Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Lost Permanence of Words

By Andy Straka, author Kitty Hitter 

“Two deep human desires were at war ... the longing for stability, for form, for permanence, which in its essence is the desire for death, and the opposing hunger for movement, change, instability and risk, which are life.”  
 --Rose Wilder Lane, from Old Hometown

For many of us, the written word with which we grew up was different from the written word we see today.

It smelled of old ink and parchment and leather.  Aged brown covers, title and author name embossed, a few pages folded or torn, maybe even with a coffee stain or two.  The more immediate written word arrived with a thud on our doorstep each morning and in the evening, its dark ink staining our fingers, literally hot off the newspaper press.  Words then seemed to bear a certain heft, a visceral air of importance that promised to marry form with substance.

Nowadays, the written word has no smell.  It comes bound in fancy book gloss and beautiful imagery.  It gets delivered or laser printed with the speed of bits and bytes.  It maximizes efficiency and marketability and glitz.  While everywhere words fly from fingers, texting and tweeting, with little or no forethought, a spontaneous brain dump with an anonymity to posterity.

Have we gained more than we have lost?

I practice a three thousand year old art form flying a hawk wearing bells and strips of leather at live game using techniques that for the most part have barely changed in the last millennium.  Yet I’m writing these words on my MacBook before beaming then on.  I suppose you could say I have a foot firmly planted in the old and the new.                        

My entire backlist--all five novels--are now available on the Kindle and soon to be on the Nook and the iPad and and any number of other book reading devices.  Sporting brand spanking new covers, some to be had for less than the cost of a double mocha latte.

You won’t get the ink or the paper smell or the apparent gravitas of old.

But I hope you can still smell the birds with the fire in their eyes, and the wet leather, and the morning field--the blood, and the gun oil in the detective’s holster, and the sweat-soaked thrill of the chase.

Andy Straka is the author of the Shamus Award-winning and Anthony and Agatha Award-nominated Frank Pavlicek novels. A licensed falconer and co-founder of the popular Crime Wave at the annual Virginia Festival of the Book, Andy is also the author of Record Of Wrongs, which Mystery Scene magazine calls "a first-rate thriller." 


nreddick said...

It is amazing, this change---from longhand to typewriter to computer---and how different the smells. Just yesterday, I had copies made and opened them and put them to my face and there was no smell and I was disappointed at some level.

Kat said...

I was very leery of e-readers, until I was given one as a gift for making the big 50. I am a convert. I still buy hardbacks. My favorite places in the world are still book shops and libraries. But the convenience of an e-reader, particularly when traveling, is unbeatable. And I still get lost in the story, regardless of the way I'm reading it. Kat

Joshilyn Jackson said...

You had me at Falconer.

Mad props. You are now officially the Coolest. Person. Ever.

JLC said...

Your essay brings a host of responses to mind, not the last of which concerns the fact that those in charge of the printed word today (conglomerate big publishers) seem to have forgotten that there is a varied readership waiting to revive, renew, continue to enjoy the KIND of writing that used to be seemingly more permanent than the electronic sort. My age doubtless makes me partisan, but what is going to happen to what a librarian friend and I call "old fashioned writing?" I.e. grammatically correct except where dialogue needs something different, with occasionally leisurely pacing instead of explosions and chases, probing psychology, emotion? I miss all of that as much as I miss the heft of a book in my hand.

Peggy Webb said...

OH, falcons! You made me think of knights and white stallions and wide open spaces with an occasional castle!

Not to mention that your post reveals you as one smart guy!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

First, congrats on the great reviews your mystery novels have garnered.

I originally wrote on a typewriter, until my two sons insisted I learn to use an Apple.
I started with Appleworks and nowadays use Word. I think it's so much better! However, I love print publication. Will it go totally the way of the dinosaur? I hope not!

I still write my original drafts in long hand, by the way.

Andy said...

Like most of you, I'm always reading. I've embraced reading e-books as an alternative form of book consumption. I still read printed books most of the time, but I find I'm actually reading more books because I can read some as e-books.

I also carry my iPhone with me when I hunt in case of emergencies. So I always have a decent little library of books with me, even in the woods. Pretty cool. Not that I'm pulling out something to read with a couple of pounds of hungry bird stalking the trees overhead and occasionally screaming down to my glove looking for a "tidbit," which can get a little messy.

Advice to all falconers. Make sure your mobile phone/e-reader has a good tidbit-proof cover.

Andy said...

Oh, and I'm in awe of anyone who can write a draft of a novel in longhand. My handwriting is so terrible, I'd have difficulty going back and deciphering what I'd written. You're in good company, Jacqueline. I understand John Grisham still writes most of his first drafts on a legal pad.

BTW, here's another interesting article about how e-books may be starting to change the way we read.