Pavlov’s dog, and other mistaken desserts.

I consider myself a high-brow culture sort of person.  Sure, I’m not completely suave, but I feel like my intellect more than compensates for some of my less socially acceptable faux pas.  I like knowing lexicon.  I like considering myself on the ‘inside’ of a situation.

For that reason, for some time, I’ve been a fan of a dessert called ‘Pavlova’.  I first encountered the dessert during my six week stay in Australia.  I was in high school at the time, but even then I considered myself intellectually ascendant.  When I returned to the States and no one had heard of this meringue crust with fruit and whipped cream, I consoled myself with my more worldly experiences.  Still, I would’ve liked to find at least one person who knew what I was talking about.

Of course, those who I introduced this dessert to assumed some association with Pavlov.  I supposed they could be right – such a dessert could be a ‘reward’ in his system.  I didn’t know enough to question that judgement.  Tonight, however, I found out it was wrong – it took a sci fi novel to tell me different.  According to Eric Flint and Virginia DeMarce (via Carl in 1634: The Ram Rebellion), Pavlova was a desert in memory of a ballerina.  It commemorated the tour of Anna Pavlova in both Australia and New Zealand.

Without science fiction, I would never have had confirmation of the existence of this dessert in the written record.  Without my prolific reading, I would never have rediscovered it.  I’m not saying that such a little factoid has made my life complete.  I’m merely showcasing the interactions of chance in each of our lives.  I do not pretend to know what far-reaching consequence that chance may have.

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Digibook to the rescue!

There has been a scattered distribution of public opinion on Google’s attempts to categorize, scan, and otherwise track book titles on their new ‘book search’.  Basically, Google is partnering with a number of libraries (in particular, the libraries of higher education institutions) to create a searchable database of books.  How would this be different than Amazon, J Stor, or any other number of libraries or book sellers?  The idea is a universal approach.  Unless you happen to be a college student yourself, many universities do not allow access to their online resources.  Materials are also not available for check out.  Public libraries similarly offer limited access, depending on your residence stature. Google also plans to maintain a full, downloadable record for those works whose copyright has expired.  Which could mean access to rare (and quite possibly, bad) fiction that most local libraries don’t carry.

While I can understand some people’s fear of losing a right (how are publishers to make any money if books are available for free online?), the core comes down to benefit for the masses. Want to see one of the first Bibles in Arabic type?  Here it is.  Looking for yet another Eva Ibbotsen title which your local bookstore or library doesn’t carry?  Let Google do the search work for you.  Researching Cai Yan and unable to find good research in English?  Get it online, rather than waiting four to six weeks for the University of Michigan to send you the copy of a thesis.

When the ebook was a new thing, everyone got all excited about the end of print books and who had the rights to epublishing.  But that amounted to very little, probably because no one has capitalized on the industry. New trends like Kindle and printing on demand might change that, but my guess is that things will pretty much keep on as they have.  People will still read books.  The bookstore giants, as well as service places like libraries, will keep on keeping on.  They may have to adapt and offer new services (more computers at libraries, print on demand at bookstores), but the purposes for which they were created are still there.  Yes, we are all in support of the expansion of knowledge, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to lose the need for a personal touch.  It could be that bookstores go more online, that libraries become meeting spaces and public outreach centers rather than only information houses.  But that doesn’t mean we’ll be robots.  If I can’t find something where I want it when I want it, even in our changing culture of instant gratification, you can bet I’m going to find some person to help me or to complain to.

Book burning for all?

As I am a writer, and and avid reader (some people don’t suppose those things go together, but I’m not one of them) I’ve been more than a little hesitant about the Kindle. Mike has, of course, extolled the virtues of electronic paper multiple times. If you’re interested in that kind of thing, Wikipedia has an easy-to understand article that explains how it works. And the Kindle is supposed to be very flexible, very thought out, and about the same size and weight as a paperback. So especially for traveling, probably a good thing – store enough books for your whole trip in the size of something one book big. For me that’s a big issue, as I often take more books than clothes, especially on longer trips.

But I’m still not convinced. Yes, I read the reviews, and listened to all these tech guys and other avid readers extol the virtues and honestly address some of the hiccups. And I am genuinely impressed with the product. I may even buy one some day, even at the current high price. As I’ve said before, I’m sure it would be ideal for travel especially more travel. But still, something holds me back from totally confirming the advent of a new reading age. Is it my inner traditionalist coming out, the reactionary who knows the old ways were the best? Or is it something else?

It’s not that I haven’t done my share of electronic reading already – take a look at this post on Baen.  But that hasn’t made me a convert to only electronic reading by any means.  True, the Kindle won’t eventually hurt your eyes like a computer screen will.  And true, there are many functions that allow you to treat it as a normal book – bookmarking, notes making,, highlighting, all kinds of stuff.  And it might even be good that I wouldn’t be able to beat up a Kindle like I do a regular paperback, bending the pages and breaking bindings and covers.  But still, there’s something missing from an electronic device like that.

Maybe it’s all in my head, but I don’t think I could get into it in the same way.  I’m not sure I could allow the page to blur before my vision, forming only story, not words.  I’m not sure I could let my mind open up, and really inhabit the world of the characters.  Most certainly I couldn’t surround myself with the smell of the bindings’ glue and the ink on the pages.  Even though Amazon may one day also vend perfumes to mimic these smells, something would be missing.

And what of my library?  What of that little collection I’ve build up of physical objects that I can touch and see surrounding me?  What of the book spines I run my fingers over gently, knowing friends within?  It’s true, when e-book first got big, some predicted the end of fiction as we know it, and this is just another chapter in that book.  But really I can’t see Kindle as lighting a book-burning fire.  At least not yet.