Category Archives: P.S. Demian

Writing as Immortality

InfinityI’ve often thought about what my influences are in writing. Some people watch a movie or read a book and think “Hey, I wish I had written that.” Others think “Gosh, I could have written that!” In fact, some stories are so good, or so impactful and resonate so well with what is churning in your own mind, that you think “Gosh – I need to write MORE of that!”

I can’t tell whether exposure to literature and film created my worldview, or if some primeval dystopian conspiracist reincarnationist ideas were merely activated and given form by the media I was exposed to. In either event, I’d love to detail a few of the influences that inform my writing.

Old School
When I was in 6th grade I think it was, I was too young for my parents to let me watch a violent film like Terminator. And yet my best friend turned me on to it, by sitting in the library with me and explaining the plot, beat for beat, to me. (Am I the only one whose exposure to the Terminator myth began through oral culture?) The story resonated because of the time travel. But if you look at it, time travel is a great plot device to explore consequences of actions over time. And these consequences go down for the ages.

Of course another time travel movie became wildly popular in the 80s, Back to the Future. This movie explored not only time travel but also generations, how families grow over time and pass on their values, beliefs and culture. The juxtaposition of then and now serves not only to advance the story, but as a compressed-time metaphor for exploring how EVERYTHING that happened before now is leading up to THIS INSTANT and our actions within it.

One of my teachers, a Kenneth Haker, AP US History, had us watch a film. It was The Manchurian Candidate. It’s a cold-war film about mind control and sending soldiers back to the US who have been mentally reprogrammed to assasinate. We were told I think that Sinatra (who stars) was against it’s continued release in light of Kennedy’s assassination (there was no snopes.com at the time to disprove this false fact). This experience set me searching for other material about this. Even if you view swinging watches and queen of hearts and post-hypnotic suggestions as a bunch of hooey, the success of the advertising industry should tell you that mind control *can* work…

It Never Works Out
Of course like every high school student in America (I assume), I was exposed to Animal Farm at some point. It’s a great book, and my main take-away was that they change the rules over time. Lord of the Flies taught me that even in democracy, the majority will eventually vote to eliminate human rights. But Brave New World is by far the most impactful and influential of these novels to me. From it I learned that you will be rewarded, in our culture, for giving up your power of choice.

Going Back in Time
Now, when I was in my mid teens, I had an interesting experience. After some soul searching about what I wanted to do with my life, I became fascinated with the possibility of past lives. What if you somewhat unexpectedly and suddenly remembered with clarity and specificity, who you were in a past life? What if you had memories of just the same quality as your normal memories, experiences were just as profane or mundane as now? What if you could see how the incomplete projects you had started in your last life had simply spilled into your current life? This would certainly make you into somewhat of an oddball. You’d probably have some urge to talk to people about it, yet feel like you couldn’t. It’s not like you would believe in past lives – you wouldn’t. You would simply have memories, as vivid and detailed as your current memories, such as driving such-and-such a car, and being friends with so-and-so, and wanting to live in a certain part of town, but living in another part. You might even remembered how you died. Should you believe these memories? Ah, another film, Total Recall and numerous others in the amnesia-through-drugs-or-mind-control explores these tropes and helps us understand the answer to that dilemma. Around this time as well as later, I was also exposed to the Highlander movie and series. This theatrical device – an immortal, who sort of “hides out” and keeps changing identities – is another fantastic metaphor that touches on the problems of reincarnation without getting bogged down in ‘reincarnation’ or Samsara as it is understood in Eastern culture.

But how weird was my interest in past lives? I find some solace in the fact that today, on Earth, at least a billion people, perhaps 1.5 billion believe in past lives. And a few billion more – the vast majority – at least believe in future lives. (Source: CIA World Factbook. No joke, look it up.) Even the much revered and respected Dalai Lama knows that talking about his past lives may be too much for people, and he downplays their significance in interviews.

It’s a Conspiracy
I have read countless ‘rational’ and ‘skeptical’ articles attempting to debunk conspiracy. And yet, for every one of these authors, no matter how many individual fallacies they point out, I still think they are whistling in the dark. I think their approach to explaining the chaos of the world is to say it just isn’t that complicated, resorting to Occam’s razor and all that, glosses over the fact that sometimes the world IS dark and sinister and very, very complicated.

