Introducing…Professor Bookman’s

Adoration is an understated word when describing my feelings for this guest.  Our family has had the distinct pleasure of knowing Luke Robertson for much of his illustrious life.  Evidence of that statement is shown here in one of my favorite photos.  Luke is, um, “watching” Son #3…definitely an action shot.

Currently, Luke resides in Los Angeles, California, where he is Professor Bookman.  He runs extraordinarily successful book clubs, consults for an independent children’s bookstore, and shares life with his equally amazing wife Sarah, their cats and a dog.

I am honored to begin featuring him here monthly on TommyMom!

You can find Luke at, where he offers a plethora of information and ideas regarding literature, children and blending the two successfully. He also has a Facebook page by the same name.  Please take yourselves off  of  “Mute” and make Luke feel welcome here in our community by commenting with specific questions or topics you would like him to discuss.  Luke welcomes your input and feels that troubleshooting is one of his best qualities! TeriSig

Today, announced that their e-book sales are greater than their paperback and hardcover book sales combined. Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO, remarked, “We had high hopes that this would happen eventually, but we never imagined it would happen this quickly…”. E-book (a.k.a. “electronic” or “digital book”) technology is making enormous leaps forward, the results of which are dramatically changing the entire book industry. From publishing, to sales, to the very way we experience reading, this technology is revolutionizing the world of literature. The success of the e-book and the many e-book reading devices (such as the Kindle, the iPad, the NOOK, etc.) should come as no surprise to consumers; e-book technology offers them unrivaled convenience and ease shopping for books. Readers can now keep thousands of books in the palm of their hand; they can buy e-book versions of the latest books at considerably lower prices than print versions; they can even receive newly purchased books within 60 seconds and they can make these purchases from all over the world. While e-books are netting companies like billions of dollars through millions of sales, the costs of this phenomenon can be seen right in our own communities…

As news of the latest and greatest e-book innovations are making headlines, related news regarding our local bookstores, schools, and libraries are lucky to make the front page. In the past few years, Los Angeles has seen the closing of multiple independent bookstores, an epidemic that has recently spread to the larger chain bookstores as well. This fact, coupled with the major cutbacks to the public libraries and school libraries around the city, has many people questioning whether or not this is just a sign of the times. Undoubtedly, the proliferation of e-books and their online sales has hurt the business of independent bookstores. But maybe it is hurting the way we regard our printed books as well. Perhaps bricks-and-mortar bookstores and libraries are becoming obsolete.

Working in an independent bookstore myself, I am often asked, “With all these e-books and iPads and places like Amazon, how can a bookstore compete? Do you think publishers will actually print books for much longer?” I reply, “Yes. Yes I do. They have to… after all, the fate of the world depends on it.” This is usually met with a little laugh or a chuckle, as people do not seem to realize that I am only half-joking. The truth is the vast majority of the population has no idea how powerful and important books really are. Of the few that do, only a handful realizes how powerful and beneficial print books really are, and how detrimental e-books could be to those benefits.

Although there are endless differences between e-books, print books, and the benefits of each, the most important realization people need to make is that e-books are virtual books; they are not actual books. As obvious a distinction as this is the implications may not be quite so obvious. Books are treasures, after all. When you own an actual book, you own a literal treasure. You can keep it wherever you like; you can read it any time you want; you can give it to your children to have or to hold; you can loan it to your friends; you can sell it to strangers; a book can even become an heirloom as time goes by, a family treasure. Books are material possessions and we take a great amount of pride in owning them. We even get emotionally attached to these books in a way that exceeds their material value. My wife Sarah is a perfect example.

One of Sarah’s favorite possessions is a 1970 paperback copy of Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson, which used to belong to her mother. The book’s pages are yellowed, tape holds the spine together, and its original cost, 95¢, still adorns the torn cover. To this day my wife rereads this book. Yes, she loves the story, but it is the memory of her mother reading the very same book aloud to her that she loves the most.

Connecting with literature on this intimate level is how we learn to treasure books; we have to hold them, we have to see them, and we have to share them. This is why we go to libraries, to connect with the books. This is why we buy books for our children, to teach them to love literature and care for books like the treasures they are. You cannot make this kind of connection with a digital book.

When you purchase an e-book, you virtually own it; you do not actually own it. Buying an e-book is much more like renting or leasing a book in that there are limitations to your ownership. As of now, many of the benefits listed above are not possible (or at least have significant limitations) with e-books. There is just no pride of ownership with e-books, no emotional connection, and no real magic.

There is no doubt that e-books and devices like the iPad are the wave of the future. It is exciting just thinking about the potential this new technology has to offer. But there is no replacement for the family Bible that is passed down through generations, or the signed copy of The Lightning Thief you put in the hands of a child, or your mother’s favorite book. Reading a book is an actual experience, not a virtual one.  Make sure you realize the difference.

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  1. 1
    Tim says:

    It is refreshing to get an “old school” perspective to remind us that classic principles ( and works of literature ) that have stood the test of time should not necessarily looked to be “improved upon” or “modernized”. Part of what makes classical things classic is their LACK of modern influence. Instead, it is when classical thought influences the modern time, that its power is truly understood.
    Thank you for keeping this notion alive and well my friend.

  2. 2
    Deena Ortiz says:

    Thank you for articulating so well my own sentiments. I look forward to hearing more.

