The Future of Books

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Here’s my conundrum, do I keep The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited The Sequel by Johnny Rogan, or give it away. This 1988 book revised in 2008 has 735 pages about the The Byrds, my favorite music group from the 1960s. Rogan has since updated this book in 2011 to a 1216 page monster, that’s just the first volume of a trilogy. I read the 2008 edition with much delight, spending several evenings in an orgy of nostalgia, playing my old Byrds albums as I read about how each was created. I kept the book thinking I’d reread it. Was that a mistake? Is the knowledge in books changing so fast that there’s little reason to save them?


The edition I have is quite exhaustive in its scope. But if I wanted to read about The Byrds again, shouldn’t I read the latest definitive work? Why have I saved this book for seven years? It’s still a great read, and maybe it’s all I need to know about The Byrds.

Books have become a physical burden. I had a friend who claimed to own every book he ever read. Can you imagine the Sisyphean task of dragging a library behind you everywhere you went? That would be a snap if they were ebooks. Or if I lived in one house my whole life. Or if knowledge wasn’t changing so fast.

This book represents another kind of burden, a psychological burden. We experience life one moment at a time, yet most of us cling to all those past moments. Not only do I want to save my memories of The Bryds, but retain a book that collects all the group member memories. That’s kind of weird when you think about it.

We exist in a transitional time. We’re very close to having all our external memories online. What if The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited The Sequel  was a website that grew as Rogan wrote and researched? The multimedia aspects of the web could greatly expand its potential. Personal and public libraries wouldn’t be burdened with lending and storing the book. And it would be available to all instantly.

I can also see the content this book incorporated into Wikipedia. What if all knowledge was hyperlinked into one book? What if the history of The Byrds was written by anyone who cared about their history? What if all memoirs, interviews, photos, bootlegs, videos, etc. were at one location, and hyperlinked by a carefully crafted narrative of dedicated editors?

We now serialize history with the latest definitive book. What if history lived on the web as an ongoing collective project? Is moving towards such a hive mind existence scary? How much time do you spend reading the web versus reading books? How often do we get facts from iPhones?

Can you imagine books in the future? Are they changing so fast that it’s not worth collecting them?

I’ve always been a lover of books. I hoard and collect them. But I’m starting to wonder if I only need to own one book, the one I’m reading.


7 thoughts on “The Future of Books”

  1. About keeping books – no, I don’t plan to reread very many of the thousands of books I own – in fact, I don’t plan on rereading any of them. Rather, I’ll re-buy them in Kindle or Audible format and keep my old original for memory purposes. Because when I see them on the shelves I remember the good time I had reading them. I guess I use them for decor in a way. I’ll get rid of the ones which aren’t special when I have to – when I move or something. The special ones can go with me – maybe 50. Decorate my life at the nursing home. lol

    In fact, I just bought Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in both Kindle and Audible formats although I own a paperback copy already. I have several others like that.

    I read a lot of history and other material, fiction, classics, etc. I read history like I read the news in a way because yes, new evidence or different thinking can change the way we view history – and it’s always been that way. Different authors have different points of view even if they write about the same thing in the same year. It’s like trying to figure out a massive jigsaw puzzle when you don’t have and never will have all the pieces – just more of them and sometimes fewer (when myths are broken).

    Books have changed and I don’t know if it’s “worth” keeping them or not – I like reading the current stuff – and current always changes. But I like mine – so although I rarely buy real physical books anymore – the ones I have are great to look at sitting there on the shelves. 🙂

      1. Download the cover images to your computer, and then add them to your desktop background slideshow. I do that with personal photos, copies of famous artwork, and book and album covers. It’s a nice way to be reminded of memories.

    1. I used to love the physical nature of books. I have a handful that I’m sentimental over. Especially the twelve Robert A. Heinlein YA books I bought with my first paycheck at 16 back in 1968. Now, what makes me hate parting with a book is the amount of money I spent for it. I had to special order that Bryds book. If the book is a used one I bought for a couple dollars I don’t mind giving it away at all. But that shouldn’t matter. I paid to read the book, not to own it.

      I tend to buy Kindle and Audible books now because Amazon will do all the library work for me. Out of sight, out of mind. They don’t clutter up the house, and I can read them again if I really want to.

  2. Yep – I’ve got some expensive books – Rembrandt’s Eyes 1st edition, other art books mostly. My home burned to the ground in 1991 – including all the books. I don’t have anything from my early reader years – I don’t have any of my collection of antique cookbooks. I was insured -and I did buy second copies of some, Zen and the Art and a couple others. – I lost a lot more than that, but no lives. Books can be replaced if we want to – people and animals can’t.

    Back in the olden days books were special – they were to be treated with the utmost care, saved, handed down for generations. Now? They’re disposable consumables or less, physically, materially. They’re digitized, replaced with a download. It’s sad to see them go, but it was sad to see the local butcher shop or the great department stores go, too. It’s all about maximum consumerism today and maximum convenience. This is shown by what’s inside the books, too.

  3. Nice post! This is a conundrum so many of us experience. I keep all my books, even if (when?) I know the information will change, because I like to see how new evidence changes-or not-what went before. I also don’t think the Internet is always the best way to do research 🙂 I don’t think the Internet will ever make what we call ‘paper books’ obsolete and I take comfort that Captain Picard had a hard cover of the complete words of Shakespeare in his quarters on the Enterprise!

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