One of the earliest introductions to this fact was actually not fiction, but the true stories of American double agents in WWII Germany. I read about double agents; in this case, working for the British but trusted by the Germans, they had to let real Allied troops die, and had to give good, actionable intelligence to the Germans to build that trust. This fact made me realize that the game of war and of life really, can get so very existential and complex, that the loyalties can get so perverted and converted that you don’t know what to do any more. And it taught me that the real truth can, after a “reveal”, be startlingly different than what you thought it was.

The stark verisimilitude of LeCarré’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, the best spy novel of all time, only confirmed my sense of how the world runs.

My history studies of the 60’s contributed to this view. We know the Warren commission said it wasn’t. And we know that Bobby Kennedy’s death was yet another lone agent. And so were all the others. And after a while, after so many events, the rationalist will try to talk you down from trying to draw conspiratorial conclusions. “It’s a human need to explain things”, they will explain. “Your mind wants to make sense of all this, fit it into a pattern”. To hell with this rationalist. There is an order to this chaos. We know now about the FBI hounding MLK, John Lennon, anyone they don’t like. We know about Nixon’s lies.

Perhaps it’s not the lizard people, perhaps it’s not the UFOs, and perhaps it’s not the dirty dozen, but to deny the fact that evil men conspire to create evil effects in our world is to be in denial.

Why I write
The novels I am writing are reincarnationist, because I simply find it fascinating and under-explored in the fiction of Western civilization, and of course I’m weird. The novels I am writing are conspiratorial, because in trying to make sense of the chaos of the world and all the broken plans of man, my mind feels compelled to weave it into a logically consistent and explanatory conspiracy.

My exposure to Huxley’s Brave New World (and the irony of his dropping acid on his deathbed and trying to achieve some sort of agnostic spiritual ascent) informs my complex anti-drug spirituality.

Possibly the real reason I am writing about it because, like Woody Allen, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying.”

But think about your writing in this light. Immortality is a tricky thing to understand. Yet there are writers from thousands of years ago, whose ideas we still discuss every day. Greek philosophic ideas, various sacred testaments, and the Veda permeate and shape our culture, often more powerfully than the artists of today.

Who knows – perhaps that poem in school you hated having to study was something you wrote long ago!

But whatever you write, know that it can echo down the ages, affecting people, changing their minds, and imbuing them with the energy that was your life.

Songwriting as Storytelling

lennonI once heard a professional author explain, and I may have read it from another as well, that after decades of work they had run out of new stories to tell. They had actually, to some degree, run out of ideas.

Now granted, this was at a writing conference, and that same author later demonstrated a brainstorming technique with the audience and came up with a new, coherent and fleshed out plot line in a matter of minutes, so I feel as though I have to take this as a bit of false modesty. Oh but that we all could “run out of ideas” so flowingly…

I know that different writers have different problems. Some people can continue a story, keep it going with new twists and turns. Some people can really create the perfect ending, the perfect twist. For me, I overflow with ideas on how to start stories. I have this plot and that plot and the other idea. Frankly, being a new writer, I haven’t put enough down yet to know if the ideas are actually nonsense when you boil them down, but they certainly excite me when I think of them.

But being stuck in create-create-create brings with it the the liability that you never finish anything, which in turn means you never sell anything. Also, with too much runway, you can lose your verve or impetus, and never finish the piece you were on.

I’ve kind of hit that with the story I’m writing now; too many interruptions, and I feel as though I’ve mentally moved on and need to write something else. I already “said that” (even though I haven’t published it or even had that many people read it!)

However, recently I’ve been experimenting with an outlet for my creativity that is for at least the time being giving me a much better sense of completion: Songwriting.

As a would-be fiction writer, I at least have the good habit of recording details as I go through life.

I remember listening, many years ago, to an NPR episode where a survey team was commissioned to find out what people liked most about music. It turns out one of the surveyed favorite kinds of songs were “love stories”. I noted that carefully, and whenever I later worked on songs, I tried to incorporate stories, especially love stories, into them.

Later I was reading the liner notes for a re-release of the Beach Boys Pet Sounds and I found out that Brian Wilson co-wrote them with Tony Asher, an advertising copywriter.

I had written songs as a teenager and even took some basic pop songwriting theory classes (I was a keyboard guy, not a guitarist so I never started a band), but I really hadn’t created and recorded a song until about five years ago, when I was on a transcontinental flight with my brother (who did start several bands) and went on a writing rampage, blitzing out probably five or six songs for his consideration during the trip.

Several of them were too heavy-handed to be suitable, but one was an inspired love story about a girl my brother had dated (or at least my outsiders view of such).

