The Song: "This is Love," Mary Chapin Carpenter. Words & music by Mary Chapin Carpenter. Track 13 of Stones in the Road, 1994.
When/how acquired: Purchased CD, 1994.
The talk at last week's Virginia Festival of the Book, and online this week, is the move to exclusive e-publishing by some pretty major names in genre fiction. The handsome, witty and delightful Lee Goldberg and I had a long conversation about this last Thursday night, and his blog is one of the best sources for thoughtful commentary on this topic.
Yesterday, however, I got an email that helped crystallize my thoughts on the subject, and it wasn't about books at all. My friend Anna, in a frenzy of spring cleaning, found a VHS tape of my 1999 appearance on "Jeopardy!" Did I want it? she asked.
I have not owned a VCR in ten years or more, but have a box of VHS tapes that has made two cross-country moves with me. Why? I have no idea. I'll never own a VCR again. I'll never watch these tapes again. I need to get rid of them, but it pains me to throw them in a landfill, so there they sit, in that box in my spare room.
And yes, I told Anna that I would like my "Jeopardy!" tape, because I don't own any recording of that appearance, and Chris and Claire might like to see it sometime. How I will show it to them, I don't know. I'll have to find some place that transfers VHS to DVD, and hope the copyright laws don't prohibit that.
The moral of this story, though, is that state-of-the-art data storage has become inaccessible to the casual user in just over a decade. It's not just video; I have a box of unreadable floppy disks, too.
As I see more and more authors move exclusively to electronic publishing, what I see is the acknowledgment that their work is ephemeral. Pulp fiction always was, of course; only the very best of it has survived, and even then the original books crumble to the touch. It makes sense to publish Harlequin romances and men's adventure fiction in e-format, because those books were always meant to be read once, passed on, forgotten. (They'll no longer be left in hospital waiting rooms or on trains, though, and I feel a certain sentimental regret about that.)
My shelves hold books that are almost 100 years old, books I've owned since childhood, books that belonged to my parents and in a couple of cases to their parents. I have books I expect to leave to my heirs, inscribed by friends with messages that I hope will mystify and intrigue my great-grandchildren.
No one will inherit my first-generation Kindle.