The Times, They Are A’changing

Kathleen Delaney returns to ponder how we react to change

and what the future holds for the book world.

The most overworked word in the English language today is change. If you pay any attention to politics, you can’t miss it. It’s in someone’s speech every other sentence. Our current President won office largely because he promised it. The current group of pol’s seeking to replace him promise we’re going to change back.

Not possible. A quick tour of history shows us that.

There was a time when very few people could read. Monks spent their entire lives sitting on high stools, labouredly decorating the pages of bibles. Along came Gutenberg and they were out of a job. Books became available to those who hadn’t a drop of noble blood and people learned to read them. Public libraries were born and people flocked to them and the world changed.

Sometime later, Henry Ford came along and so did the Tin Lizzie. The steam engine appeared, and the cotton gin. Farmers grew more crops on less land. Goods could be shipped further and faster on railroads that extended from coast to coast. Families could live further from their jobs, shop at stores other than the one down the block, and children could attend bigger and hopefully better schools, all on increasingly faster trains and paved roads. The small, neighborhood bookstore sprung up. And the world changed.

Then came the Internet and with it, Amazon. One morning, a mother discovered she could order the new mystery she had heard about on line, in her bathrobe and bunny slippers, a cup of coffee in her hand. She could order her children’s text books, and the book on baseball scores her husband had been hinting around that he wanted, all while she started the next washing load. Once again, the world changed.

Today, we have the Kindle, The Nook, the I pad and I have no idea how many other electronic things. Change? They have turned publishing, writing, and yes, reading, upside down. Backpacks stuffed with heavy text books will soon be off our children’s backs, small reading devices are appearing in briefcases and purses everywhere, and people can afford to buy more books. And they are. Change? You bet.

One more thing.

Like most people in the book world, I’m not sure how all this will end. Some say the day of the paper book is gone for good. Others say that will never happen. Still others say it will close library doors, the Internet will replace all. I listen to them and get a little dizzy. However, there is one thing I am sure of. No matter how we deliver them, stories will never die. People still read bibles after Gutenberg invented his press. Actually more people read more bibles. The traveling storyteller may have gone out of business, but story telling didn’t, and when delivering stories in print instead of by mouth happened, we had a whole treasure trove of stories we will never lose. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens, the Bronte’ sisters, Agatha Christie, I’m sure you have your own list. Think of all the people you have met through stories, people who have changed your lives, the way you think about things, the places you have visited.

The pol’s have it both right and wrong. We can’t go back. We’ll keep changing, though. I’m not sure what the next one will be, or when, but like death and taxes, there is one thing I’m sure of. Hard back, paper back, Kindle or Nook, telling stories won’t stop any time soon.