Thursday, February 10, 2011

Books from the Civil War to the 21st Century with Guest Blogger Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy

Win a copy of Wolfe’s Lady and yummy Dove chocolates today at the Book Boost with guest author Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy!

Here's what she has to say about the progression of books throughout history...

Everywhere I go these days, online and out into the real world, I hear the ongoing debate about e-books. On one side of the issue, I see those who believe e-books are a fad, temporary successes that will be here today and gone tomorrow. Such folks naysay the growing industry of e-publishing and act as if e-books are somehow inferior to traditional books.

On the opposite side, e-books are more than just a trend but the beginning of sweeping changes that will change how we read in the future. I fall into the second category, not just because I write e-books or because I love the convenience of downloading a book at any hour of day or night for instant gratification but because I see the transition in process.

I believe that people will continue to read and I think that there will always be a place for traditional books. I also see, however, that this is just the beginning of an e-book explosion that will shift the literary world into a new direction.

Until just after the Civil War, all books were hardbound and substantial. They cost more than most average working folks could spend without breaking their budget and Andrew Carnegie had yet to build his libraries. When the earliest versions of paperback books appeared, they debuted as dime novels here in the United States and as penny dreadfuls in Great Britain.

Unlike the literary fiction of the day, dime novels featured larger-than-life characters caught in stories that we call genre fiction today; Westerns, crime, and romance.

These cheap books didn’t last long because of the low quality paper but they didn’t cost much and the reading public devoured them, then asked for more.

Dime novels and penny dreadfuls were the grandparents of the paperback novel, something we all take for granted. Before the first paperback books appeared, pulp magazines featuring Western fiction, crime stories, and romance, filled the void.

During the Great Depression, many publishing houses struggled to stay afloat since most households lacked the extra money to buy books. While library circulations soared to record levels, book sales slid and by the mid-1930’s, Penguin Books debuted as the first paperback books. Early editions featured what most considered great literature at a lesser price and when the books reached America, Simon and Schuster dubbed their version Pocket Books because they could fit into most people’s pocket.

The American Pocket Books featured brighter, bolder covers and were a hit with American service members during World War II for their portability and their low price.

Until 1950, all paperback books were reprints but that year the first paperback originals hit the bookstores and became popular. Then as now, however, some railed against them as cheap, less well written, and tawdrier than hardback originals. The reading public, however, soon embraced the books and history happened.

One of my uncles, a World War II veteran, once described to me the impact that Pocket Books had on him. It opened up new reading vistas to him with books he could carry almost anywhere that cost the same or less than a pack of cigarettes. He read voraciously for the rest of his life but I don’t know that I ever saw him with a hardback novel in hand; he always had a stack of paperbacks to read.

In early 2010, I knew little about e-books or e-readers. The first model I handled belonged to a friend and the size impressed me. So did the number of books that could be stored on the device. By the time I signed my name to my first e-book contract, I could see that the potential for this new format is limitless.

E-books are here to stay. Many major publishers including Dorchester now debut all new books in electronic format first. Just this month, the New York Times will add an e-book category to their bestseller lists as well as a combined list. This adds validation to the new format in my view and demonstrates again that we are just on the beginning edge of a major change in how we read.

Books will remain and people will read. I have no plans to dismantle my extensive collection of books, both hardbound and paperback. In time, however, I see that books will become the kind of collector’s items that vinyl albums are today. Those who appreciate the feel and smell of a traditional book will seek them out or buy special editions but the main body of the reading public will buy their books to download onto their Kindle, their Nook, their e-reader, phone, or computer.

Electronic publishing is an infant and I am eager to see just how this baby grows!

A Note from the Book Boost: What a wonderful journey through the history of book formatting, Lee Ann! Thank you so much for sharing that with us today. I loved your stories about how paperbacks were created and about your uncle's love of paperbacks. I've always been a bibliophile and no matter what the format, I always will be. After all, it is the story...the adventure...the escape from reality that we all seek. The format is such a secondary thing. Please tell us more about your book!


