Sunday, December 8, 2019

439. Ten Reasons Why Print Books Outsell E-Books


This post is all about books, including mine. 

                 TEN  REASONS  WHY  PRINT 
                 BOOKS  OUTSELL  E-BOOKS

In post #437 I listed the five essentials I cannot do without:

·      Bread
·      Trees
·      Books
·      Sleep
·      Hope.

I then promised an occasional post on each, and proceeded to do Bread.  So here is a post on Books.

File:Día Del Libro 2015 (106170661).jpeg
Pedro Soler Bueno

It is an acknowledged fact today that print book sales are rising, while e-book sales are falling.  How come?  Here are ten reasons.

1.    A shiny new book is a tactile experience.  You touch it, feel its weight, hold it.  You can even smell it.  It is most definitely there, an experience you never really have with an e-book.

2.    You can flip back and forth through a print book, leave a book mark in it.

3.    An old print book shows its age and use, shows how important it has been to you.  You can read your old underlinings and scribbled marginal notes, and remember why the content mattered to you.  The old books on my shelves, their split spines mended with tape, have an aura all their own, even if bits of binding are coming loose.  They have shared a good part of my life’s adventure over the years.


4.    A print book lets you see how far you’ve come in reading, and how far you have to go.  If the content is interesting but challenging, marking progress can help you stay with it.

5.    Reading print books causes less eye strain than reading digital books.

6.    An unread print book on your desk or bookshelf can haunt you, entice you into reading it.  Some 60% of downloaded e-books in the U.S. are never read. 

7.    Studies indicate that print book readers absorb more information.  Which probably explains why having a home library is linked to higher academic achievement.

8.    Print book readers are less likely to get distracted.

9.    Reading print books helps you sleep better.   (It has something to do with the body’s level of melatonin, which induces sleep.)

10. Print books don’t need batteries or a plug and an outlet.  You can read them anywhere, as for instance on the beach.

File:Reading a book by the beach.jpg

         As an author, I delight in both print-book and e-book sales; the main thing is that people are buying my books.  But I grew up with print books, still have some of them from my early years, and value them highly.  Think of curling up in an armchair on a cold and windy night, maybe with some fresh-made coffee and a snifter of Courvoisier V.S.O.P. brandy, and a favorite book.  Or, minus the coffee and brandy, just with a book.

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Or think of browsing through that vanishing phenomenon, a used bookstore, maybe with the owner and a napping cat, and finding fascinating old books that you didn’t know existed, or that you’ve been looking for for years.  

File:Cynthia and Cat - Talk Story Bookstore.jpg

Or how about a bookstore with shiny new books that tempt you with their bright covers and catchy titles.  Or finding at home an old book you haven’t seen for years, maybe with an inscription from a friend that lets you relive a fragment of your past.

         Print books have a long history that digital books lack.  In the ancient Middle East clay tablets marked by an instrument called a calamus served as books.  But there were problems.  They were bulky, clunky things for storage, and you couldn't correct a mistake.  I wouldn't have wanted to be the court scribe of any of the Assyrian kings, whose delight it was to castrate a captured enemy monarch before putting him to death.

         Then, in Mediterranean societies (Egypt, Greece, Rome), books were papyrus scrolls on which people wrote by hand – in Roman times, often a whole team of educated slaves.  Papyrus was made by processing a plant, the papyrus reed.  Our word “paper" comes from “papyrus.”  But here, too, there were problems.  Papyrus scrolls, were crumbly things; unlike clay tablets, they didn't last.

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A 3rd-century BCE Greek papyrus manuscript.

         In the Middle Ages monks sat at desks printing by hand on parchment, which was made by processing the skins of animals.  (No animal rightsers back then.) Laborious work, but they did it lovingly, adding elaborate illustrations, termed illuminations, that are highly valued works of art today.  And not a bad job, if the Benedictine monastery at Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy was typical.  There, the only heated room in winter was the scriptorium, where such work was done.  But parchment was costly and therefore reserved for important works, usually religious.

          I have seen clay tablets and papyrus only in museums, but parchment I see daily. Framed on my living room wall are two eighteenth-century parchments that I acquired in Paris long ago: two pages of Gregorian chant, with musical notes and the accompanying Latin text, which I have managed to translate.  They dominate the room.