So I kind of combined these few bits of advice I had heard over the years when I wrote the song:

  1. It should tell a story, preferably a love story
  2. It should have a good hook line, just like an ad copyist would write.
  3. You need to let them know what the song is about quickly

The story was basically the idea that your girl goes off to save the world, join the Peace Corps or some other important thing, and wants you to come with her, and you’re just not ready for that. Of course it could also be as simple as not being able to commit to moving to the next stage of the relationship.

The song is called “I’m not coming.”

It starts out:

I’m not ready, to sign my life away / I’m not ready, to plan out every day

Ever studied an advertisement closely? Those ad copy guys like clever, recognizable turns of phrase. Take a figure of speech, say “stitch in time saves nine” — and they’ll truncate it, mix it up, and tell you to “Stitch just in time”. Somebody probably already did that one; the point is, they so often take an expression, twist it up but rely on the recognition value.

So what I did to come up with a hook line was I took the recognizable line from hide-and-go-seek: “Ready or not, here I come!” and twisted it. You can guess what the lyric is.

The whole song can of course be interpreted various different ways. Naturally, as a songwriter, you leave it open so that the listener can contribute, too. And you can read double or even triple entendre into it, if you’d like. But the lyric kind of worked.

(In fact, I have it on good authority that the demo recording of this song was played for none other than Pete Townshend and that he commented, essentially, that it was a well put together song on the topic. As the one review I’ve heard about my song, I’ll take it!)

Over the last two years, I have been working in bursts on a magnum opus fiction novel. In fact, that’s how I came to be connected with the Fictorians. And having successfully published several books of the nonfiction variety, I knew the challenge I was taking on. And it’s not that I lack the stamina.

Rather, I think I am learning that some of my creativity may be better suited for other outlets. Instead of carefully compiling decades of pithy observations into an enormous tome that once published may amuse only me and a handful of friends, I think that some of my observations about life and love and conflict and politics and the role of spirituality and government and games and friends and contests and mind/body might be better conveyed in a 3-5 minute MP3.

Songs certainly lend themselves to completion. And if you have some musicians who can write listenable music to breathe life into them, it can be quite rewarding.

Late last year, “my” first album came out (I wrote or co-wrote two of the songs). One of them, they gave me only the music and the title, “Best Summer Ever”, and I had to come up with the lyrics.

I stuck to what I knew: Love story, catchy line.

When I first wrote the song, boy it was elaborate. It was not a short story, it was a LONG story. I told my brother about it: “There’s this girl you see and she’s in this relationship but the guy is clueless because he’s trying to experiment and he gets this really bad advice and another girl gets involved and makes things totally complicated and he blows it and then there’s this other part where they meet again later during the summer and…” There were lots of details and subplots.

But this isn’t a novel! You don’t have to put everything you’ve ever seen go wrong in a relationship into this song for heaven’s sake!

And so my brother was actually a bit let down when I handed him the lyrics. “What’s this? What happened to the part where the other girl…”. And even worse, my hook line was WAY too simple:

Fell in love with a perfect girl / I should have noticed and tried to pay more attention to her. 

Just like you need a great opening in fiction, I had heard over and over that it’s even more critical for songs. Well, I hadn’t even thought about it but I just listened to the first two lines and they are textbook. That’s just creepy.

My brother later admitted that he was simply embarrassed to be singing the lyric, it sounded too corny or something.

In any event, it turned out alright, more than alright; he also later admitted that it is a favorite of female fans.

More and more, I’m finding that the stories I have to tell fit in this ephemeral song format quite nicely. Again, it helps to have a band that puts great music together for them, but in fact I don’t think it’s hard to find great musicians anywhere in the world.

I started this blog post as a sort of confession that I’ve been a derelict fiction writer, but in walking through the process I’ve come to the realization that I am finding an outlet for my art and succeeding in getting published. They’ve even done a video of the other song I worked on, Famous For Dying, and according to YouTube over 10,000 people have heard what I had to say there.

(WARNING: The video is gory, so listen, but don’t watch it, if you’re squeamish).

Before wrapping up, one more link that may be helpful. I was researching “songs as stories” and in the process I came across this link to “26 songs that are just as good as short stories”.

If you ever have something you’d like to say – something that doesn’t need a whole book to say it – perhaps you could write a song.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Should You Read How-To-Write Books?

Recently I’ve been sampling some commercially-focused writing education. While high school and college classes presented what I consider a sort of forensic, after-the-fact approach to literary analysis, how-to-write books tend to focus on how to generate a prizewinning or commercially successful novel or screenplay.

