Celebrating Innovation: Wow. That book idea still turns heads.

Gutenberg looks over a proof

Gutenberg’s “book” continues to innovate. (Click the photo to read an earlier column that includes Gutenberg.)

Note from ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm—In 1455, Johannes Gutenberg set the stage for a global revolution by mass producing Bibles with moveable type. After his innovation spread across Europe, Martin Luther was poised to touch off the Reformation in 1517—a revolution fueled by books and pamphlets. Now, half a millennium later, Gutenberg’s little idea still is an amazing innovation!

You may be thinking: Aren’t e-books making print books obsolete? Nope! The June 2015 issue of the magazine from the Indepedent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) analyzes sales trends and says there are clear signs “that the explosive annual growth of e-book sales has stalled.” E-books now account for about 30 percent of books sold in the U.S., IBPA concludes. (NOTE: That’s one reason ReadTheSpirit Books publishes both in print and digital formats, ensuring that entire communities or small groups can enjoy each book.)

So, why is Gutenberg’s product still turning heads? It’s the genius of his innovation:

  • Drop your e-reader in a pool or lake, this summer—and it’s toast! Your paperback? After an accidental dip, lay it out to dry and you’ll be fine!
  • Are you interested in fast access for quick reading when you’ve got a spare moment? You can open your paper book quicker than you can fire up a Kindle.
  • Want to share your reading experience? Just hand a book to a friend. But your e-book? Well …
  • PLUS, writes veteran journalist and media consultant Martin Davis: Real ink-on-paper books may be even more powerful social networking tools than any e-edition. Enjoy Martin’s story …

A Real Book: Why it’s great for Social Reading


Man carrying Bob Alper's book

“Hey, what’s THAT GUY reading this summer!?! What’s that book under his arm?” (Click the photo to find out.)

I lost my iPad last month.

The memory still haunts me. One minute it’s there—with my banking app, my games (yes, I enjoy Candy Crush), and, most important, my magazines, newspapers and books.

I was lost.

Reading on my iPad wasn’t solitary. It was social. I shared titles, passages, anecdotes and gallows humor with friends. We talked about books. We were a community of friends bound by a love of reading.

And now? Well, for a while I knew how the unfortunate Athenian felt back in the day when he was ostracized from the city by the drawing of lots. Like the Athenian cast from his friends, I could die or adjust.

Dying seemed a bit much, though my teenage son didn’t think so: “How do you get by,” he asked, “without a smart phone or tablet?”

I adjusted. I couldn’t afford to replace the iPad, so I went to Barnes and Noble and purchased an honest-to-god, paperback copy of the next book I had planned to read by Patrick Taylor—author of the Irish Country Doctor series—and threw it in my backpack.

The next morning, while standing in the slug line—the Washington, DC, area’s solution to commuting woes—I whipped out my new book and started reading. My fellow commuters were intrigued.

“What are you reading?” one lady asked.

An Irish Doctor in War and at Peace,” I responded.

“I’ve been to Ireland,” she said. And we were off to the proverbial races.

We got in the same car for our hour-long ride north, and talked all the way up.

She had wanted to be a doctor, but couldn’t handle the math. Now she works at a nonprofit in DC in the healthcare industry. We talked about our families, our travels, our work. And we talked about Ireland.

The ride home in the evening was much the same. Different person—same result.

Maybe it was that particular book. Popular writer. Beautiful cover.

So I switched to an edition of The Homeric Hymns, a collection and commentary on obscure Greek poetry about the gods and mortals, written by my former college Greek professor. Surely this wouldn’t be a conversation starter.

But it was. A former Marine who’d spent time in Greece wanted to know more about the gods.

“I lived there for two years,” he said, “but never had time to delve into the rich history. What can you recommend?”

I don’t miss my iPad so much these days.

Sure, I’m not eternally “connected.” But I’ve become more connected over the past month with the people in my immediate community—those I live near and work with—than I have in several years.

I don’t have 500 people watching my every post on a daily basis, these days. But I seem to meet someone new most days because of the simple book that I hold in my hands. A little conversation starter. Something that says to folks, “talk with me.”

All around me, I see images of what I once was. One more of the nameless masses gliding fingers across glass screens to
access virtual worlds that, in day-to-day life, shut-out the people who are most physically immediate.

Sure, one day I’ll replace my iPad (I still love Candy Crush). But when out in public, I’ll reach for my conversation starter first.

Martin Davis is a journalist in Washington, DC. He also is a long-time media consultant , and a freelance writer who lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

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