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A Rheims gospel book, with illustrations.

         In the late Middle Ages paper, long known in China, where it was made from plant fibers combined with other substances, came to Europe.  It was there in Germany in the 1400s to make Gutenberg and the printing press possible, and with them the advent of the printed book as we know it today.  

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Johannes Gutenberg.  A drawing
made after his death in 1468.

Books multiplied in numbers and in time became available to all, which had both good and bad consequences.  The peak of book production at that time came in the late 1600s in the Dutch Republic, newly freed from Spanish rule and experiencing a Golden Age that we know chiefly from its paintings.  Book production per capita there was ten times greater than in France or Spain, totaling an astonishing 300 million books.  It was then that books became a part of daily human experience, and they remain so today.  Democracy as we know it depends on a free press, and that means not just newspapers but books. 

         In the nineteenth century improved technology made the production of paper cheaper.  This, combined with better means of communication and transportation, made possible a phenomenon still with us today: the bestseller.  Examples:

·      Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables (1862), which in one form or another is still with us today.  As a high school student, I read a selection from it in a third-year French class.

·      Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo (1844), which in a touring stage version here in the U.S. gave a steady income to Eugene O’Neill’s father, perhaps to the detriment of his theatrical talent.  (Over and over again, just this one successful role.)  I saw a movie version long ago.

·      Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers (1844), which was also adapted for film.  Two major publications in one year!  Dumas père sure could turn them out.  I’ve seen it as a film, and as a tongue-in-cheek stage production here in New York by the Comédie Française.

·      Our own Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), whose success worldwide astonished both her and her publisher.  The reason: it dealt with a subject – slavery – that the country could no longer dodge.  An apocryphal story circulated in later years, telling how President Abraham Lincoln, upon meeting Mrs. Stowe at a White House reception during the Civil War, said, “Ah, so you’re the little lady who started this big war!”  An exaggeration, if he ever said it (he probably didn’t), but with a touch of truth.  A melodramatic stage version circulated for years, and even made its appearance, as an improvised Siamese version, in the 1951 Broadway musical The King and I.  I’ve tried twice to read the novel, couldn’t.  It’s often referred to as one of the bad good books, or good bad books, esteemed for its historical impact, but not its literary merit.

         And of course there were many more bestsellers, some totally forgotten today (works of Sir Walter Scott, for instance), and some remembered, such as works of Dickens, Flaubert, Mark Twain, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy.  But who is generally considered the best nineteenth-century bestseller of all, the one who sold the most books by far?  Take a guess.  You’ll find the answer under Answer at the end of this post. 

         And who is the top bestselling author of all time?  According to one Internet source, Barbara Cartland, with one billion copies sold.  Have you ever heard of her?  I haven’t.  An author of romance novels, she wrote 723 books in all.  But another source says Agatha Christie, with two billion sold.  Agatha I have heard of, though I haven't stuck my nose in any of her mysteries.  Like it or not, the world needs mysteries and it needs romance.

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File:Old book bindings.jpg
Tom  Murphy VII

And now, three more points about books.  Print books, of course, and especially mine.

               1.  PRINT  BOOKS  MAKE  DANDY  GIFTS.

It’s the holiday season, and as an author (and therefore vastly self-interested), I urge everyone to give a friend or family member a book.  My books, of course, especially the ones I have too many of in my apartment.  These are historical fiction, New York City.  

The story of a lovable street kid turned pickpocket in nineteenth-century New York.  Of all my fictional characters, he is by far my favorite.

"A must read."  Five-star Amazon customer review by nicole w brown.

"I can't recommend this book enough."  Five-star Barnes & Noble customer review by ladynicolai.

The story of a young man who suspects that members of his family, including a beloved grandfather, may have been involved in the pre-Civil War slave trade.  Appalled, at great risk to himself he sets out to learn the painful truth.

"The novel is worth reading and I highly recommend it."  Midwest Book Review by Nicole Williamson, retired librarian.

'Thoroughly enjoyed this historical book!  I recommend to read!  Facts accurate!"  Five-star Goodreads review by LisaMarie.

