Provocative Essay: "The Electronic Book Burning"


In Evergreen Review, by Alan Kaufman, author of Matches and Jew Boy. Amazon, Google, Kindle are all grist for the author's mill. A portion:

The book is fast becoming the despised Jew of our culture. Der Jude is now Der Book. Hi-tech propogandists tell us that the book is a tree-murdering, space-devouring, inferior form of technology; that society would simply be better-off altogether if we euthanized it even as we begin to carry around, like good little Aryans, whole libraries in our pockets, downloaded on the Uber-Kindle.

To me, the book is one of life's most sacred objects, a torah, a testament, something not only worth living for but as shown in Ray Bradbury's ‘Fahrenheit 451’, something that is even worth dying for. And yet, though I have been willing to sacrifice everything for the books I have written, compiled or just read, though I have given the days of my life, my years, my youth and adulthood to the book, as both sacred object and text, I am now witness to the culture turning away en masse from the book. The world is moving to embrace the electronic media as its principle mode of expression. The human has opted for the machine, and its ghosts, over the haptic companionship and didactic embodiment of the physical book. And though this development seems inevitable yet I will not accept it.


For all you who have no better plemical skills then to deploy infantile suburban obscenity, racism and rubbish, here is what intelligent discourse looks like:

My typing cannot keep apace of my fury at your treatment of this author

Commentary on the essay by Roger Sutton, editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996; previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian.

Blog entry about Alan Kaufman's essay.

Excerpt: I know some people love physical books, but I have to say, this essay titled "Electronic Book Burning" by Alan Kaufman really takes this love to a new level. Producers of digital books are likened to Nazis; just as Nazis tried to wipe out the Jews, the growing move to digital publishing will wipe out, in Kaufman's view, all that is fine about humanity— books.

It's still a book, just like an audiobook is still a book. People are still reading, and that's a Good Thing. I love books, too, and I think they will outlast ebooks in the long run--they require no electricity, don't need a user's manual to operate, and don't get damaged when you drop them in the sand--but ebooks have a place, too. With an ebook, I can increase the font size to something I'm more comfortable with, for example. I can hold an entire bookcase of classics in one hand.

That in aggregate, the average person today has substituted time spent reading books for time spent reading blogs, tweats, flitting news sites and Facebook? Don't we as people lose something important when we put down books and sit in front of our electronic device (name it)? Doesn't Kindle and it's e-ilk encourage this trend, eviscerating publishing economics and creating an equivalence between literature and "web content"? I think Kaufman is saying yes to both questions, and I have to heartily agree.

I too am sick of this unending, unquestioning adoration of all things electronic. e.g.: They have 2 years olds at my (overpriced) day-care facility playing with computers. Is this really helpful -- how about replacing those with some blocks, or crayons and paper? Waldorf time is fast approaching...

With all honesty, I am a teenager, and I have tremendous respect for books and good literature. I have always loved to read and always will, because I believe that books really are sacred. As some others have already pointed out, it is the substance in these books that makes them worthwhile. Would Kaufman play devil's advocate to a physical book that was badly written and bland when it was compared to a fabulous, incredibly written classic that was stored electronically? I think not. Although I understand his philosophy, his target is the nameless, faceless "they" who he seems to think are destroying books. The real evil in this society is waning intellect and the disturbing fact that *thinking* has become bothersome. People would rather be blasted with information then reach out and search for the answers themselves. This is the main difference between television and literature. However, watching the history channel and reading a comic book both have their flaws, and their benefits. It's not the format, it's the ability for something to break you and remake your soul. And when you are finished with it, your life is altered in a way you never knew was possible. That's the beauty of books, not what they appear to be. Never judge a book by it's cover, right?