Sometimes it can seem that the humble book—a bound volume of words on paper that might change the world, serve as a doorstop, or provide kindling for the fires of censorship—is destined to be a thing of the past. Look at Apple’s iPad. With instant access to movies, music, games, social networking, e-mail, photos and TV, the device promises to make the mouse an endangered species and guarantee we are never bored again. Despite this blinding array of media choices, Apple is simultaneously unveiling a publishing company, predictably called iBook. In a willful waste of RAM, people still pay $10 to $20 to read several hundred pages of black-and-white text on their magical, glowing slabs when they could watch a mash-up of America’s greatest cat videos for free. The book is dead. Long live the book!
Why have books survived the onslaught of short-attention-span entertainment? Maybe humans still crave the depth that can be communicated only by reading thousands of words strung together in meaningful order. Books remain the best way to absorb the thoughts of another person. A book can put history in context, convey a subtle argument, and tell a story in ways technology hasn’t been able to improve on. Books don’t have serious competition when it comes to countering convential wisdom, sparking conversations, or, dare I say, entertaining.
The Texas Observer is committed to celebrating books, not just as a solitary pleasure, but as a means to generate debate and bring people together. Every quarter we devote an issue to books. In this issue, Steve Kellman reads Karl Rove’s memoir so you don’t have to, and cuts through the latest partisan blitz by the king of spin. Robert Perkinson shares part of his meticulously researched book on the history of Texas prisons, and sheds light on why civil rights-era Democrats, who controlled state government, didn’t slow the growth of the state’s prison population. Dave Mann interviews death penalty defense lawyer David Dow, whose gripping memoir is a fresh reminder of how arbitrary and cruel the Texas justice system can be. Poet Wendy Barker shares memories from the front lines of school integration and tells us how she transformed the often-painful experiences into poems.
To continue the discussions that begin in these pages, the Observer is holding its first writers’ festival, at Scholz Garten in Austin on May 8. Jim Lehrer is flying in from Washington to read from his historical novel Super and discuss the events behind the book. Sarah Bird and Spike Gillespie will bring their Texas-sized wits to a discussion of humor writing. Joe Lansdale and Robert Leleux will take us deep into the East Texas Piney Woods that inspire them. You’ll find the rest of the schedule at texasobserver.org. We hope to see you there, with books in mind.