by Jillian Benedict
Note: As this post was about to go live, we learned that Jill has recently been offered an internship with Montgomery Media working as part of their Entertainment section. We’re delighted to feature her first article here: a review of The Music Man. Congratulations, Jill!
When I was a freshman in college, I told a friend of mine that (ideally) I would like to get a job in publishing when I graduated. She responded by saying something along the lines of “Good luck. Books will be extinct by then.” Even though I was irritated because she basically slapped my dream in the face, I was more disturbed that she thought books would be extinct. Okay, book sales had gone down, but we were in a recession. Nothing was selling how it should have because people were buying less so of course book sales suffered. Unfortunately, the conversation ended and I didn’t have any proof that books would still be around so I bitterly threw up my hands in defeat.
A few weeks later (ironically) my environmental science professor went over the requirements for the final paper so there wouldn’t be any excuse for us not to turn it. Because there were so many different majors (it was a one hundred level course), he wanted us to write something about the environment and relate it to our major. Needless to say, still burning with the comment of my friend, I jumped at the chance to prove her wrong and try to figure out which type of publication was better for the environment and hopefully whether it looked like books were still going to be around when I graduated.
While I’m embarrassed to say I don’t remember a lot of facts (I’m not sure where I saved the paper), I do remember that the results were generally inconclusive. Neither type of publishing is better than the other because while paper uses a lot of trees and energy to create the product, electronic gadgets do equally as much damage. The energy e-readers take to bring the piece on the screen and the process of finding and manufacturing the actual materials for the machines make just as much pollution and can also provoke civil war depending on where the particular materials are located geographically and where they can be mined (interesting, I know). But that didn’t really help me to figure out if books were going to go extinct, or help me paste together a strong enough argument for my friend.
A few years later during the summer before my junior year, I worked at Barnes and Noble as a shelf person (I worked five days a week from 8-11 or 12 shelving books, all day) and decided to try and figure out the answer to my question alone. When it was a slow day (and the manager was busy) I occasionally took the opportunity to ask co-workers with Nooks and Kindles what they thought. A few people said they loved their electronics but they still owned books. Nooks/Kindles were just easier in terms of money because after spending the 200+ dollars on the machine, you can buy books cheaper. But a lot of them still liked books because there was something about the feeling of a book in your hand that just felt good, an idea I totally agree with.
Even though my sleuthing didn’t get me anything but an occasional glare from my boss, it made me feel better not only about my dream but about the state of the books. Despite people’s appreciation for electronic readers, I don’t think books will ever go extinct. They are more than just pages bound together; books are physical representations of the human condition and act like hooks that link the strings of the history of the world and all of Earth’s past and present inhabitants to us. Aside from any deeper sentimental meaning applied to books, there is something natural and enjoyable about physically reading a book that a lot of people I know enjoy. People like feeling pages beneath their fingers. People want to underline, dog-ear, accidentally tear, and wrestle the life out of their books because it feels good and helps them to form a better relationship with the story.
Aside from the more sentimental reason, I’m not going to take my two hundred dollar e-reader to the beach or pool or skydiving or the rainforest. I invested way too much money in it to risk having it destroyed or stolen. That’s the great thing about books, so long as you don’t drop them in a shredder or a fire pit they’ll be fine. I once had a copy of Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo literally rip in half length wise while I was reading and guess what? I just read it in two parts. Can an e-reader do that?
The last reason books won’t go extinct is that we place cultural importance on the written word and in the United States, we are fortunate enough to have a place for books that keeps them close to us and who we are as a people. The foundation of our country is taken from a written document hundreds of years old and some of the most important and influential ideas developed in the history of the world were taken from books like Silent Spring, The Feminine Mystique, The Jungle, or The Grapes of Wrath. While we think of books as commonplace things, there is something about the book and the written word that gives us the chance to do things we never thought possible and develop ideas and opinions that we might not have developed otherwise.
But what does this have to do with the state of literature and the novel? Well, literature teaches us about ourselves and the world we live in and shape every day. Even though themes, ideas, and plots have been recycled, that doesn’t mean the novel is dead. It means that our
basic nature as people has stayed the same and will always stay the same. We can church up our status in nature as much as we want but in the end we are animals. We may be lucky enough to have the capacity to rationalize and imagine, but we are just as much instinct as any other animal on this planet and have the ability to do just as much damage and good, if not more because we have the intellect to form reason behind our actions.
As a writer, I don’t write to see how famous I can get or to force my way into the literary canon. I write because I see the world and I see people and I have something to say about them. I don’t want to show how good or bad people are; we all know what we feel behind closed doors. I write because I want people to really see each other and know that it is okay to be human. People are complicated and so are novels and it is the novel’s job to reflect the world in one way or another. That is why the novel and literature will be fine; because, while people judge and say Shakespeare or Milton or Dickens were the best ever, they were still just human beings writing to other human beings. Not to burst anyone’s bubble, but while there is only one Dickens, if one person wrote something that fantastic years ago, who’s to say it can’t happen again? I’m not suggesting it will be me, but I think it is possible for lightning to strike more than twice.
From what I’ve seen of the world in my 21 years in it, the novel (while not bought as often as it used to be) will be fine. Mainly because the novel shows us a part of ourselves that, while potentially upsetting, is important to who we are as people but it also feels good on a tactile level and it isn’t as easy to break. You don’t have to believe me if you don’t want to. After all there is no real answer, but you have to admit there must be something to it. After all, people have been reading the written word for hundreds of years. If it doesn’t mean that much to us aside from simple communication, why are we still reading?
Jillian Benedict is a Junior English and Creative Writing major. She is an editor for Widener Ink and the Editor-in-Chief for The Blue Route. When she isn’t reading, writing, or working at Wolfgram Memorial Library, she enjoys watching the Food Network, bicycle riding, and playing chess.