The Death of the Book


Ben Ehrenreich

Image: Dirty Book #1 © Tom Benedek 2011

Pity the book.  It’s dead again.  Last I checked, Googling “death of the book” produced 11.8 million matches.  The day before it was 11.6 milion.  It’s getting unseemly.  Books were once such handsome things.  Suddenly they seem clunky,  heavy, almost fleshy in their gross materiality.  Their pages grow brittle.  Their ink fades.  Their spines collapse.  They are so pitiful, they might as well be human.

The emphasis shifts with each telling, but every writer, editor, publisher, bookseller, and half-attentive reader knows the fundamental story.  After centuries of steady climbing, book sales leveled off towards the end of  the 1900s.  Basic literacy began to plummet.  As if television and Reaganomics were not danger enough, some egghead lunatics went and  built a web—a web!—out of nothing but electrons.  It proved a sneaky and seductive monster.  Straight to our offices and living rooms, the web delivered chicken recipes, weather forecasts, pornography, the cutest kitten videos the world had ever seen.  But while we were distracted by these glittering gifts, the internet conspired to snare our friend the book, to smother it.

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