Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Out of Print - The Documentary

Independent filmmaker
Vivienne Roumani
Sunday night I attended a showing of the documentary "Out of Print" that explores The Book - its past, present, and future. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to take very good notes in the dark. 

The documentary was directed and produced by Vivienne Roumani who was in attendance. She is a former librarian; a creative and animated woman. The film, narrated by Meryl Streep, was presented free of charge as part of the Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers. Maybe 50 people attended.

The documentary looked at:
the real book, the ebook revolution, the availability of knowledge online, libraries (past and future of), the attention span of young people and adults, learning by 'snippets of information', reading whole books versus reading a synopsis and calling it reading the whole book, culture in capsules, books as tools, mistaking information gathering for knowledge, copyright issues, the future livelihood of authors, digital self-publishing trends, and the savagery of Amazon.


Lots of well-known people with all sorts of views - teachers, librarians, readers, authors, parents, and entrepreneurs - gave sound bite opinions on all of the above. So you had Jeff Bezos founder of Amazon (who was just a bit creepy); Author Guild president Scott Turow; Fred Bass, owner of Strand bookstore in New York City; Harvard librarian Robert Darnton; author Alberto Manguel; and others. 

Nothing that we haven't been talking and reading about, but interesting to have all these ideas presented in one, fifty-five minute piece.

It was brought out that The Screen Generation - teens, college students, and younger and younger children - don't read whole books. When presented with having to do any sort of deep research involving critical thinking and using printed resources (versus what they can find out online), they balk.

There was a panel discussion after the screening with a university librarian, an independent bookstore owner, and Ms. Roumani.

The librarian has embraced online research journals, periodicals, and other online source materials for the university's students. The bookstore owner is optimistic. She feels that the pendulum is still swinging between the novelty of ebooks and the usefulness of paper books and will eventually settle. She doesn't see the demise of books or bookstores. Ms. Roumani says that the issues raised in the film - authors' rights, pricing, availability of knowledge - are being addressed. Her concern is that people no longer read long-form texts or even read at all - in whatever format.

Actually, the film made me sad. I felt as if I was someone on the edge of extinction. That my way of learning and reading and meeting the world is quickly disappearing. I don't know what is going to capture the imagination of generations of non-readers if not the characters, ideas, and worlds both real and imaginary, that are to be found books.

Excuse me while I trudge off to the nearest tar pit - book in hand.


  1. Ouch. I think I'd feel the same way--that I'm on the edge of extinction. I have a son who's a freshman in college, and in spite of our best efforts, he's not a reader. I can't imagine life without books and reading, but I don't see him embracing books any time soon, if ever, and that makes me sad.

    1. Kathy, most of my friends are readers but then they are of my generation. I don't think my nephews - both in their late 20s - read for pleasure which, as you say, is a shame. Oh well, I will save room for you in the tar pit!

  2. In speaking with the local librarian on this subject its not a very positive diagnosis. The majority of people appear to be using the facility for the DVDs or the internet. As to age demographic the frequent flyers are all of a certain vintage. "Will the last one out please turn out the lights!"

    1. Tullik, I love my library. I use it all the time - for books - and it holds many free author events that I enjoy attending. Tonight, James Tobin who has written a biography of FDRoosevelt and his fight against polio will be speaking at the main branch and I will be there on the front row. They will most likely bury me with library card in hand!