Assessing the future of books

We’ve written a lot lately in the “Today’s Moderator” column about the future of physical books in a digital world of the future. This guest column was sent in by local educator and avid reader Carmon C. Hacker. Send your thoughts to rrollins@coxohio.com.

As a lover of books since age 4, yes, I believe physical books will endure. Though you can read various texts, both fiction and nonfiction, on a tablet or other technology, it is infinitely more satisfying to read a physical book, in my view.

First, I love the process of selecting a physical book, whether I’m at a book store, thrift store or even garage sale. Just browsing through a stack of books with intriguing titles and well-designed covers brings grins, guffaws and sometimes goose bumps. I’ve uncovered everything from old Charles Dickens novels with battered leather covers printed in the 19th century, to priceless recipe books from local churches, to impeccable copies of Jesse Stuart novels that are decades out of print. You can’t possibly have that same experience merely browsing titles on a computer screen.

Then there’s the discovery that comes from finding treasures within those pages. Two of my Jesse Stuart novels ended up containing autographs from the author himself, which I found after I got home! In an old Huck Finn text I have faded notes from a previous reader. For example, in a scene where Huck and Jim are eating freshly caught fish together, he or she notes, “Eucharist, communion.” Nice, original observation. This was written long before the days of the Internet, when a scholar simply read with his or her own perceptions before going to class to exchange ideas with other peers.

Among the pages of a mid-20th century family Bible that I have next to my nightstand, I have even found family genealogy records, along with a certificate of adoption and baptism. No such riches will ever be found on an abandoned tablet.

Finally, I am passionate about the tactile experience of reading a physical book beneath a shade tree in summer, or next to a fire in winter — and, if I own the book, making my own comments and observations in the margins. Sometimes, I even dog-ear favorite pages to read over and over again after the book has been placed on a shelf, where it is never quite out of sight or mind. I think it far less likely that when reading from a piece of technology one will revisit a favorite text later on to learn from it, laugh at it, or be inspired by once more.

Will physical books survive this age of technology? I certainly hope — and pray — they will, and if so, that we can pass on our own annotated books to beloved friends and family members some day.

I love the process of selecting a physical book, whether I’m at a book store, thrift store or even garage sale. Just browsing through a stack of books with intriguing titles and well-designed covers brings grins, guffaws and sometimes goose bumps.

I am passionate about the tactile experience of reading a physical book beneath a shade tree in summer, or next to a fire in winter — and, if I own the book, making my own comments and observations in the margins.