We’re living through a slow-motion earthquake in the world of books. The massive shift from printed books to e-books and other digital formats may be as momentous as the arrival of the printing press five hundred years ago. This is one of those big changes that, even though it’s affecting our lives profoundly, is hard to talk about—maybe in part because it’s so new. As Lev Grossman said in a 2011 article, “if anything we may be lowballing the weirdness of it all.”
A new documentary by Vivienne Roumani, Out of Print, aims to get us talking about this phenomenon. How many of us still read printed books, or any long-form books at all? What is the effect of the e-book revolution, and the broader, internet-induced change in our reading habits: on publishing companies, on writers, on libraries? What about children and teenagers coming to reading now—how will it affect how they learn, even how they think?
The film, narrated by Meryl Streep, is on the festival circuit, and will be shown this Saturday, July 20, in New Hope as part of the New Hope Film Festival. Roumani gets a kind of virtual conversation started through interviews with an impressive array of experts. In one corner, there’s a surprisingly eloquent Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon—the big gorilla of both e-book and print book sales—who speaks with passion about the book as an elegant object, and about how reading a novel can transport you to an alternate world. In the other corner, there’s Scott Turow, who as president of the Authors Guild acts as a kind of pit bull for writers, arguing for their right to earn money from their work against initiatives like Google’s controversial plan to digitize thousands of books.
And then there’s the late, great Ray Bradbury, speaking about his discovery of reading at his local library in Waukegan. In the basement of that library, he banged out the first draft of Fahrenheit 451, the book that presciently imagined a future where most people live with immersive entertainment screens, and where books are in danger of disappearing in a different way. Is our new world as strange as that, or stranger? This elegant and thoughtful film opens a door on that question too.
Out of Print will be shown Saturday, July 20, 7 p.m. at the New Hope Arts Center, 2 Stockton Ave. @ Bridge Street, New Hope, PA 18938, as part of the New Hope Film Festival