January 2012 | Nate Pedersen

Jonathan Franzen Condemns eBooks

"Maybe nobody will care about printed books 50 years from now, but I do. When I read a book, I'm handling a specific object in a specific time and place. The fact that when I take the book off the shelf it still says the same thing - that's reassuring," said Jonathan Franzen, author of The Corrections, at the Hay festival in Caragena, Colombia this weekend.  Franzen continued, "Someone worked really hard to make the language just right, just the way they wanted it. They were so sure of it that they printed it in ink, on paper. A screen always feels like we could delete that, change that, move it around. So for a literature-crazed person like me, it's just not permanent enough."

And so Franzen articulated a feeling shared by many of us bibliophiles.  That's one of the reasons we collect books in the first place, right?  That sense of connection, permanence, and place.

Fueled by Franzen's comments this weekend, the Guardian also published a fascinating, revealing article from Ewan Morrison on the current eBook publishing bubble.  With these two articles leading the charge under the "Most Viewed" section of the Guardian's Books section, another recent eBook article shot to the top of its list: the profile from earlier this month of Amanda Hocking, the young author who has already made $2.5 million off her self-published eBook series on Minnesota vampires.  So the perennial debate over eBooks and the future of publishing has once again been refueled across the pond.

All of it makes for interesting reading.  But it's Franzen's comments that hit home with so many of us book collectors:

 "Everything else in your life is fluid, but here is this text that doesn't change.  Will there still be readers 50 years from now who feel that way? Who have that hunger for something permanent and unalterable? I don't have a crystal ball. But I do fear that it's going to be very hard to make the world work if there's no permanence like that. That kind of radical contingency is not compatible with a system of justice or responsible self-government."

I think we here at Fine Books can answer a resounding "yes" to Franzen's questions about future bibliophiles.  For evidence, see our Bright Young Things series, where young bookseller after young bookseller has offered compelling insight into the promising future of books and the people who love them.