The Fate of Books at L.A. Times' Festival

| Public domain source

According to one of the introductory speakers on Friday evening, the dozen winners of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes each received a Barnes & Noble Nook along with their award certificate. It was a bit like inviting an undertaker to the wedding. Signs of the evanescence of the book as a processed wood product were everywhere, sometimes cheered on by authors, often damned by readers and booksellers.

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The award winner for innovation at Friday's Book Prizes was the website Figment where young writer/readers share their stories, comment on each other's work, and archive their writing for new readers. Breezy, socially aware, and of-the-moment without being too ironic, Figment makes the "cost of entry" into publishing low enough for middle schoolers.

For Judy Blume, famed author of young adult books, that is a great idea. Any reading done anywhere on any platform -- wood pulp or diode screen -- was equivalent, particularly when the reading was done by a child. For author and new media entrepreneur Reza Aslan, the book's standoffish singularity was already over. Texts are now under continual revision, accumulative rather than closed, and collaboratively crowd-sourced.

Out among the the white plastic tents of the book publishers and sellers, there was palpable dread at what that will mean.

Not only were books as objects in trouble, but the whole apparatus of their making and selling was coming apart in plain view. I spoke with a Los Angeles-based publisher who had stood by one her authors while he was in conversation with a potential book buyer. The discussion ended, and the eager reader whipped out a smart-phone, keyed the touch screen, and purchased the author's book -- which stood in stacks all around -- from Amazon.

For the Record: This post originally misspelled Reza Aslan's name as Resa Aslan. It has been corrected.

D. J. Waldie, author, historian, and as the New York Times said in 2007, "a gorgeous distiller of architectural and social history," writes about Los Angeles on KCET's SoCal Focus and 1st and Spring blogs.

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