All these ideas are anathema to traditionalists. In May 2006, novelist John Updike, appalled at reading Kelly’s article (“a pretty grisly scenario”), decided to speak for them. Addressing a convention of booksellers, he cited “the printed, bound and paid-for book” as an ideal, and worried that book readers and writers were “approaching the condition of holdouts, surly hermits who refuse to come out and play in the electric sunshine of the post-Gutenberg village.” (Actually, studies show that heavy Internet users read many more books than do those not on the Net.) He declared that the “edges” of the traditional book should not be breached. In his view, the stiff boards that bound the pages were not just covers but ramparts, and like-minded people should “defend the fort.”
Jeremiads such as Updike’s are pretty amusing after you read a book like Ancient Literacy, which notes the suspicion that many traditionalists had toward literacy due to its presumed encouragement of intellectual laziness. And of course there have been presentation revolutions in the past, the introduction of the papyrus scroll and its eventual replacement by the codex. Perhaps those of who love books should remember that it’s the content which matters in the end. The onerous distribution restrictions upon that content are probably the main issues that many of us are going to have with the Kindle, not some mystical attachment to paper and ink.