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Yesterday afternoon, I had a couple of minutes to kill, so I pulled one of my old favorite books down off of the shelf: Barbara Ninde Byfield, The Book of Weird, in trade paperback, from 1973.


It came apart in my hands, mostly. The pages are cracking, the binding is shot. Shame. It was a thing of beauty, both the pictures and the prose. I think I can either read it again, maybe one more time period, or I can keep it, but I can't do both.

Tonight, before bed, I glanced over at John Scalzi's blog, and saw that he, too, had permanence vs. impermanence of books on his mind, the last couple of days: a lovely meditation on the pointlessness of trying to "write for the ages," and then a follow-up in which he gently picks a fight with Jonathan Franzen on the "permanence" and "solidity" of paper books vs e-books.

Ars longa, vita brevis, my ass.



( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 31st, 2012 09:02 am (UTC)
See also, re: music "permanence"

I never have gotten around to replacing my old 8-track tape copy of Peter Frampton's "Frampton Comes Alive" from around the same time I got that book.
Jan. 31st, 2012 11:17 am (UTC)
Actually, for mass backups of data, tape is still the medium used. If kept in the right environment (cool, dry, no direct sunlight, away from strong sources of magnetism) the stuff will last for ages. Books are no different. Besides the obvious magnetic difference, moisture is the big killer of paper. I have books from the early twentieth century that are still readable, and if you visit Dunaway books off of grand, you'll find tons of perfectly usable antiquated books.

I personally believe that e-readers further perpetuate the throwaway culture we live in. In a few years current models will be considered obsolete, the batteries will stop charging, the screens will fail. But that's ok, I can chuck it for the new model and still have my books, as long as the company is still around. And the old one will get pitched and add to the heap of audio equipment, computers, crt monitors, cell phones, and countless other items that once cost a good sum of money but are now unusable because the market said so.

Edited at 2012-01-31 11:36 am (UTC)
Jan. 31st, 2012 01:30 pm (UTC)
On the other hand, if everything goes to hell as it's been fashionable for a decade or so to predict will occur, that'll give us a huge stock of salvageable parts to make up for the absence of an electronics industry mass-producing new ones.
Jan. 31st, 2012 04:34 pm (UTC)
I hope so! The planetary supply of lithium is running low because it's all going into batteries for portable electronics. At least recycle the batteries, darnit.
Jan. 31st, 2012 06:43 pm (UTC)
For a while, it got easier to recycle batteries, but more recently, it is getting harder again. Places to drop them off, are closing their doors and turning them away.

Edited at 2012-01-31 06:43 pm (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 31st, 2012 09:03 pm (UTC)
A lot of 'how long this book will last' is dependent on the quality of the printing. I've read 19th century books that had held up fine, and 70s books that, as Scalzi notes, disintigrated on reading.

I still miss my mother's copy of Robots Have No Tails. *sigh*
Jan. 31st, 2012 09:34 pm (UTC)
I don't have many books from that decade but the hardbacks seem to be holding up better than the paperbacks. Thankfully none are literally falling apart yet but some of the pages are a little brittle.
Feb. 1st, 2012 08:49 pm (UTC)
Books printed on acid-free or at least low-acid paper last easily for centuries if stored in cool, dry areas. The books from the 1800s typically lasted much longer than books from the 20th century due to the cheap, high-acid, pulp paper used for most published books.

Archivists have been frantically trying to reprint, cover, or otherwise preserve books from the last century as quickly as they can. One wonders what they will do for the e-books of this century...
Feb. 2nd, 2012 05:07 am (UTC)
Presumably, break the DRM, convert to as easy a format to read as possible, store digital copies on as many media as they can think of, and then run the race of making sure that all of their archives transfer and then translate across to the new standardized formats and media.

It's a race that NASA is losing right now, and that archivists are worried they've already lost for great chunks of data generated.
Feb. 2nd, 2012 06:37 pm (UTC)
I agree that's a basic start. But you're assuming technology will always be in place-- that we'll always have some tech that can read data. Though its cumbersome, for the vital stuff, we need to have it in a hardcopy format that humans can read, like books. If using a tech to store data, it has to be easily accessible or easy to figure out, like LP records or microfiche. Because, gods forbid, some disaster unfolds that unravels what we've built, we'll lose everything in high tech storage.
Feb. 4th, 2012 08:01 am (UTC)
Quite. We need to be able to keep our knowledge, both in breadth and in depth, and the depth part does require some well-kept low-tech solutions. Kind of like the seed bank in Norway(?) that hopes to preserve our agricultural abilities, assuming that we hit disaster and need to re-learn how to farm.
Feb. 4th, 2012 04:55 pm (UTC)
Mar. 1st, 2012 04:11 am (UTC)
Brad -- i can probably repair the volume for you. I'm fairly decent at that. Keep it safe and i can grab it next time i'm in town?
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )