As I listened to a song by The Postal Service the other day I couldn’t recall whether it was a new song or it was something they’d released a decade ago. Normally I would go to my CD collection and check out the case to search for the title of the song, but it wasn’t there. It happened to be one of the very first songs I downloaded on iTunes, so physically it wasn’t there and somewhere deep down inside I felt deprived. Those CD’s stacked on the shelf in my office are a symbol of my cultural being. Part of my soul resides on that shelf announcing to anyone observant enough to notice that I’m an alternative rock music fan. I grow weary of the same Nickleback song pulsing across the airwaves and I need the obscure Pop/Rock bands who seem to bypass the major streams of distribution. This is my own personal taste which is reflected on the CD cases. But with digital downloads, part of my past seems to have evaporated.
It’s this way with books as well. That copy of Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep,” reminds me of when smart-aleck dialogue became an acceptable form of literature. At least that was my first introduction into the underbelly of character-driven narrative. It’s why Elmore Leonard was so endearing to his readers. When I look on my desk and seeliterary giants like Chandler and Leonard mingling with classics like “Fahrenheit 451,” or “Of Mice and Men,” I remember why I became a writer in the first place. How different would my career had been if I were just starting now and read everything digitally. No wall full of books to motivate me. No book spines staring at me while I’m searching for the proper phrase.
It’s the reason we take all our pictures digitally, yet still have them printed and framed to hang on the wall. Otherwise they remain in our phones and go completely unnoticed. In this way, I’m afraid some of our best writers are going unnoticed as well, hidden in the dark recesses of our computers or digital readers. Only exposed to a readers eyes when they are actually in the process of reading it, then stored in the virtual basement for eternity.
Do I read ebooks? You bet. But somehow that old copy of “Brave New World,” won’t be going anywhere for a very long time. In that regard paper books are an important part of our culture and somehow we need them to remain with us long after we've read their contents.
Now where’s that Doors album I've been looking for?