NPR is featuring, at its site, an excerpt from a chapter of The Shallows titled “The Very Image of a Book,” which looks at the rise of e-books and the consequences for reading and writing. The excerpt, which is taken from the end of the chapter, describes how pundits have, for about two centuries now, been eagerly proclaiming the imminent death of the book. And, over and over again, they’ve been proven wrong. Today’s book lovers may take comfort from that fact, but they probably shouldn’t.
Here’s a bit of the excerpt:
The book survived the phonograph as it had the newspaper. Listening didn’t replace reading. Edison’s invention came to be used mainly for playing music rather than declaiming poetry and prose. During the twentieth century, book reading would withstand a fresh onslaught of seemingly mortal threats: moviegoing, radio listening, TV viewing. Today, books remain as commonplace as ever, and there’s every reason to believe that printed works will continue to be produced and read, in some sizable quantity, for years to come. While physical books may be on the road to obsolescence, the road will almost certainly be a long and winding one. Yet the continued existence of the codex, though it may provide some cheer to bibliophiles, doesn’t change the fact that books and book reading, at least as we’ve defined those things in the past, are in their cultural twilight.