When I was young I was convinced that I wanted to grow up to be a literary genius. People whose prose had survived over the decades with fervor like Oscar Wilde, Agatha Christie, Kurt Vonnegut or Ayn Rand. An artist of memorable talent and influence of the written word. My writing was once compared to Mark Twain and that was a bit of a playful punch to the shoulder leaning me toward that dream.
I once looked upon the distinguished ship of my dreams USS Wordsmith with great pride and a glimmer in my eye of the happy times I would have serving my fellow Humanity aboard it.
Now, after having watched the ship in awe over the years, I look upon that once magical vessel with disdain and a little pity at what it has become. On the main deck I see Stieg Larsson and Dr. Phil taking turns punching holes in the hull with a gold-plated axe and Stephanie Meyer, on her cell with a Hollywood publicist, turning the cannon toward the mast. All the while, inspired authors like Neil Gaiman, Chuck Palahniuk and J. K. Rowling are desperately trying to bail out water through the portholes (though to be honest Chuck isn’t trying very hard since it is obviously not going to work). The spirit of authors long gone look down in dismay as their sadness manifests in a gentle mist upon the rotting timbers. And the dread pirate fleet, led by the flagship Movie Industry, accompanied by a fearless cacophony heralding their arrival, approaches to overtake the poor vessel…forever. The pirates are much more heavily armed and have technology on their side. The once timeless and influential ship now waits for the inevitable as I sit on the dock watching.
I’m not the only one. We. Us. Sitting on the docks to observe the fall of a titan. Some shout in horror, some cheer, but most just stare silently. Like me. Sure, we all know the art of literature will never fully disappear but neither will the drowning broken husk of that ship when the pirates are done taking what they will have. It will always be there, underneath the surface. Years later someone may even plan an expedition and try to revive some of the lost relics of a bygone era when people read from paper. I feel myself jumping out of my skin to save that ship, my ship. The mission is suicide. Even success is questionable. So there I stand, ankle deep in the water, not even realizing that I’m crying until I look to see everyone is crying. They don’t realize it either. Even those that are cheering. They feel the death of an era approaching. An era of true literary greatness, proven on the page. Because they are timeless and powerful, not because they have the best sales.
I know digital books will keep the words alive, but the spirit won’t keep. It will just blend and sift along with the rest of the digital realm and homogenize into the collective. Another ghost in the machine. The consciousness of a once powerful entity wondering what they are feeling as they stare blankly at the wires and metal that compose it’s once fluid and natural structure. A consciousness that looks around to see uniform replicas of its own alien self. With such an easy and cost-effective replacement for the true spirit of literature, the market floods and the bodies of dedicated readers will float to the top as they suffocate on the billions of pages cutting them to ribbons in their search for words to keep them warm. Machines can provide information and fulfill a necessity. Literature can provide insight and fulfill a thirsty soul.
As I watch the razing of an ancient shrine, I know that this feeling is indelibly in my soul. I intend to pass along that sliver of glory to my children and grandchildren by way of a rugged old paperback which I hope they too will pass on to their own. That glory that I had kept in the deepest part of my soul from a time which I’m sure the world will not miss. You have to know it before you can miss it. You have to feel it before you can be hurt by its absence. Time and progress march on and sometimes things get left behind. Even if one of those things is that glory which was never meant to fade. That which made us human. That which reminded us what it truly meant to be human.
Regardless, I take some solace knowing that eventually these industries will be in turn overtaken by images and information directly inserted like a bullet in the brain. Take THAT Hollywood. Don’t get me wrong, I like movies, I just like books more.