Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Wordcraft -- E-mavens and paper-sniffers

In her keynote address at last week’s Writers League of Texas conference in Austin, Jane Friedman had a naughty name for people who disdain e-books: paper- sniffers. I’d only gone wireless with my new laptop the morning before and already I felt prehistoric.

Friedman saturated her audience with statistics -- Amazon now sells more e-books than hardcover and paperback combined; if Facebook were a country, it would be the third most populous in the world. She assured us that there is benefit to not having an intermediary -- the physical bookstore -- standing between publishers and readers. And as the author of an e-book herself, The Future of Publishing: Enigma Variations, as well as being a visiting editor of e-media at the University of Cincinnati (and former publisher of Writer’s Digest), Friedman was cheerleading heavily for the new media.

Back in Dallas, I met a couple of fellow writers for coffee and talk, at, yes, a brick and mortar bookstore. One friend is heavily into genealogy, the other a soon to be retired school librarian. And although they also had plenty of cheers for the new technology -- easier referencing of sources and the possibility, with color-friendly e-readers, of more illustrations -- they also had horror stories about what the librarian termed the lack of respect for print.

I heard anecdotes about the cutting up of books to make digitization easier and government budget cuts that threaten the conservation of paper documents. I’ve written a novel about an archeological investigation, so I’m familiar with the information that can be lost when shards of cuneiform tablets or papyrus fragments are discarded. But it shocked me to think that the information on my own bookshelves, all of it printed in the last hundred years, may one day be gone.

And what will the fate be of my handwritten notebooks? You’d think in a hundred years nobody would care about my story notes and morning pages. But already my family mourns the decision of a previous century’s good housekeeper to toss a trunk full of molding letters from a pioneering member onto a trash fire. Maybe a future generation will find something helpful in a twenty-first century woman’s ruminations written in pencil. (What’s a pencil, Nana?)

Truthfully, I look forward to getting an e-reader -- as soon as the price comes down some more. And I decry the elitism of limiting access to information to those few who know the location of the hidden library stack, the off-the-catalogue volume. I just don’t want the sources for information to be lost forever.

For more of Jane Friedman’s advice for writers, see her blog, There Are No Rules (jane And the future of e-media? Twitter has offered its files to the Library of Congress. So watch those tweets. And emails and text messages. Who knows what family reunion they’ll turn up at.

(Next Wednesday -- writing for young people -- children, middle grade or young adult?)


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