The story of a respectably raised young man who chooses to become a male prostitute in late 1860s New York and falls in love with his most difficult client.  Gay romance, but no porn.

"Amazing book and the story line kept me reading on and on."  Five-star Goodreads review by Kathy.

"Engaging and provocative."  Barnes & Noble editorial review by Sean Moran.

"Absolutely delightful.  Five Bees."  Gerry Burnie's Reviews.

All books available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but these three preferably from the author at $20.00 each plus postage.  Contact me by e-email at  (If you're in the city, we can arrange to meet; that way, no postage.)  And if you buy two, half price for the second.

And now, after that grossly commercial and outrageously self-interested spiel, let's finish the list of three more points about books:

                      2.  MY  BOOKS  ARE  GLUTEN-FREE.

                  3.  MY  BOOKS  ARE  MADE  IN  AMERICA.

         But if you don’t buy my books, buy someone else’s.  Books look great when gift-wrapped; they create expectation and are fun to open.  

File:Wrapped book from the Boekhandel van der Velde as a gift, Groningen (2019) 02.jpg
Donald Trung Quoc Don

Also: print books last.  Especially hardcovers.  But even paperbacks last far longer than an e-book, which has no presence off a computer.  So Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanzaa, and all the rest.  (Here in New York, we do them all.)  Whether giving or receiving, may your holiday be blessed with books.

Answer:  Harriet Beecher Stowe.  Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the no. 1 worldwide bestseller.  Not a literary masterpiece, and neither a romance novel nor a mystery.  But it came at the right time and said what most needed to be said.

So much for books for now.  A fascinating subject.

Coming soon:  Five Wonders I Will Never See.”  And after that, probably “The King of Harlem.”

©   Clifford Browder   2019

Sunday, December 1, 2019

438. Rats, Coyotes, Voodoo in New York

           RATS,  COYOTES,  VOODOO                            IN  NEW  YORK

The Sunday Times is so huge that you couldn’t read the whole thing in a week.  Certain sections I ignore completely: Sports, Styles, Real Estate, and anything for kids.  Business gets a glance, Travel and the Arts a longer glance, and Books, Metropolitan, Sunday Review, and the newsy first section are looked at with interest.  The Metropolitan section of Sunday, November 24, of this year hooked me with two articles.

         The lead article, “Listen: It’s the City’s Call of the Wild,” tells of the city’s amazing wildlife.  I had covered this in my post #271, “Wild New York,” on December 11, 2016, which mentioned ravens, crows, osprey, the monarch butterfly, honey bees, and the raccoons of Central Park.  But much has happened since then.  For cities don’t eliminate wildlife; they develop a wildlife of their own. 

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A raccoon.  But don't pet them; they don't like it.
Above all, keep those claws away from your eyes.

        One bit of New York wildlife that persists, and that commuters often see on the subway tracks while waiting for a train, is rats.  So prevalent is Rattus norvegicus that I once devoted an entire post, #219 (February 14, 2016), to the creature, who can be up to 16 inches in length, with a tail just as long.  No denizen of the wilderness, he lives where people live, especially in cities, where he feeds on food scraps that we blithely toss away, or deposit in garbage cans that lack a lid.  Our parks often have signs warning that they have been treated with rat poison, but the pest still persists.  Mayors denounce them, and the city appropriates vast sums to eradicate them, and the clever creature still thrives.  Almost legendary was a video of “Pizza Rat,” showing a rat tumbling down some subway steps while dragging along a whole slice of pizza – proof that he’s one tough customer, not easily deterred.  A real New Yorker.

Not Pizza Rat, but a cousin. Notice the handlike claws.
Reg McKenna

        So what does the Times article tell us?  Tell us and show us, I should say, since it involves photos as well as text.  The article sums up its message succinctly:  “Scavengers scavenge, predators predate, decomposers decompose.”  In one photo a raccoon on a park bench seems to be trying to drink from a Coca-Cola can.  But the biggest news item for me was that a coyote was spotted recently in Central Park.  I knew that the Eastern coyote, which people often mistake for a dog, was making a comeback, and at last report it had reached the outer boroughs, especially the Bronx, where it was seen sniffing and poking about garbage cans in alleyways.  But now Wiley Coyote has reached Central Park, in the very heart of Manhattan.  