After reading dozens of how-to books and listening to many hours of lecture and seminars since I started writing my current novel, I thought I’d share some of my take-aways.

1) Some books teach an overtly formulaic approach, and are focused on simply getting something written.

I read a Dummies guide to novel writing. It laid out a formula, break your story into 1/4 1st act, 1/2 2nd act, 1/4 3rd act. It seemed to be mostly focused on solving the problems of writers block, and offered a ‘fractal’ approach, where you write summary sentences for each act, expand those to paragraphs, expand each sentence in the paragraphs into a paragraph, and so on until you have a story. It was very focused on if you just keep turning the crank you’ll get a novel out.

The Dummies book also made reference to another book that detailed minute mechanics of each scene and each line in the scene. I then read that book and was practically scared off of writing. This book (Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer), a classic, out of print but lauded title, told me that I have to have to painstakingly compose every sentence of either a motivation or a reaction. I felt like the only way to have a great book was to take a tiny brush and hand polish every word of every scene. I’m sure I do need to do that at some point, but I tried a hand at thinking that way, and I couldn’t move through my book. I decided that was an editing task and that I’d have to develop that skill in time, and I moved on to reading other how-to books.

2) Some books try to psych you up to deal with the relative impossibility of getting published.

The majority of the books I read, on novel writing at least, offered a cautiously optimistic take on the industry, and essentially gave out the same advice: Keep trying. This becomes a tautology of sorts, because if you never stop submitting you technically still have a chance of making it, whereas if you give up you will have of course failed.

This whole theory of publishing – “maybe I’ll get an agent or maybe I’ll get signed” – is outdated, because today there’s absolutely no barriers to getting your book in ePublishing. But having numerous friends and relatives in the music industry, this is an old, well known problem. Sure, there’s no barriers to cutting an album either, and in fact having a perfect, shining album produced entirely on your own money is practically prerequisite to trying to get signed as a musical act. In the same way, it’s expected that you write a pretty finished product these days in your attempts to submit and get agented or published, since your competition is doing just that.

But now you have the issue of, well, why are you waiting to get signed? Why not just put your stuff out there and see what happens? And since the record label (or publisher) wasn’t likely to sink their marketing budget on you anyway, they were going to see if you struck a chord with the public and only then cautiously support you, why not take it on yourself to promote?

Ironically, (I think it’s irony), since books take years to get published, not one of the writing books I read, even recent ones, really addressed the “maybe you should just e-publish” issue with more than a passing thought of the traditional variety, that self-publishing is sort of dirty and might tarnish you. I suppose it’s like trying to write “‘The History of the Revolution” in the middle; there’s just nothing that can be really said until the dust clears and we know who’s in charge. (Hint: Amazon and Apple).

3) Some books, seminars, and lectures offer detailed plot beats.

A good number of the lectures I listened to, which admittedly were more geared towards screenwriting but included numerous writing craft classes as well, focused on story beats. The 51 good beats for a thriller. The 189 beats of a RomCom. The 5000 beats of a master tearjerker.I exaggerate, but seriously there seems to be a very well tread path in commercial fiction and stories to hitting the key beats, and this category of advice resonated the best with my own style.

As any experienced artist knows, form is indeed liberating, and the emphasis is that while it may seem “formulaic” to include the various beats, it is also formulaic to have 4 beats in a song, formulaic to use well known instruments, formulaic to use a language that people speak, and formulaic to use Do-Re-Mi as the notes in a scale. Really, the audience (except for art seekers purposely looking for experiences out of the mainstream) is expecting to be entertained, and may not be investing more than a casual amount of attention on your artistic work. Thus making a work accessible in the standard ways but doing a fine job of it, will be rewarded. Similarly, taking a well known story form and just adding a unique twist on aspects of it, subverting expectations in an interesting and novel way, can pay off because it is built upon, again, a well known story.

4) Discovery vs. Outline writing

This is an area where it appears that the writing universe agrees to disagree.

I sort of think of it this way. There are people who are great live storytellers. Great ad-libbers. Great comedians. They can tell a joke, they can thrill you with anecdotes at a party. I have a dry sense of humor and I can occasionally be funny, but often my humor can fall flatter than I had wanted. I have a brother who can tell excellent if occasionally long winded stories, but you would see him being more effective than I around a campfire.

