Books have evolved a great deal since their inception thousands of years ago.The Sumerians are credited with the first literary title. That was approximately in 26th century B.C.– yes, 2,600 years before the Birth of Christ. People have been writing long before paper existed, including cave art found around the globe. Carvings and engravings on stone were commonplace as well. When most people think of ancient writings, Egypt’s hieroglyphs (2,400 B.C.) often win the prize. The well-known early Epic of Gilgamesh didn’t come around until 2,250 B.C., something that surprises many. For an addendum, the Epic of Gilgamesh spans a huge chunk of time in terms of history. 2,250 is only the beginning of the Gilgamesh recordings. The later part of the Epic of Gilgamesh was recorded up to three hundred years later. Wikipedia has a good (and reasonably accurate) listing on the history of ancient literature. It’s a bit dry, but it’s definitely an interesting read, especially if you’re into that sort of thing. I am, in case it wasn’t obvious!
To give an idea of just how ancient these writings are, the Odyssey and Iliad didn’t come around until 800 B.C.
What isn’t known is exactly when the very first person picked up a paint brush, a chisel, or a pen and went to work. What we do know is the invention of literacy would forever change our world. At first, most texts were religious teachings, hymns, and elements of life–to these people, non-fiction. Fiction came around later–thousand of years later.
Today, books are evolving again. We’ve progressed from stone painting, carving, and natural materials. We moved to parchment–and yes, even skins of animals and people, to writing exclusively on paper.
The digital era has begun, and it is here to stay. Books evolve; it is their nature to do so–and the nature of those who write them to encourage such evolution.
The New York Times posted an article about the decline of e-books. It claims print titles are here to stay while the digital era of books is coming to an end. I’m rather of the opinion this is an entire load of crock. I have one reason for this.
The article completely excludes the existence of self-publishing authors. Yes, when the traditional publishers hike the price of e-book copies to a buck or two below the price of hardbound books, people will choose to buy the print editions of those books over digital copies. By excluding self-published authors from the article, the New York Times is presenting a flat image of the publishing world.
There has never been a point in history where books have been so accessible to the average person. Self-publishers are offering titles for substantially cheaper than their traditionally published counterparts. To make the slope even more slippery, the day of quick profits for self-published authors is over. That I will not argue with.
In order to succeed, self-published authors must produce books just as good as their traditionally published counterparts. You, readers and book lovers, are not stupid people–and you know how to find and judge quality fiction. The self-publishers who tell the sorts of stories you want to read are being found. They’re working just as hard as their traditionally published counterparts. yes, some good books do get lost in the cracks, but the playing field has dramatically changed in the last ten years.
And you are being just as hard on them as you are on the traditional publishing houses. It shows in the reviews left on amazon and goodreads. It also shows in what gets spread via word of mouth. Don’t get me wrong: a good book doesn’t need to be a literary masterpiece; it does need to be a title that captures the heart and imagination of its readers, though. That’s for readers to decide.
We all have opinions, but I think there’s one important thing we need to remember. Books are here to stay, and no matter how they evolve, what is truly important are the words, not the medium.
Maybe you like print books. That’s fantastic. But don’t look down your nose at the person who enjoys reading on their phone while they really should be going to sleep at night.
The words they are reading are exactly the same. If you both enjoy The Hunger Games, just because your copy is in print does not lessen or remove the enjoyment of another reader who is enjoying their copy as an e-book. It doesn’t matter how books evolve.
All that the digital era is doing is putting more books in the hands of more people, and that’s something we should all celebrate. Not all of us can afford to buy the latest and greatest. I know readers who can only afford free books due to their financial situations. I know some people who simply can’t afford to make the drive to the library. They download books when they have access to a free wifi center. They download a bunch of free books and read on the cheapest device they can get their hands on–usually a cell phone that serves as their only tech device.
So, before you take off your gloves and begin the tired old battle of what type of book is better, remember this:
We love books.
Does it really matter what format the books come in? I don’t think so.