The design of the book

I’ve stopped using my Kindle.  Sure, there were some convenient features that I’ll miss.  For example, I enjoyed not carrying around three books on vacation and downloading books was a bit addictive.  However, there were a few things that drove me crazy.  Despite an impressive battery life, there were times when my uncharged Kindle stopped me from reading.  Also, Amazon can modify the book you are reading, which really bothers me.  It almost happened to me while reading Neal Stephenson’s Reamde.

Picture by Avi Solomon of The Strand Bookstore in NYC.  I do enjoying reading while Kindle owners put away their "hazardous" electronic devices.
Picture by Avi Solomon of The Strand Bookstore in NYC. I do enjoying reading while Kindle owners put away their “hazardous” electronic devices.

Continue reading “The design of the book”

Literaturhaus NYC

For those visiting NYC Upper East Side, I recommend the following half-day trip, which happened to be my Monday morning.  Start off with Breakfast at Café Sabarsky at 86th and 5th.  It’s a quiet, Viennese style café in the Neue Galerie Museum.  It has the distinct European café feel, where they make real caffè lattes (milchkaffee) and where one can sit with a Newspaper stick and enjoying leisurely reading.  Café Sabarsky reminds me of my other favorite café in Berlin, the Literaturhaus Berlin.  Like Sabarsky and as its name implies, the Literaturhaus café is designed for reading.  And not the kind of reading one does with a highlighter or with the swipe of the finger, these cafés are the battlefields to tackle Joyce, Foster, Dostoyevsky, or Pynchon.  None of whom I brought, since I had excellent company at the time.  But I semi-frequently go to restaurants by myself just to read, which I recognize is not a normal habit…

So, after a European breakfast topped off with Sachertorte, walk down (or through) the Park to the south-east corner of Central Park at 60th and 5th Avenue.  There you will find two kiosks.  One, is the Vendy Award winning Belgian Waffle stand: Wafels and Dinges.

Waffles and Dinges Cart

Skip that for now, since you just had Sachertorte, but remember to go back one day and try a waffle with Speculoos.  Instead focus on the stand of one of the great NYC companies: The Strand Bookstore.  This kiosk is a mere speck of the books offered in the main bookstore which contains over 18 miles of books and where one can order books not only by the author, but by the foot.

The Kiosk, open 10 AM to dusk April through December, weather permitting, is the reverent flame for the book against its barbarian attacker: the eBook.  Even mentioned in this recent WIRED article, the book benefits from what the eBook readers lack: good

Strand Kiosk on the SE Corner of Central Park

design.  Now, I own a Kindle and it has its place for me, but there is something about browsing through table-tops of books at the entrance to central park.  And if the location and availability hasn’t won you over, the pedigree of books on display will.  Of course, at the kiosk, the Hunger Game Series and other popular fiction are available, but the majority of this corner shop is the boxes of half-priced (slightly) used classics.  I had to limit myself to three: Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf (natürlich, I would try to read it in German, but Kafka is still difficult for me.  And I tend to collect German books and not finish them.  So, I really want to read Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann in German, but you see, I’ve just purchased these books…), Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaids Tale, and The Redbreast, a Jo Nesbo novel.

While this may not be the itinerary for first time New Yorkers, stay an extra day next time to give this a try.  Or, if you forgot to bring your copy of The Brothers K., try the trip above in reverse and pick up a copy at the Strand Kiosk on your way to Frühstück.  As of Monday, there were three copies left.

Why the book won’t die

The NY Times is concerned about the death of Barnes & Noble.  First of all, we all know that Barnes and Noble was originally created a shell company for bathrooms for the homeless.  But despite that, there are two issues here: whether Barnes and Noble is going away and whether the book, in printed form, is going away.

The fear of Barnes and Noble dying is not totally unfounded, I mean, Border’s Books and Music is now dead (or near dead).  Also, every time I go buy a book at B&N, I immediately search for it on Amazon and it is significantly cheaper there, so I usually walk out only with my coffee (from the B&N cafe).  Where there are no good local bookstores, B&N is a godsend to spend a few hours walking through sections of books and realizing that I have a lot too read.  But, B&N has not killed the independent bookstore.  Some of my favorite books stores are indy-types where one can walk around unorganized or mostly unorganized stacks and find books from serendipity alone.  The Strand in NYC and Joseph Fox Bookstore in Philadelphia come to mind.

B&N’s savior, might be interestingly enough, the Nook.  I am an Amazon zealot, however I do not like the reading experience on the Kindle Fire (or any backlight device).  The original Kindle was meant for readers, the Kindle Fire was meant to play games and music and for people to buy books.

English: Barnes & Noble Nook
B&N Nook via Wikipedia

Given that, I actually think the new Nook is better than the Fire, but I’m not here to start a vi vs emacs war (Link for the uninitiated).  The point being, I believe people are buying the Nook and it is a strong competitor to Amazon.

However, the book is not dying.  The written word has existed since antiquity on some sort of physical medium.  The book, in a codex form, has existing from the 15th century or so.  From a continuity of the medium, it has the 8-Track/record/tape/CD model beat as well as the VHS/laser disc/DVD/Blue Ray model.

So, the book has been around, so won’t the book go the way of the record?  i.e. books will be for connoisseur of the printed word like records while the masses will consume the eBook?  I think not.  Mainly because of Digital Rights Management (DRM (Wikipedia)).  When you buy a book, you own book; it can’t change, and as long as your eyes are still functioning, you can always read it.  Enter the eBook.  That book is totally dependent on the software which can unlock that DRM.  Even if you can view it on your iPad, Kindle, computer, whatever, it still requires that software and you don’t have access to it directly.  That book can change, under your nose, by the owner of the DRM, which nearly happened to me while reading, ironically, Neal Stephenson REAMDE.  DRM adds a barrier layer, the fundamentally prevents the owner / reader access to the media.  Of course there are great projects like Project Gutenberg, but most new books are still published for the Kindle / Nook these days.

I enjoy my Kindle.  It makes traveling great when I don’t have to lug around multiple books.  Also, I love the newspaper feature on it and I feel I read the newspaper much more than I would otherwise.  But, I, and I believe others, have a fundamental issue with the eBook and it is bigger than a preference of printed or electronic type.  See Umberto Eco’s remarks on the preference of the book.

I think we shall see some downsizing of B&N, but I don’t think it will totally go away.  After all, it does offer free bathrooms.