However, there are those people who think of the great retort later that day. “Ooh, I know what I should have said to him!”. Well, the good thing about those people is that they can be great writers. They can write that down, and the next great retort and the next, and now they’ve got some punchy, incisive dialog.

I can sit down, my mind swimming with thoughts, and write them down, and keep writing, and after some days and months I have more goodies than I know what to do with. I cull the best, separate the rest into a future bucket, and have goodies for later chapters or other books.

The same issue occurs impacts the approach to writing. There are discovery writers, who sit down, write the book, and then edit it. Period. Stephen King is a good example of this style and explains some of it in his book on writing. Some of the more genre writers, such as SciFi and fantasy, create vast universes and need to painstakingly document the magic systems or physics as well as the geography of the worlds they build. Naturally, they are sometimes just as painstaking in their plotting.

I myself found that, coming from a tech writing background, I outlined a lot. But I also found that when I go to write a chapter, no matter how outlined, the characters lead me wherever they do for the scene. I think I’m a hybrid outliner/discovery writer, but I’m probably way more outline than discovery.

5) Plotting vs. Character

The discussion of outline vs. discovery also impacts this theme, which I encountered in a lot of books. There’s this tension between hitting the plot points and keeping them from being forced. Would the character naturally do this to achieve their burning goals and desires? Or are they just stopping by the bank so they can get tangled in the bank robbery because it moves the plot along?

I saw a lot of discussion of this without a lot of good advice on how to solve this dilemma. The best I got was that plot should flow from character, and what the characters would do. But if you sit and ask what those characters should do, they might do the darndest things – and depending on how burning a desire you give them, and how sharp and defined their flaws, they might give you a great plot.

It seems to come down to some oft-repeated basics: Give them a burning desire; give them understandable flaws; put the characters in conflict.

But will this get them to the bank to be a victim of the bank heist that is critical to the unfolding of the plot? I just don’t know. And again, I will probably have to study more books to see if any of them give me some better tools than “don’t” to achieve this effect.

6) Don’t be derivative

Another oft-given piece of advice, easier said than done, is that you shouldn’t repeat others’ stories. Advice in this area ranged from what should be obvious: “don’t plagiarize”, to entreaty, “please don’t make me read your obviously derivative story”. The common areas of offense, which presumably came from the how-to authors’ personal experience in reading slush, were in characterization and plotting. Several times I was told not to write about a whore with a heart of gold or a hard-bitten cop. So I’m going to write about a cop with a heart of gold and a hard-bitten whore and see where it gets me.

Plotting, while not being outright plagiarism or theft, can be a serious issue. If you’re not familiar with the stories and literature of your genre, you could use the exact same twist – either subliminally transmitted to you by the culture, or thought of completely independently. Either way, you come across clumsy and unprofessional if you unknowingly lift someone else’s solution. Especially, especially if they don’t know about it.

Was it Picasso who said good artists borrow, great artists steal? Well poor artists unwittingly copy.

Should you even read how-to-write books?

That’s the question. When I started writing my current novel, I started perusing (in the thorough sense) various books on writing, but I took them with a grain of salt. I had been given the advice – probably from a how to book – that reading them was a fruitless exercise. That the techniques they taught were often different than the way I worked, and they were mostly applicable to that specific author’s personal work style. Also, a lot of advice was simply an attempt to help aspiring authors finish something. In a similar vein, many of the books simply said “you should read a lot” and in many ways implied that style and judgement would arise from reading sufficiently. Other books gave the simple answer “write a lot” and the books were divided as to whether people should have their works critiqued.

Here’s my thoughts on the matter:

1) If you’re having trouble finishing your book, some of the books with a motivational slant may get you past the finish line.

2) If the drivel you write feels like total crap compared to the lofty prose you read, some of the books might help you find out what’s wrong with your sentences.

3) If you haven’t read enough at all, or read enough in your genre, or if like me all your in-genre “reading” was actually going to the movies which are universally regarded as not as good as the book, then you shouldn’t read a how-to book. You should read novels in your genre.

4) If you’ve barely written but you’ve read enough, then you should likewise skip the how-to books. Like language, you probably have the vocabulary – not just words but the scenes, transitions, motivations, and plot – and you should just start writing. Chances are, if you are quite well read, and you have some story ideas, that you will be able to write well.

Writing is communication. Your style of communication is unique to you. Experiencing and relating stories is inherent in the human psyche. We all live stories. So if you’ve experienced, if you’ve listened, then you can similarly tell a story. And if you can put sentences together that make grammatical sense, you can write a book.

