Vanishing literature or just disappearing ink?

I recently read an article about a book with disappearing ink. You can read about it here: “The Book That Can’t Wait”. I’ve pondered this concept for the past week, and I have to admit I understand why the publisher’s first print run sold out.

Let’s face it. I’m already writing less-than-permanent novels, as are many writers. I have no illusions about my creations, and I’m not sure many other writers should, either. If I look at the shelves of my library, I see my favorite authors. Anne McCaffrey, L.M. Montgomery, Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling… I have some signed books from friends. I have a lot of poetry and folklore, some mythology, a few reference books. In short, I have sought my most permanent way of preserving the books I really care about.

My Kindle and Nook and iPad are a different story. They’re cluttered with anything that catches my fancy or needs to be read to keep up with my chosen genre. My books are on these devices. And you know what I’ve come to terms with?

One good EMP will wipe them all out.

When I first heard about The Book That Can’t Wait, I thought, “Oh my God, here I am fighting to get my books published, longing to have them in print, and these authors let a publisher put their stories into a book with vanishing ink? What’s wrong with them?” Now I sort of see their sacrifice as a show of solidarity with the rest of the changing publishing world.

So what’s the point? This is my take on it. If you think of the great post apocalyptic movies, a lot of them show a library somewhere. A library of printed books that are all that’s left of the literature of the world before. What books from today’s market will inhabit those shelves when so much of the “printed” word is electronic?

Or maybe the lesson is this: Read your e-books now. Who knows what will be left when the last Kindle is gone?

4 thoughts on “Vanishing literature or just disappearing ink?

  1. Nice post. I’ll add this, from a slightly different angle. You’re right, Michelle, e-books probably don’t have the staying power of a hardback, marketed volume. Then again, think of all the hundreds — no thousands — of cheap pulp fiction works published in the 1950s and 1960s. Most of them are gone, just as if they were electronic publications wiped out by an EMP. For every Dickens, or Hemingway, or King, there are probably hundreds of published authors whose work has been lost over time. My guess is, over time, e-books will evolve to the point that some publications released in this manner will have the same staying power. Who knows, in ten years all those post-apocalyptic movies might show the survivors finding a couple of Kindles, and using those to explore civilization’s past.

    • Hey JP! I was just over on your blog trying to make a comment. Blogger hates me, though, so I don’t think it worked. 😦 I seem to remember you wrote a post about the progression of the written word from cave man drawings to the e-reader, didn’t you? Now cave drawings had staying power! Maybe you’re right. Maybe a Kindle or two will survive. Locked in a vault somewhere, maybe the government has a massive e-reader stockpile that automatically downloads every work of literature published electronically…

  2. I did do something on how this new-fangled thing known as papyrus would never replace good ol’ cave drawings…I’ll have to see if I can find that one. Sorry, your comment never showed up. Blogger can sometimes be difficult, and I’ve thought often about moving over to Word Press, but some of my biggest concerns about Blogger have been cleared up, and I’m already there, so…

    Let me know what happened when you tried posting the comments and I’ll see if I can figure out something on this end.

    As for the Kindle and staying power. Ever watch any Star Trek, The Next Generation? Whenever they found some ancient wreckage, Data always figured out a way to make the old computer files readable, no matter the format or how degraded the files were. One day there is going to be a Data who can even read my old C-64 floppies. E-readers will be the ONLY way to read then…

    • Well, I highly recommend WordPress, although it has its drawbacks, too… Whenever I try to post a comment on a blogger blog, it just disappears. So I know all my blogger friends think I don’t read their blogs, even though I DO! And yes, that’s the essay I was talking about. It was so perfect to express people’s attitudes about e-reading.

Comments are closed.