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Books May Be Dead in 2039, but Stories Live On

The New York Times – Opinion: On the 600th anniversary of the Gutenberg press, we can still celebrate how stories are shared. By author of  The Ten Thousand Doors of January. “In 1439, an eccentric German goldsmith cast the Latin alphabet in lead, smeared the letters with oil-based ink and squashed them beneath a wine press. Johannes Gutenberg hadn’t invented the ink, the paper, the press or the alphabet, but by combining their powers, he built the first printing press and printed the first mass-produced book: a 1,200-page Bible printed on vellum and bound in pigskin. Six hundred years later, we find ourselves in a post-book world. The last of the old five publishing houses went under last spring; most high school libraries have been converted into virtual reality lounges; bookstores are now antique shops haunted by aging millennials and the kinds of effortlessly hip retro teenagers who might have collected vinyl records in previous decades. In the age of cheap and accessible virtual reality, most consumers prefer to experience their narratives rather than read them; this piece — composed of mere letters and punctuation — is itself an anachronism.

The printed word has not gone unmourned. Social media is flooded with nostalgic images of textbooks and battered paperbacks, and the best-selling candle scents are “Indie Bookshop” and “Library Dream.” The surviving cable networks fill slow news cycles with tours of defunct paper mills and interviews with bitter authors who failed to transition from novels to experiences. Last week, the Public Broadcasting Service uploaded the first part of its four-part retrospective “The Written Age,” which featured David Brett, associate professor in the University of Vermont’s recently rebranded department of English and experiential literature. “Virtual reality has given us a post-literacy landscape more grimly banal than Bradbury could ever have imagined, where it is not necessary to burn books because no one wants to read them anyway,” Dr. Brett concluded. “Gutenberg would weep. We ought to weep with him.”..

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