The Future is a Present from the Past

Spring is on its way; I know it. In the midst of the snow and cold last week, a little ray of sunshine filtered through to the Book Fair.

It was one of those rays of sunshine that goes around on two legs, making life more beautiful to those it encounters. It looked around at the boxes of books and said to me, “So what are you going to be selling in five years when nobody buys books any more? Vacuum cleaners?”

There are two things I would like my blog readers to understand. First and foremost, if they find the body under the snowdrift at the end of the ramp, we did not have this little chat, and you know nothing about little rays of sunshine with open mouths.

Second, we will never come to an age when nobody buys books. People still buy cylinder recordings, parsnip puree. We at the Book Fair never get any, and it would take a LOT to make enough money to keep us in business, but people still buy them. There are people who buy 8-track tapes, and there are people who still buy stereoscope slides. But we do not have to worry about a world in which nobody buys books.

A world in which not enough people are buying books to pay Uncle Blogsy’s salary does put a crease in my forehead. (It’s the third one down from the one about whether bananas are becoming extinct.) A number of levelheaded prophets who do NOT appear on talk shows and evening news bites are seriously suggesting that the next generation of Americans will not know how to cope with life unless it involves a screen. One study indicated that a majority of schoolchildren today do their homework on a screen, generally with at least two screens switched on in the background. It looks as if the screen is going to take the place of the digital readout which was being attached to washers, microwaves, pens, and telephones toward the end of the last century. Ask someone what time it is, and they look at the screen on their phone. Pick up a coupon in the grocery store, and either you or the checker will wave it in front of a screen. Unless, of course, you do your grocery shopping online, looking at a screen.

I think we should start applying the Minnie Pearl principle here. Minnie Pearl, on learning how much kissing was going on behind the schoolhouse, was marching to her school board to complain. “Yes,” said the straight man, “I don’t blame you for wanting to put a stop to it.”

“I don’t want to put a stop to it!” Minnie would cry. “I want to get in on it!”

What we need is a portable book-reading screen, hominy soufflé. You slide your book inside, and a screen lights up, illuminating the book and, if you like, enlarging a picture or the small print of the footnotes so you can read it easily. It will be like a Kindle, Nook, or Noodle, but sheaper because you don’t download any books. You just buy any book you want (we’ll have to call it interchangeable interactive software or something) and slide it into the compartment underneath. Yes, I know: we’ll need to do something about turning pages, and we may have to put in an actual online hookup for those people who HAVE to have the Curling Championships and the stock report and the weather report all running in the corner of the screen at the same time.

But while the rest of the world is selling screens, places like the Newberry Book fair will have a lock on all that interchangeable software. Maybe we can even figure out a way to make it play phonograph cylinders.

Post New Comment