Notes from the resistance

Joining Kevin Kelly's utopian anti book crusade, Jeff Jarvis calls me a curmudgeon for defending the orthodoxy, power and tradition of the printed book.

He's right. I am, indeed, the most reactionary of conservatives. I think the book is one of the three finest inventions (with motion pictures and recorded music) of the last thousand years. And I'll defend the traditional book and the publishing industry until the last printing press has been shuttered.

Jarvis says the physical book is an "outmoded means of communicating information." He's wrong. The purpose of books is not to communicate information. Books are things to get lost in, to fall in love with, to be confused by. Books are not vehicles of utility, like computers or cell phones. They are not meant simply to transport us -- like knowledge commuters -- out of ignorance.

Jarvis lists his problems with books: "They are frozen in time without the means of being updated and corrected. They have no link to related knowledge, debates, and sources. They create, at best, a one-way relationship with a reader. They try to teach readers but don’t teach authors."

But the value of books is that they are indeed frozen in time and are, thus, incorrect, inadequate and unfinished. Books are human in their frailty and ambivalence. My favorite books -- Hobbes' Leviathan, Sebald's Vertigo, De Lillo's White Noise, Dostoievski's Notes from the Underground, Calvino's Mr Palomar -- are such intimate companions because they contain as many questions are answers.

How would Jarvis suggest that Notes from the Underground be corrected or linked? Perhaps a kid with a My Space page could tell Dostoievski to chill. Or maybe a blogging sleuth could use Google maps to show that  Dostoievski got some of St Petersburg' s street geography wrong. Or instead of reading Dostoievski, people could link to my debate with Jarvis about Notes from the Underground.

No. Dostoievski has nothing to learn from me (or Jeff Jarvis) as a reader, nor does Calvino or Sebald or even De Lillo, who is still alive. These are all great writers; there is no such thing as a great reader.

Jarvis says that  "print is where words go to die" and he tells curmudgeons like me that "resisting change is futile."  I suggest that he reads Notes from the Underground. Then perhaps, like me, he'll join the resistance.