Saturday, January 13, 2007

Scary Potter

So, when I looked at the Forbes articles, the title "Harry Potter and the Ministry of Fire" inevitably caught my eye. I mean, I once attended a midnight book release party at Barnes and Noble for HP and the Half Blood Prince. Anyway, seeing how the Turners burned Harry Potter books without even reading them got me to thinking about authority. Namely, the authority that books carry just by being books, and how that innate authority of a book is lost in New Media writing like wikis and blogs. Of course, the Harry Potter series has a great deal of additional authority because of its extreme popularity. But it seems to me that just by being bound and printed, the importance of an author's words become heightened. As the blurb user who printed his business proposal pointed out, "we are averse to throwing out books."

For one thing, a book obviously goes through a lot of hands before it ends up in the "New Fiction" section at Borders. Tons of editors read through it and fix it until it probably doesn't hold too much resemblance to its first draft. But wikis and blogs and stuff like that are fairly uncensored in comparison. Take this post, for example: nobody is here to tell me, "this sucks, you had better cut that part out." (Isn't that scary?) Anyway, the thing is, there's more to a book's authority than that. Even in comparison with an ebook that has gone through the same process, there's just something about the materiality of a book that makes it seem important. Somebody cared enough to put money and paper and ink into this thing, and that makes it real. Real enough to make two Michigan pastors so scared of the power of a work of fiction that they publicly burned it.

That's a big reason why I think books aren't an endangered species. I would never substitute an ebook for a paperback. An ebook just doesn't hold the same tangible importance. Remember James Frey's A Million Little Pieces? This might not be a great example, but I'm going to go with it anyway because I was personally really moved by the book. He published it as non-fiction, and it's a really gritty story of drug addiction. It's really well done, (I cried throughout the whole thing, and I was on an airplane so it was extra embarassing.) And it touched a lot of people, including Oprah, who launched it to bestseller-dom and then debunked it publicly when she found out that portions had been fabricated. That book held a lot of authority! For its short-lived glory period, it was considered to be one of the most important and personal accounts of drug addiction and recovery. I don't think that his story could have been told in the same way in another forum. If he had written the exact same thing in a blog or even a respected website, it never would have achieved the same reactions it did. Oprah was insulted and embarassed to find that she had praised his slightly fictional work so highly. Why? Because a book has authority, and Oprah bought into it. Would she have reacted the same way if she had discovered that an online story had been fabricated? I don't think so. I know, there are a lot of outside forces at work here, and perhaps this is all hearsay, but give me a little slack. It's my first-ever blogging experience, and I can't say it doesn't make me a bit uneasy.

PS, since I think we are supposed to add a link in here, check out this totally un-printworthy blog: What Would Tyler Durden Do? It's hard to say whether anything on there is true, but it's certainly amusing. Okay, that link is kind of gratuitous, but whatever.

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