Paperbacks have taken away some of this sensory joy; very pulpish and no leather bindings. I pray that, shades of "1984," (Orwell)we always have a print edition that is the "master" to pre-vent deliberate or accidental changes to text that can so easily occur with electronic media.

Second, I have a Kindle and love it for a lot of the same reasons already given; It's an excellent tool for many types of reading. I don't get the same sense of history or time passage in re-reading (especially my margin notes) as I do a real book. For example, I bought "The Maytrees" by Annie Dillard on the Kindle and loved the ease of reading it, but I have a strong feeling that I need to buy the book to really connect with the text as I wish. Not rational? Go figure! Thanks for the opportunity to write. Beth


New electronic book readers are great in that anything that promotes reading is great, but I doubt seriously that in 20 years you'll be able to still read a book that you download into your Kindle today.Technology changes so fast that everything immediately becomes obsolete. I have no doubt that things like printed encyclopedias will become things of the past, but never books. The Boston Public Library is launching a great new exhibit on the John Adams Library, and one of the great things about his books are the annotations in the margins. Try doing that on your Kindle, and having anybody be able to read it in 200 years.

Paul Gregg

I used to drive 270 miles to AF Reserve weekends. Coming home on Sunday evening I would listen to cassette "books" of dramatized Louis L'Amour and Zane Grey books. They were only an hour or more of listening and it helped the time to go by faster. Sometimes I didn't want the tape to end (or my drive to end).


I'm not used to this stuff but will comment. What's a URL? I have a web site.

At any rate, I prefer paper books. I have gotten so interested in an audio book that I missed my freeway off ramp, so now I never listen to them. Others have told me that they have done the same, we really wonder about the safety of folks listening to a great book while driving. Driving is really a full time occupation as emphasized by the proliferation of laws about cell phones and other distractions.

At any rate, I will keep on buying paper books so I can keep on buying more bookcases from Levenger!


Victoria Smith

Hi Steve - just a few thoughts.
There is nothing like the feel of a book in my hands, nothing in the world that can fill me with wonder more than that someone had the audacity and courage to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, or voice to recorder - well you get my drift - in a way that went on to become a book.

But the other forms of "books" including all you have mentioned, are still a source of wonder albeit without the tactile feelings of a book on my fingertips.
Someone had the ideas and put them into a form that allowed them to spread those ideas to us on the other end of the process.

And that is the wonder of books, whatever form they take.

Debbie Gouldin

I would not describe myself as an avid reader, but I do enjoy reading in all its forms--books, electronic books, audio books, and movies. The beauty of living in 2008 is that I can find so many ways to connect with the written word, and each one has unique advantages depending on my purpose. Books are my choice when I am reading for pleasure and for book club, which usually means a monthly selection of fiction, and a yearly biography and classic. Electronic format is wonderful for book study, such as working with the Bible and technical books for work. It is also the best choice for helping my daughter with homework, as there is such ease in cross-referencing words and concepts. When traveling alone, I really enjoy an audio book to make the miles pass more easily.

We live in a wonderful time filled with so many wonderful choice for "reading" in all its forms, and for me the choices have made finding time to read easier. Reading is more enriching because I can usually find a format that works best for my needs. I am looking forward to the price of electronic books becoming more moderate, but I suppose there is a balance in that most of the classics are now available for free through websites. As I downsize toward a simple retirement lifestyle, it is great to know that I won't have to sacrifice reading the classics I missed when I was younger, nor will I have to maintain an extensive library to have instant access to them.

Jill Faison

Hi Steve!
For as far back as I can remember I have loved everything about books… the way they feel in my hands, the way they smell, the excitement of going to the Book Fair at my school held each year in the library, and of course, the promise of new adventures in each one. Even the word "book" is like a kind of music to my ears!

Regarding your questions… I am still primarily a "traditional" book person. (This is probably because I love to annotate my books while I read.) However, I also enjoy the portability and flexibility that audio books provide. I like to download audio books to my iPod and then listen while I walk each day.

I must also comment on the first photo you included with this third part of your series on books. What struck me most about the photo of the hands holding the book, is that they almost look like they are in prayer with the book between them! I just love the symbolism of this because I suspect I'm not the only person who thinks of books as almost sacred objects… certainly worthy of our most tender loving care.

Looking forward to your next posting… Jill

Erica Rauzin

I have a house full of books, and love them - but on the road, it's a different story. I can drive for hours with Great Courses on CD or iPod in the car, and I really enjoy reading on my Kindle in airplanes and hotels. The Kindle is a marvel, a book-reading machine for tactile book people. I particularly agree with the last comment (Ms. Gouldin) that we are fortunate to have these choices.


Steve, thank you for providing this forum! For myself, I love the physical art of picking up a treasured volume (or a new friend) and losing myself in its words. My imagination creates the scenes being read. However my time is limited. So as an alternative, I indulge in audiobooks. Someone else reads to me (and some quite well!). Yet it still allows my imagination to create the scenes. That is why I'd rather watch a movie first and then read the book. If I've already read the book, I find the movie rather disappointing. I don't think of the newer innovation as replacing physical books, merely as enhancing what we already know and love.

Jan Z

I am now an avid e-book reader, recently attracted to e-books with the advent of the Kindle. I read more than ever and can carry my books, magazines, and newspapers around with me to read at odd moments when there wouldn't be time to open a book. In a small device no more than the size of a small paperback, I have the entire Harvard Classics 51 volume library - and it's indexed by the Kindle. I hope your Well-Read Life will soon be available Kindle readers.

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