Saturday, May 26, 2012

The book's the thing

There are still books out there. Many, many books. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Books have been here for... well, not forever, but for a very long time. More than I can remember, at least, but that’s not saying much.

The thing is: the book is quite a clever concept. A bundle of knowledge, strapped together by pieces of leather... well, once by leather... But it is the concept of the book which matters, whether in hard cover or in soft cover.

“What about an electronic cover?”
“How can something electronic be a cover? It is virtual.”
“Therefore it does not exist?”
“Yes, I mean no. I mean, it must exist if we can still read its pages.”
“But that doesn’t make it a book.”
“Not even an electronic book?”
“Call me a romantic. I still like the smell of leather... Well, something to hold in my hands.”
“I hold my Kindle in my hands. Can even hold it and turn the pages with the same hand.”

*insert awkward pause

“Anyhow, I liked things the way they were.”
“Writing on stone, you mean.”
“Now let’s not go to extremes.”
“Me go to extremes!”

The thing is, electronic books, electronic information of any type, excites me. No, it is not a fetish. I simply like access to anything, anywhere, at any time. Many of you will claim that I have become a part of the “me now” generation which demands immediate satisfaction, and can do with nothing less. But I will have nothing to do with this.

I have always had a fascination for books. I would travel with my parents and suddenly disappear. They knew then to search for the nearest bookstore. Opening a book was an exploration, an exploration into a parallel universe from whence I emerged changed, even if only in a small way. But so much has happened since. It used to be that a teacher could stand up at the front of a one room schoolhouse and teach students all there was needed to know. A set of encyclopedias could contain all of the information of both the modern and ancient worlds. Dictionaries could contain an accurate list of vocabulary and not need to be updated for decades. But then came the information explosion. Books became out of date almost before they were published. A wise teacher soon realized that s/he could no longer be a valid source of information but should rather serve as “facilitator”, in leading students to search, find and properly evaluate information. Huge conglomerations which once controlled the access to knowledge, have now lost their control over us. And writers can now easily turn out their novels on a computer, and even go way of self-publishing rather than suffer years of rejection at the hands of literary agents and publishers who are becoming less and less willing to take chances in a market whose bottom is falling out.

When I finally got my own novel published, I had no idea what was waiting for me in the literary world. Bookstores, however big, can not even represent a fraction of what is out there. Many of you will claim that most of the books published today are probably not even worth printing. But the thing is, there are many good books out there which would have never gotten published otherwise. And I, personally, take this to be the decisive factor: not the surplus of what we consider unworthy, but rather the absence of what should be there.

But what I have found to be even more compounding is how social networks offer an interactive platform in which readers and writers come together - where readers and writers no longer sit in worlds clearly separate, but are now accountable to each other. Writing has become a social experience in ways never conceived of before.

And I realize now that being a writer not only means that I should write books, but that I also should bring something back to books and writers that I read. This is why I began my own book review blog - “The Virtual Muser eBook Review”. And I must say that I am learning as much from this experience as I am from my own writing.

Books are here to stay. Maybe not in the way that you would expect or hope them to. But they have been here forever, at least in the human experience. Whether they were written in stone, or told and passed down from generation to generation. Think of it: the concept has never changed. And what about the need?

You might say, then - why even sell books? Why not just put them up there for anybody to download? Isn’t the message the thing that is important? You may or may not be surprised to hear that more and more writers are doing exactly this. Is this the beginning of a serious trend? We will wait and find out.

Friday, May 4, 2012

You're so vain, you probably think this blog is about you

People annoy me. What can I say. I don’t even remember when it started. I have a vague memory of the doctor slapping me when I came out of my mother’s womb...

Not all people annoy me. Or at least, not all of the people all of the time.

“You can be very annoying,” you say.
“Yes,” I answer. “What is your point, exactly?

People, by themselves, are not always annoying enough to reach my radar. It usually takes an extension of themselves: their pet dog or brood of children - to really get under my skin. You see, most people believe that they are god’s gift to mankind.  And, just in case no one has gotten the point, they send out their dogs and children to get into the face of anybody who might otherwise ignore them. You’ve been there: kids running rampant through the aisles in the supermarket, screaming at the top of their lungs when something is refused - dogs barking in the middle of the night while their owners sleep peacefully and leave the rest of us to toss and turn in despair.

Now, I like animals. Actually like them much more than people. There is probably a name for that ( there is a name for everything these days). Maybe it is because both animals and I don’t talk much. Much more into observing. So, the other night, at 1:30 in the morning, I went out and picked up some stones on the way  to confront the dog who was barking behind my house. Getting there, I found a dog tied up outside of a house. He saw me and wagged his tail with a huge dog smile, glad to welcome a human presence so late at night/early morning. What could I do, then? Throw a stone at him? So I left him to it and went back to bed, cursing the moron who should have never been allowed to have a dog, much like many parents who should have never been allowed to have children.

If you find this not to be politically correct, so far,  I can only say that it is going to get worse. But in order to partially placate your delicate sense of fair play, I will no longer brand people as “annoying”. Rather, let’s just say that they are “socially challenged”.

Actually, I am just as socially challenged as anyone else, but I keep it to myself. Which most people consider annoying. You see, I can sit at a party, or dinner, or any other social event a whole night and say nothing. Most people will probably pass this off as my not being intelligent enough to take part in their riveting conversation. Other people attribute my silence to my not finding them, or their conversation, interesting. And this really pisses them off. You are supposed to mingle in social situations. And if you don’t have anything interesting to say, making a fool out of yourself is just as socially acceptable.

“What are you, socially autistic?” you ask.
“I have never thought about it in that way,” I answer. “But now that you mention it, the shoe fits.”

The irony of it all is that I am not a people person (if you haven’t already guessed), yet I have spent almost all of my adult life living in small communities (we are talking about less than a thousand souls - not counting the dogs). This brings me into more contact with people than I would have, say, in the city. The first community (14 years of my life) was a kibbutz. The second community (20+ years and counting) is a small community on the edge of the Zin Wadi. When we first came here, the community was much smaller, almost everyone knew each other, and there was a feeling of common purpose in living here. This has changed over the years. What was once a cohesive community has turned into social anarchy. We could blame this on how quickly the community has expanded, as more and more people build houses here. Or on the fact that many people build houses only to rent them out at obscene prices in order to make a windfall. But the main factor may be that many people have recognized this is a place where they, their children and their dogs can live as free spirits. What others might call - “running wild”. But hey, let’s not quibble over semantics.

I mean, how many places do you know where you can let your dog run loose terrorizing children and bark all night terrorizing aspiring sleepers, without any fear of being called into account. Yes, we do have a “residents committee” which has promised to work towards “enriching” our communal experience. And yes, like most good committees, they keep sending us newsletters telling us about how they are going to round up dogs on the loose and call their owners into account. For about ten years, we have seen these proclamations repeatedly. Haven’t seen them in a while though, probably because a dog chews them up, just as two dogs chewed up our Friday newspaper which was dropped off early morning by the paper boy. Did the dog owner offer to buy us a new newspaper? No, he simply cleaned the mess of torn fragments off of his OWN lawn.

“Bitter. You think I sound bitter? No, not at all. That is one of the advantages of being a socially autistic and cynical pessimist. You don’t hold high expectations.”

“The name of the small community where I am living now? I think I will keep this to myself. Otherwise, you’re so vain, you’ll probably think this blog is about you.