Books: They Never Went Away After All.

So much for the theory that the internet would kill off books.

That idea has ended up in the same trashcan as the 1950s brainstorm that: “TV would finish off movies.”  And then there was the fantasy from the 2000’s  that Ereaders and Kindles and such would close down all the book stores. Not quite yet.

It turns out books are  more tenatious than all those wet blanket theorists ever dreamed.

The non-death of book stores recently grabbed the attention of the New York Times.

 

At Barnes and Noble, says the Times, the US’s (and therefore presumably the World’s) largest book store chain, Thanksgiving sales skyrocketed more than 10% over 2010. And sales at independent booksellers jumped 16 per cent in the week before Thanksgiving. Similar reports from all across the US suggest reports of the death of books are exaggerated, as Mark Twain once famously said about himself … and fittingly a new biography of  Mr. Twain has become one of the season’s  surprise best-sellers.

Far from being the enemy within, it turns out the internet has given books a new life. Amazon.com attracts more than 65 million customers each month  just to its US website alone; and in the History section alone almost 8,000 new books are listed for the last month. As for the theory that Iraq and Afghanistan have pretty much killed off interest in military history …  well, almost 600 of Amazon’s new titles last month are about military history.

And over at Canada’s Indigo.ca, if you type in “Canada Military History” more than 500  hits spring up.

Much of this is for a small niche market about exotic weapons systems or obscure studies on re-organized command structures for a new era. But much of it is not. Some fine new books are out on Canada in Afghanistan. Amazon lists almost 60 of them.

And already, a new generation of books is appearing on the War of 1812, timed for the 200th anniversary this year. More 1812 books are on the way and interest will surely heighten thanks to the Federal government’s determination to make this a pivotal event in the telling of the Canadian Story.

I have a vested interest in the well-being of  the continued good health of history, reading and books.

The Winnipeg Fress Press asked their book reviewers to list their favorites for 2011 … “Triumph at Kapyong” was on the list, and I’m very flattered, or course. Here’s the link:

http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/arts-and-life/entertainment/books/sentimental-favourites–4-5-136470323.html

For those who missed the Free Press review last spring, here it is again:

http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/arts-and-life/entertainment/books/sights-sounds-smells-capture-kapyong-story-120533399.html

So I am delighted that history and books about history are in good health. The American historian and eloquent man of letters, David McCullough, often reflects on the value of history.

History is not about the past, he says.

“If you think about it, no one ever lived in the past. Washington, Jefferson, John Adams, and their contemporaries didn’t walk about saying, “Isn’t this fascinating living in the past! Aren’t we picturesque in our funny clothes!” They lived in the present. The difference is it was their present, not ours. They were caught up in the living moment exactly as we are, and with no more certainty of how things would turn out than we have.”

That’s what makes history exciting: events that seem so clear to us, were not back then. We know the ending.They did not. The people in history have no idea what will happen next. If you think history is musty and full of cobwebs, it is not.  You’ve simply been reading the wrong books. This should be a good year.

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About Dan Bjarnason

Dan Bjarnason is the author of "Triumph at Kapyong, Canada's Pivotal Battle in the Korean War." Bjarnason was a television news and documentary reporter for The National at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for over 35 years, He specialized in military history and has worked on documentaries from the Little Bighorn to the Falklands. He now lives in Toronto and can be reached at: danbjarnason@gmail.com
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