Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Books, airplane books, and tomorrow's books.

Michael Sedano

Jeff Gomez. Print Is Dead. NY: Macmillian, 2007.
ISBN: 978-0-230-52716-4 ISBN-10: 0-230-52716-7

Jonathan Segura. Occupational hazards. New York : Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2008.
ISBN-10: 1416562915 ISBN-13: 9781416562917

There's little to connect Jonathan  Segura's seamy hard-boiled novel with Jeff Gomez' pop-academic mass media book except both are books. Plus, I'd brought neither along on a long airplane ride recently, and had to spend ten bucks for a NYTimes.

In Gomez' not distant future, the airport bookstore would sell me access to thousands of titles and, onsite, a machine to make a book while I wait. Browse the card catalog, pay a fee, print and bind.

Alternatively, the bookstore would have an iPod or Kindle connection to that library. Drop a few coins, download a couple of good airplane books for the long journey back.

In any case, I would have crossed the continent with both titles and saved the ten dollar Sunday Times. Or...

The digital age will have an impact on reading, Gomez observes. For one thing, text will be as pervasive as it is portable. Wireless connection to vast libraries means limitless access to text. Reading is in no danger from the digital age. The medium for reading changes from printed page to electronic screen page. People will be reading more, not less. 

Gomez compares the electronic reading transition to that of the automobile and the horse, as captured in The Magnificent Ambersons, where a change-maker admits he has "no idea what changes will come about from the impending take-over by automobiles, but the changes will surely come and they will profoundly influence everything you ever knew about getting from here to there."

A Kindle, for all I know, might just influence profoundly everything about reading, from handling a book to magnifying the type size to be merciful to unsharp eyes. I imagine one feature is timing the screens to forward automatically after a minute passes. 

That pace would be about right for most airplane books. Jonathan Segura's journalist in deep shit story moves so swiftly along that you might set the screen faster. 

Omaha, Nebraska makes an unlikely setting that has little to do with the action. The story could happen wherever, Omaha, Minneapolis. Reporter digs into urban development. Runs across deadly comic militia clowns. Crosses powerful developer that leads to murders. Reporter is tortured and sexually humiliated by bad guys. 

The reporter, a pill-popping booze-swilling asshole, keeps up a conversational patter that carries the story from the mundane to the outrageously unbelievable. Segura doesn't take the intern storyline as far as he signals, but being trussed and bound dressed in a purple nightie soaked in the bad guy's urine. And shot?

In a digital age, a writer's occupational hazards will limit themselves to repetitive motion injury, a bad back, and eye strain. Unless you write for a weekly in Omaha. In which case your occupational hazards will make for a lot more excitement and a lot more fun reading.

One day, who knows, I'll load up my portable reading device and head into the blue yonder with ten books and hope my batteries hold out, que no?

That's the penultimate Tuesday of February. Two thousand nine. Tempus fugit. World enough and time. See you next week.


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1 comment:

jazzjune said...

in a recent short story by carlos fuentes, there's a character who says, "el futuro ya llegó, se llama el presente." the context is different but i love the line. it took me awhile to accept digital cameras over film cameras. just so, i'd hate to see print die. i'm part of the paper generation. but i try to learn new tricks. yesterday's big tech story was that there is now a kindle application for the iphone and ipod touch. i decided to jump in with both feet. i downloaded the app for free and bought a so-called kindle book from amazon. the book was on my ipod touch in no time flat. the font size is adjustable. i need it GRANDE. the pagination is odd. i can't say i've made a complete transition but i'm liking it. It's old wine in new bottles and it's easy to get a buzz. i'm sure Gomez is largely correct but i hope print doesn't go gently into the night.