Books As Captured Time
I must admit, I’ve been caught up in the media swirl — the leak about Bluestonehenge, then getting to go on TV to explain the discovery (here is the clip if you want to see it: tinyurl.com/yfxyesl), then the press release about my old author cooking at the White House. It gets addictive — the world suddenly notices you and you want more. At the very same time, the wave of news about Vooks, ereaders, and the Google settlement is cresting. Whether from a personal Put Me In Coach, I’m Ready to Play desire for more media attention, or a big picture sense that some new bookish medium is aborning, every second seems to count. And that sense of immediacy — this moment, this press release, this invention — is the opposite of book time.
As an editor, I am working with the Horn Book on a big book about books for children and teenagers. Recently we went over all of the text and a question came up about permissions. Is it OK to quote from another book in order to discuss it? The answer, lawyers tell us, is, it depends. If you are discussing a picture book, say, quoting ten words may mean you have used 10% of the book, or the entire key emotional/dramatic turn. So you have to pay hundreds of dollars. And that is just the direct cost. You have to slow down, identify which items might need perms, write for permission, negotiate the fee, decide if you really need those words. So weeks go by over ten words. Now I think the copyright laws are BROKEN, BROKEN, BROKEN. They do a great job of extracting money from the diligent few, and little to protect us against big pirates. But still, a book is made up of many choices like that 10 word decision — as an editor, a copy editor, a designer work slowly with an author to craft an object. Book time is slow.
So I am left to wonder about time — do we have the time for books? Do books meet a need for slower time that we too often forget we have, as we rush through accelerated time. Or, best, how can we marry slow and fast time — harness the media to direct people to books. We are like travel agents — pointing out this Vacation Spot, this Ecotourist adventure, this Cultureheaven. We need to stand there in the media stream waving our arms and saying, Hey, when you want to slow down, come here, we have captured time, like those ancient insects preserved in amber. Books are captured time — that’s why we love them. But also why it is fun, every so often, to surf on the onrushing now.