Sunday, July 15, 2007

Author! Author!

I have a book out, and a fair number of acquaintances and colleagues at the library where I work have congratulated me on being a writer now. This is most welcome. It also evokes a touch of cognitive dissonance. I've been a freelance writer with short story, novelette and nonfiction article sales since 1990, and now I get congratulations for being a writer.

On the other hand, I know where these folks are coming from. There's a distinction imperfectly suggested by the word writer vs. the word author. I'm the author of a book. A book is an artifact that in various forms (codex, illuminated manuscript, papyrus scroll) goes way, way back into history; a discrete commodity in a way that bits of magazines aren't; and a raison d'etre of librarianship. Hard-bound books are famous objects of the collecting urge. Paperbacks, including dime-a-dozen dog-eared ones, can be treasured just as much. Books are how readers wind down from a brain-taxing day, endure long airline flights, or go to sleep at night. Book is a four-square, Anglo-Saxon, four-letter word. A book is a picture window showing the world; a microscope peering into a mind; a stained-glass window, changing the ineffable light of the divine into colorful, comprehensible ideas; a telescope seeing the universe or invented worlds half a galaxy away.

For many people who work in and patronize libraries, libraries are about BOOKS. That's a traditionalist, even reactionary, stance in the Digital Age, but it's many people's truth. Including mine. The best commentary I've seen lately on the relationship between libraries, books, and the Internet is in the library comic strip Unshelved. The strips for July 9 and July 13 are priceless. Take a look!

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