Saturday, November 22, 2014

Saturday fun activity: Where IS this?

     Paperback books were vaguely disreputable when they came out, 100 years ago. Cheap editions for the underclasses, almost an insult to the concept of books.
     But that bias was short-lived, and while some people do enjoy the tactile pleasure and sturdiness of a hardback book over its more flimsy covered cousin, the differences are not given much thought, and rightly so. 
     Thus while reading electronically is seen as somehow suspect, a diminishment of the heft and permanence of a book, I think it is a passing qualm, and whether you read Moby-Dick online or in a physical book will not be particularly important, except the former experience will save you considerable arm strain. 
      I noticed this young man, consulting his laptop, surrounded by books. In a library, yes, but which library? I will give you a hint: it is not a public library. 
      The winner will receive a bag of marvelous Bridgeport coffee, which I have been drinking by the steaming cupful and enjoying greatly. Make sure to post your guesses below. Good luck.

Today is Nov. 22. If you missed last year's 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination story, about how Chicago helped break the shocking news to the world, you can read it by clicking here.


  1. Bingo. Congratulations. Email me your address at, and I'll mail you your coffee. It's good!

  2. Neil, sorry, Mr. Steinberg, actually the question of whether reading by e-reader is qualitatively the same as hardcopy reading is still open, and has big implications for the use of technology in the classroom (while relevant, or at least of interest, to adults too!) Some studies have suggested that people's minds don't engage e-text as deeply as hardcopies ( just an example here: ) while others haven't shown a difference.

  3. Picture a world where we could only read from electronic devices. Then the invention of the paperback would be hailed as one of the great devices of all time.

    Paperback vs. electronic:

    • easier to highlight
    • easier to make interlinear comments
    • easier to flip pages
    • easier on the eyes
    • easier to carry
    • no fear of theft or damage.

    Funny that Mr. Steinberg mentions Moby-Dick. This is one of my all-time favorites – along with the Iliad, Absalom Absalom, and Macbeth.

    I bought a second handy paperback of MB. It had great interlineations. I similarly made more. And when I reread the novel 25 years later – the two earlier sets of notes were enlightening – both as a refresher and to measure how my thinking has matured.

    Many of my young smart nieces and nephews are basically unfamiliar with a traditional long form argument. Keep in mind that many today would find the Federalist Papers a tough read. But the Federalist Papers were merely newspaper columns published in the 1780’s. Folks back then must have been a lot smarter and both better readers and writers. There is an explicit reason for this. They were all intimately familiar with the KING JAMES VERSION of the Bible – which almost all acknowledge as a masterpiece of language.

    1. Okay, I'm often confused as to the proper use of the word "ironic," but I have to believe that the statement "Many of my young smart nieces and nephews are basically unfamiliar with a traditional long form argument," coming from none other than you, Jerry, is a fine example. ; )

      As to the electronic version of reading, one might put together a compendium of selected comments of yours both here, and even more extensively, from the ole Change of Subject blog and your nieces and nephews might be made familiar with the blog version of "long form argument" pronto! (Just a friendly observation -- not intended to be mean-spirited...) : )

      "Folks back then must have been a lot smarter and both better readers and writers." I don't doubt that many were better readers and writers. IMHO, a larger reason for this than familiarity with the King James Bible, though, is that today's folks have such a vast array of entertainments, diversions and distractions, aside from reading, compared with their 18th-century counterparts.

      Electronic vs. paper books isn't the issue, to me. The issue is that, before the iPod began the personal e-device revolution, if one was on the El, or wherever, and passing the time, they'd either be reading a newspaper, magazine or book, if they weren't looking out the window. Now, many are more likely to be playing Candy Crush, or whatever the game-of-the-moment is. (As a bit of a Luddite, I only become aware of such stuff second-hand or by reading about it...) And they're constantly being bombarded by texts, tweets, Facebook updates, etc. I thought that TV had ruined the attention span of my generation, growing up in the '60s. I can't even imagine how distracted today's yutes must be.

    2. Jakash:

      Thanks for the reply.

      I am not exactly sure what you are saying in the first two paragraphs. But in any regard I have learned not to impose myself on nieces or nephews or -- for that matter-- on anyone in person. On a blog I can be easily ignored.

      I agree with your last two paragraphs. But there you are merely pointing to the other side of the coin. If they are not reading the Bible or other serious stuff -- then they are screwing around with electronic frivolities.

      BTW: If you want to really know about Americans in the 1830's read from cover to cover Tocqueville's DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA. The Puritan ethos kept them from doing a lot of frivolous stuff -- except for those in Kentucky where bourbon and hunting were done big-time.

  4. Go books! the other thing to recall is that paperbacks are more permanent than e-anything. As computers evolve, older programs become unreadable, and I am yet to be convinced that Kindles and other devices won't suffer the same fate as my PhD dissertation (written on long-dead floppy disc software).. I gave a paper once at (ahem) Oxford (full disclosure: the Polytech, not THE Oxford of Medieval glory) with the title "Why E-Books Won't Work: the Lessons of the Paperback Revolution." Shows how much I know.

  5. I tend toward Bill's position, though I see what Jerry is saying. I might never have read Moby-Dick is I didn't find myself staying for a month in a house with a gorgeous 1930 edition illustrated by Rockwell Kent. (Ragdale, the writer's colony in Lake Forest). This is not to say an electronic version cannot also be illustrated, beautiful, etc. Devices change, but they will not change forever, I believe. This technology will settle, people will master their devices, and paper books will be like live opera, a wealthy indulgence.

  6. Waaaay too late to win, but I recognized the University Club immediately. Love those chairs.

  7. Perhaps I am a complete oddity. I love my hardcovers, my paperbacks AND my kindle. I just received 2 hardbacks as gifts - thrilled. I will often take a paperback with me on a trip and leave it at the far end for someone else - low cost, share the love, no need to tote it back. I regularly check out books from my local library via my kindle - and when I spent many hours dealing with family illnesses, having 3 or 4 books with me on the kindle was a major sanity saver.

    I think each has advantages, places and uses.


Comments are vetted and posted at the discretion of the proprietor.