John Updike's edge

JohnupdikepagePerhaps the book isn’t quite as dead as the technorati would like us to believe.

No less an author than John Updike has entered the Kevin Kelly debate. As the Washington Post reports, Updike spoke at BookExpo America at the weekend about Kelly’s New York Times anti book polemic:

"I read last Sunday, and maybe some of you did too, a quite long article by a man called Kevin Kelly," Updike told his audience at the Washington Convention Center.

Updike’s presentation at the weekend certainly had edge:

“Unlike the commingled, unedited, frequently inaccurate mass of "information" on the Web,
books traditionally have edges. But the book revolution, which from the Renaissance on taught men and women to cherish and cultivate their individuality, threatens to end in a sparkling pod of snippets.”

Exactly. Books have edges. Like coherent narrative, like history, books have a beginning and an end. Contrast this will the amorphous anarchy of the digital information economy, with its never-ending chaos of links.

As Updike says, books teach us – both the reader and the writer – to celebrate our individuality. And he advised booksellers to resist “that-man-called-Kevin-Kelly’s” utopia:

“Defend your lonely forts. Keep your edges dry. Your edges are our edges. For some of us, books are intrinsic to our human identity."

This is the heart of the matter. Updike is right; Kelly is wrong. Books are intrinsic to our human identity; the web and its “pod of snippets” aren’t.