  3. 3
    Heather Remund says:

    I’m so glad we are re-addressing this issue. The whole Nook, Kindle, E-book topic is one I have been struggling with for my family. I have a very hearty family library as my kids who have been packing box after box can attest to. I love books, I love to search the used bookstores for new titles and I love the comfort of knowing I can go to my shelves and pluck just the right book off the shelf for my family or I to enjoy. The e-book just doesn’t fill my heart with this same kind of passion, yet I feel like it is looming over me.
    So my question is how do we keep the balance between books and technology. To bury our heads in the sand and ignore what is available doesn’t seem to be the right answer but neither does becoming a slave to the constant media and technology trends. My almost 12 yr. old loves books but she is intrigued by the E-Reader. She is pretty tech unsavvy not having a cell phone, little to no computer use so is an E-reader the lesser evil or just a shrouded version of all that is wrong with tech gadgets. I have been toying with the idea that E-Readers are just glorified handheld gaming devices meant to turn us away from books where we have to work and think towards a device that makes everything into passive entertainment. I look forward to your insights and future posts.

  4. 4
    Melissa J says:

    Great Guest Post…
    My question Luke would be, what are your suggestions for striking a balance between both worlds??
    I love the smell of a book, new or old so have been hesitant to go digital for my reading. I am fearful that they will come out with a new book smell hanging tree that will try to fool someone like me that it is in fact a real book…although I am onto that new car smell tree hanging in the old avocado green pinto…sorry sidetracked :)
    I like that digital readers have brought many back to reading but also wonder how many have over time lost their love of reading because of it.
    Right now it all seems so impersonal, kind of like hugging a friend while wearing a HazMat suit, so for now I will stick with “old school” books :)

  5. 5
    Ginnie Brooks says:

    I think e-books are a waste of time. Sure you can carry thousands of books around on one little thing, but are you going to read all thousand books in one go, uh no. Also one of the only ways to know if its a good book is to smell it, you can’t do that with a nook. Yes e-books have brought lots of people (my grandparents included) back to reading, but still, what an impersonal way to get a story. And besides you have to charge them, and make they don’t stay in the sun to long, keep them away from water, stuff like that. Even if a book gets wet it’s still readable (most of the time), and you don’t have to charge it! I personally will continue collecting books I like, I don’t have near enough books to satisfy me (only about 200). To those of you who do like e-books, I’m glad that you are
    reading but you really should get the hard copies.

    Teri Reply:
    May 22nd, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    Ginnie Brooks! THE Ginnie Brooks?! Hey! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment and share your thoughts. I’m honored. XO, ;0)

    Ginnie Brooks Reply:
    May 22nd, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    You’re quite welcome. Hehehe

  6. 6

    Hello Everyone!

    Thanks for all the great responses! While it seems there are numerous angles to the great e-books vs. print books debate, I think one of the biggest concerns is the technology factor, right? How do we maintain a balance between the recreation, education and exploration we experience through books and the same benefits offered through technology? Especially when technology is developing a ubiquitous presence in our world, making it the convenient and practical option most of the time.

    I don’t want to downplay the importance of technology. As technology evolves it’s just going to become a greater asset to us. The problem is technology trains us to be very passive learners. Why exercise problem-solving skills when we can jump directly to the answers? Why bother memorizing anything when it’s always at our fingertips? Literature, however, requires us to constantly use our minds and imagination. Books can’t come alive unless we give as much to them as the authors give to us; it’s a mentally engaging process. This is why literature is the most important part of a child’s education- it develops imagination and independent thought like nothing else.

    Technology is also impersonal to a large degree. With such a vast audience, it’s designed to appeal to everyone, making it rather generic and conventional. What you see is the same as what everyone else sees. You’re sharing the same experience. Literature is the exact opposite. When you read a story, the world you see and experience through that story is unique to you alone. The emotional connection we feel with the printed book is very strong and very personal. The key to inspiring/maintaining a love of books is to play to this strength. Make books as personal as possible- Read them aloud! Give them as gifts (especially nice ones)! Go to author events! Get your books signed! Treat yourself! Your goal is to make literature a palpable presence in your life. You want to sense it all around you, as ever-present as technology seems to be getting.

    If you want to keep your love of literature alive and well, either within yourself or your loved ones, here are the three basics: 1) Dedicate time. 2) Devote a place. 3) Develop a habit. Add in a generous amount of enthusiasm and that’s the recipe for maintaining passionate readers. As long as you commit to these three things each day, you will always have a balance.

    Just remember this- Technology is a window to the world (that’s why it usually comes with a screen, people). Books are a doorway. When adventure calls, would you rather watch through a window or open the door and experience it yourself?

    Melissa J Reply:
    May 25th, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    Great response Luke, I look forward to more of your guest posts :)

  7. 7
    Heather Remund says:

    Thank you Luke for putting words to what I was feeling in my gut. I love the illusion of a window and a door it is the perfect way to view e-books vs. real books.
    I look forward to more insights especially on youth book groups. Hint…Hint…

  8. 8
    Heather Jacobs says:

    On a similar note, our local county library system sent out and email a couple of months ago informing the county that the state board of ed. has set aside money to give the county system a grant in order to purchase e-readers for loan that would pre-loaded with specific content. i.e. kids e-readers, mystery e-readers, cookbook e-readers, etc…

    I voiced my concern over this not just from the standpoint of ‘what happens to the tangible books now’ view but also from the educational view of ‘why in the world is the state’s board of ed. giving money to a county library to buy e-readers instead of using the money within the education system of the school?’ Oh so frustrating!!!!! My tax dollars pay for both the libraries and the schools and dangit, I want more BOOKS, real paper in hand BOOKS, spines to break and pages to dog ear BOOKS, not a piece of technology that will freeze, lock up, get wet at the pool and ruined e-reader. UGH!!!!!

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