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A coyote in the wild.
Manfred Werner

Other creatures to be seen in, or off the shore of, various sites in the five boroughs: white-tailed deer, diamondback terrapins (a turtle), a painted bunting (rare), beetles, bats, dolphins, even whales.  To which I would add many species of migrating birds, and any number of wildflowers, including some so small, sprouting from cracks in sidewalks, that you can see only if you squat down on the pavement and look closely, which few of us are inclined to do.  Yes, the supposed urban wasteland is teeming with wildlife.

         The other article that hooked me revels not in life but in death.  “At the Festival of the Dead,” its caption informs us, ‘Voodoo Is Part of Us.’ ”  Yes, Haitian voodoo is alive and well in New York.  The article tells how in a dark club in downtown Brooklyn a woman sips Haitian rum while standing near an altar stacked with skulls, candles, cigars, rum, and bowls of (for most New Yorkers) exotic foods.  Her face is painted to look hollow like a skull, and she wear s a dark veil and  dark skeleton bodysuit.  She is the embodiment of Maman Brigitte, a Haitian goddess of death, and with a hundred people around her is celebrating Fet Gede, the Haitian Festival of the Dead, when Haitians dress up in costumes, revel, dance, and drink, in honor of their gods and goddesses, and also the ancestors, those who came before them.  It is akin to Mexico’s Day of the dead, and a distant cousin of our own Halloween, whose spooks are a feeble imitation of those the Mexicans and Haitians believe in. 

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A voodoo celebration in Haiti, 1976.
Fritz Rudolf Loewa

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File:Haitian vodou altar to Petwo, Rada, and Gede spirits; November 5, 2010..jpg
A Haitian voodoo altar during a festival for the spirits, 2010.
Calvin Hennick, for WBUR Boston

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A Haitian voodoo fetish:
a devil with twelve eyes.

Thom Quine

         Today many Haitians – not to mention most outsiders – don’t understand Fet Gede, and voodoo in general.  They think it’s all about black magic, pin dolls, and demonic prayers, whereas its believers insist that voodoo is part of who they are, the food they eat, the language they speak.  At the festival believers dance to rhythmic drumming, spray themselves with perfume, smoke cigars, scream, and make offerings to the spirits, foremost among whom is Baron Samedi, the god of death, who is also the husband of Madame Brigitte.  Far from dour and austere, the Baron and his consort welcome drinking, the erotic, even the obscene.  Some participants in the fete paint their faces white, with darkened eyes, nose, and mouth, and succeed in looking downright spooky.  To this outsider, the whole affair looks like a festival of joy and life, facing down and eclipsing – or almost eclipsing – the reality of suffering and death. 

         Just across the page from the article on voodoo is a photograph of a beaming older white woman --  decidedly not Haitian – in a dark dress adorned with a triple string of pearls.  Everything about her says health and joy.  The photo is an ad announcing the opening of 305 West End Assisted Living, “a new beginning on the Upper West Side.”  It announces itself as “the platinum standard in senior care,” and promises “expertise in the latest research-based programming for Alzeimer’s and dementia care,” delivered with grace and compassion by "a truly masterful team."  Unmentioned, of course, is the cost of such a facility, which must be astronomical.  Clearly, such ads are aimed at the privileged and the rich.  And the photo says WASP, of which group I am a member, though the West End facility is not in my plans.

         Given the brutal reality of our vulnerabilities, Haitian voodoo offers revelry that turns death into a festival.  We Americans, on the other hand, with allusions to dementia but not death, offer a luxury of services to the privileged few.  Voodoo vs. capitalism: take your choice.  And if you reject this blunt opposition as a simplification of a complex problem, what do you propose instead?  Politicians and clergy profess to help, but in the end it’s up to each of us, individually, to make our choice.

Source note:  This post was inspired by two articles in the Metropolitan Section of the New York Times of Sunday, November 24, 2019: "Listen: It's the City's Call of the Wild," by Dave Taft; and "At the Festival of the Dead, 'Voodoo Is Part of Us,' '' by Gina Cherelus.

Coming soon:  As usual, no idea.

©   Clifford Browder  2019