You all know I am a fan of books, right? This house is full of them. From the cookbooks in the kitchen to the gardening books in the breakfast nook (where I can look out into the garden), fiction in the bedrooms, and art and museum books (along with the Onion’s Our Dumb World and Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage in American Medicine 1880–1930) on the coffee table, this house is a monument to the publishing arts.
So you can imagine my dismay when I watched this. Actually it’s a great interview of Jane Friedman by Mike Hyatt and well worth your time. In the first discussion, though, Jane says (and I don’t doubt her) she expects to see fewer nonfiction titles published.
In that same week I had a Skype meeting with Tami Heim and she mentioned a similar theory. It’s because people can look up things on the Internet, you see. We don’t need how-to books anymore. That’s the assumption, anyway.
My problems with this idea are myriad. I love having physical reference books. (Caveat: I happily pay $30 a year to have my digital copy of Merriam-Webster.) I love cookbooks and gardening books in particular.
Turning the pages of my beautifully photographed gardening books (The Landscape Design Answer Book, for example, or The Abundant Garden, which once served as an Artist Date for me, all by itself) simply makes me happy. It’s an experience my Kindle can’t give me. And unless you apply a discerning eye to which gardening website you’re taking advice from, you could end up with a bare backyard. (Everybody thinks he’s an expert. Kinda like me.)
And don’t get me started on recipe websites. They haven’t been tested, people. (OK, some have; but many are just Jane Doe’s grandmother’s recipe from 1964. Ugh. Trust me when I tell you the ’60s were not the golden age of American cookery, Julia Child notwithstanding.) And that’s just the beginning. They’re often incomplete or confused. Sometimes they’re just … not good. No, give me a good old-fashioned printed cookbook with recipes that have been tested by the author and by hired testers. (My two faves—A Homemade Life and The Sweet Life in Paris—although not true cookbooks, actually led me to the authors’ websites, and these I do trust: Molly Wizenberg over at Orangette. And David Leibovitz.)
And then there’s Wikipedia. (That’s a post all by itself.) Suffice it to say it cannot be trusted for much, and the quality is all over the map. I’m not convinced the uncurated product of the hive mind is a good source of general information. So if nonfiction books begin to fade away, doesn’t this present a problem for scholars? For our collective knowledge?
Tami suspects books will change in ways we can’t imagine; she thinks they’ll become more like blogs. This notion is certainly similar what I’ve been reading about the move to electronic textbooks: we can update them and correct them.
But … eeek. That’s what those “experts” are doing over at Wikipedia: correcting each other and fighting about who’s right. So will we have electronic libraries, places where information is “safe” from “correction”? And does, say, Dava Sobel’s lovely book Longitude (one of my all-time favorite nonfiction books) really need to be corrected?
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