Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The Simple Basics

What’s wrong with the world? It’s supposed to be the lazy, hazy days of summer… a time of languid days at the lake, cold beers, sunset chats on the dock and silly board games. At least, that’s the perfect Canadian cottage country summer. Perhaps your summer involves visiting friends and relatives in far-away cities or coming home to the family farm. It doesn’t matter. Summer is about turning off life’s worries, about reconnecting with the simple basics and with the people you love.

So what do I find when I check out the internet or my local news? Anxiety and frantic work. The US desperately trying to avert a financial crisis that could bring down not just their own but the world’s economy. Canada’s largest city holding meetings long into the night to debate the merits of cutting or privatizing cherished social services, including libraries. Norway in anguished soul-searching to find out who they are and what went so horribly wrong. And here in the quiet Northland, forest fires, wind storms, and life-threatening heat.

And on a simpler scale, my fellow writers are wondering if they will ever see another royalty cheque. Okay, to be honest, I am too. Peculiar, contradictory surges of panic and excitement have gripped the book world. As my friend and fellow Type M’er Rick Blechta points out, the ebook revolution is here, bookstores are closing left and right, and even the big chains who were responsible for driving the independents out of business are struggling to find new niches in giftware and candles. It’s either candles or bankruptcy. Yes, ebooks are not cuddly. They are not beach friendly. But wow, to be able to load one thousand books on a single tiny tablet – that more than makes up for it!

Writers too are thrilled to bypass the traditional publisher/distributor/bookseller strait jacket which controlled access to the readers eagerly awaiting their works. In unprecedented numbers they are uploading their own ebooks onto Amazon, Apple and other internet publishing sites, dreaming of profits that would finance more than the occasional trip to the coffee shop. I too am guilty of this. Just last week, as part of the Ladies' Killing Circle, I uploaded a small collection of rare and out-of-print short stories for sale on the web (Little Treasures, if you want to rush out and buy it for 99 cents). Not to make millions, obviously, not even to finance a cup of coffee, but to bring those stories back into circulation, and along the way to give new readers a taste of what we have to offer.

But this weekend, at my own cottage, I looked with nostalgia at my pine bookshelves. They are stuffed to overflowing with hardcover and paperback books that I thought would make good vacation reads, not so much for me, because I’ve read them all, but for visiting family, friends and guests. My mini-library has many mysteries, often the genre of choice for those on vacation, but also works of classic and contemporary literary fiction. Guests peer at the titles, get down on all fours to see the bottom shelf, pull out several to caress the covers, read the back and flip through the first page, all in a leisurely effort to find the perfect book for the dock.

As I watch this ritual, I wonder what will replace it in the digital age. Will I have Kindles to loan out, and will I bother to keep the latest versions up to date to satisfy the more impatient and technologically addicted of my friends? Will I wince every time they take them to the water’s edge, subject to the gleeful splash of an exuberant child or dog?

It’s hard to picture us all bent over our electronic devices, thumbing through thousands of invisible books in search of the perfect cottage read. It’s hard to imagine the device laid aside on the arm of a Muskoka chair while we slide into the water for a swim. But then, ten years ago I would have thought it impossible to sit in a restaurant watching my fellow diners, every single one of them busy on their smart phones, texting, emailing and chatting. While their dinner partner across the table does the same.

Slow down, world. Chill. Reconnect with the basics, and with the people you love.


Melodie Campbell said...

Rick, your 'summer of anxiety' portrait is right on the mark.
And re nostalgia for paper: I like my kindle, but I'm finding if I really *really* love a book I'm reading, I go out after and buy the paperback. I simply adore the look of books on a shelf.

Rick Blechta said...

Ummm, Melodie, that's the redoubtable Ms Fradkin in the photo and she is responsible for this sensible essay. I'd like to take credit for it, really I would, but you see, it just wouldn't fly.

And by the way, Barbara's words are sensible as always. We really do need to take the time to slow things down. I'm glad to note that the photo shows that she's taking her own advice, lucky stiff!

Barbara Fradkin said...

Actually, Rick, in the picture, I'm hard at work on the first draft of my next Inspector Green novel. The setting would a salve for frenetic souls, for sure, except for the frenetic little red dog waiting for the ball.

S. C. Gates said...

Wonderful commentary, Barbara. As someone interested in the fine arts as well, I wonder how the designers and illustrators and artists who create book covers (and illustrations in the case of children's books)will fare?

In our multi-media world, we may, ironically,lose the synergy of art and literature that sparked my imagination and fueled my love of books in my youth.

Rick Blechta said...

Ebooks still need "covers", the guts have to be designed, and kids books will always need illustrations, so those jobs are safe. Whew!

Donis Casey said...

You are a woman of eminent wisdom, Barbara.