5) Probably the worst thing that can happen to an artist is criticism. Criticism stops art. Invalidation and unskilled or inapplicable “constructive criticism” can kill or worse, subvert one’s creativity.

One huge risk is that external criticism gets internalized.

“Oh we don’t need any more vampire stories.” “You can’t use -ly words”. Perhaps these words of advice are relatively true for today, but there are countless other opinions and advice that have no bearing but when conveyed as rules create a cage that can stifle creativity.

My advice on reading how-to books is either:

1) Stay away from them!

or

2) Read all of them!

That way, you’ll be able to see which advice is consistent across books, which advice is the oddball opinion of one writer, and which jealous “advice” shouldn’t be foisted upon writers at all.

In conclusion, here’s a summary of the most consistent advice I gleaned from the myriad of how-to books:

  1. Read a lot
  2. Write a lot

If you’ve read enough, you don’t need to study how to write.

The Invisible Library

I love collecting digital bits.

And I am considered an early adopter by friends.

As disorganized as I may be with files littering my virtual and actual desktops, I have an excellent track record of not losing digital data. Misplacing, yes, but my backup processes are fairly secure.

I hit the save key reflexively every few seconds or whenever I stop typing. I email copies of documents to myself to ensure they’re backed up in the cloud. I have onsite and offsite physical backups of all my files.

Ever since the advent of the Kindle and the iPad, I’ve been delighted. There are so many ways to access the rich library of documents I’ve been squirreling away for all these years. And with tools like Dropbox and various PDF viewers on the iPad, I’ve been able to have useful subsets of my digital library with me wherever I go.

Recently I’ve even begun backing up bits of my library. I’ve taken a number of big tomes and sent them to Blue Leaf Bookscanning to get turned into PDFs and word documents and even robot-read audiobooks.

But there’s a cost for me to digitization.

Serendipity.

In my home I have bookshelves. Many of them. And I have an area where I keep all my language books. And sometimes, when I walk over to that part of the shelf, I feel compelled to learn some more Portuguese verbs. Or another Latin phrase. It’s not planned.

I have another shelf full of mid 1800s American “Cyclopediae”. Had I planned to look up something in that? Not really. Was I enriched by it? Yes.

I have a shelf next to my bed, supposed to be a nightstand. It’s actually a two foot wide, 5 foot tall shelf. It has possibly 50 books I’m in the middle of browsing or reading. My “nightstand” gives me that same feeling I get when I stand in front of the magazine stand at a good bookstore. “Oooh – what am I going to choose?” There are too many good choices.

To be fair, I have experienced some form of this on my iPad. I’ve loaded up a ton of PDFs into the Apple iBooks app. Sadly (for Apple), I have to say that iBooks is only used store PDFs; Amazon has my eBook business and will keep it until I can read iBooks on my computer. (But that’s a separate rant.)

And so occasionally, I have said “why look there, there’s a book on programming Ruby on Rails, I should browse through that.”

“Oh theres that manual I downloaded on Intellectual Property and patent drafting, I’ll read it. ”

But the point is, I think it will be a while before I have the scant 64Gb of my iPad chock full of ALL my digital documents. Years in fact. I just don’t see it. First theres the scanning, or re-acquiring the book in digital form. Then there’s the filling the space, or hoping that “cloud books” comes out when “cloud music” is just getting started.

There’s no question that eBooks are rising fast. So much so that they will be the most significant part of the Western reading market soon. Ebook sales will be the driver, not just a growing segment, of book sales.

Books will go down fighting. It will probably take generations to fully marginalize books, even though digital formats are eclipsed within two decades. VHS. Tape. CDs. DVDs. Blu-Ray. These are all formats-come-lately. They have not persisted. Photographs and phonograph records are a bit longer lasting. But printed word has millennia of success.

So what of the browse? What of the bookstore? What of the random luck that comes from browsing not just a corner bookstore but of rediscovering one’s own library? Or of putting a reminder to one’s self to read a book, by leaving it in your bag?

When all books are equally accessible in a huge digital bookstore on your iPad, and when new books are constantly marketed to you, invading the privacy of your own tablet, what will this do to undirected reading? How will one continue to enjoy these essential and random encounters with books?

I don’t know. What I do know is that my family is shopping for a house right now. And after digging through probably a hundred houses on the multiple listing service, I remember just two have really stood out to me. I may make an offer on one next week. And only when I was finishing writing this article did I realize something.

Both of those homes have a library.