Stella Raines was looking for a change. She moved to the small town of Riverville to begin her first year of teaching history. She quickly learns that teaching in such a rural high school is no picnic, but the math teacher in the class down the hall makes her first week all the more intriguing…

Their attraction is instant and for eternity, like the stars under the full moon.


Stella found her voice first.

“Darien, that was amazing, electric, stupendous…”

Her voice trailed off as she ran out of words to describe the
firestorm that they had just kindled and survived. With very gentle fingers, Darien cupped her face between his hands and in the softest voice she had yet heard from him, he whispered, “Darling Stella, that was magnificent. You are a woman without equal, my star.”

They cuddled in easy silence until he stirred.

“Don’t go.”

“I must, Stella-star,” Darien said, “Don’t worry. We have a
connection now, one I cannot deny.”

Her few sexual experiences had been nothing compared to that
feast of uninhibited passion and Stella, sated and filled with an inner joy she had never known, whispered the words that had been embroidered across her heart.

“Darien, I love you.”

Darien, in the act of pulling on his now buttonless shirt,
stopped as if she had shot an arrow through his chest. He stiffened and she saw it, wishing now she could take back the sweet words, suddenly thinking that this had been nothing more than good sex to him.

“Stella,” he said her name with such sadness that she wanted
to weep. She steeled herself. This would be the part where he would say that she was beautiful, wonderful, but that he could not get involved.

He would say that he was not ready for a commitment and
that they could still be friends. If anything kindled between them, well, they might enjoy friendly sex. Her love life during her college years lacked stability and after several abrupt break-ups, she had all but given up on romance.

Until now, every time she offered a man her
heart, he had stomped it into a thousand broken pieces. Stella had heard it all the exit lines before and she turned her face away from him so he would not see the tears that formed, then dropped like tiny diamonds onto her bare shoulder.


“You are my lady, and I love you. Yet, Stella, there are things
about me that I am afraid to tell you. Will you be patient with me, dear star of my heart?

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Leave a question or comment how you feel about the overall e-book experience and Lee Ann will draw a winner to receive a free PDF copy of Wolfe’s Lady and a special gift of some romantic Dove chocolates!

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Rebecca said...

Very informative! One thing to consider is that
Paper lasts a very, very long time and e books
Depend on the Internet and electricity.

Otto said...

E-books and personal e-libraries indeed are catching on fast. How they evolve remains to be seen. We might buy them, own them and hold them near and dear - or the text might exist in "the cloud," and just our access to the cloud will be what we call our “own.”

We still trust more to the permanence of low-tech hard copy books. They are tangible and durable, but how enduring are they?

Let's not confuse evolution with devolution. As technology snowballs, remember that snowballs roll DOWNhill. Pulp paper turns to dust. Microfilm has become a curiodity in the history of library science. Our Information Age requires increasingly sophisticated electronic devices, without which our e-books are useless. THIS is progress? Stacks of e-devices without electricity don't even make good bookends.

For all our progress, we can always regress to good old hard copy. It doesn't need devices for access. Its batteries never need charging. Sitting with a good old-fashioned book in our laps is hard to beat. What could be better? EASY! How about talking?

Oral history is in the long term more reliable than any form of book, but oral history dies if we no longer bother to talk to each other. It IS dying as we sit at our computers instead of dealing face to face with real people. That's just not done much these days. Instead, here we sit at our screens, tuning out the real people around us.

How will our stories be told in millennia to come? Not by books in any form, but by fragments of lore and by archeologists guessing at our useless devices and at the forgotten languages we meant those devices to preserve.

Oral history is by rote, so teach your kids and grandkids to read and write, but TELL them over and over any message which you want to endure beyond our technology.

Meanwhile, how do I get MY writing on the New York Times list of bestseller e-books?

Lee Ann said...

Thanks for the comments - the PDF and Dove goes to Rebecca.

Loved Otto's comments too and thanks!