Since everyone is equal on the Internet, I feel empowered to be able to disagree with a Microsoft V.P. This one confidently predicted that electronic text will replace paper books, and that by the year 2018, 90 percent of books in print will be sold electronically. I wonder if he also predicted the "paperless office" by 2000?
He may be right that the storage and delivery method will be electronic, but he underestimates our connection to the printed page. After all, I printed and stored his article on paper! What I think is more likely is the advent of affordable home printer/binders that can download and print a full color and neatly bound book directly from the Internet. Paper will persevere, whether it is pulp-based or something new, because we want to be able to hold in our hands the most important parts of our heritage and history.
Even now, I am fascinated by an Internet that is resurrecting whole generations of old books that until just five years ago were doomed to dusty graves in musty old bookstores and private libraries. It's not just the "classics" that are being revived, though, but the writings of godly, evangelical men and women whose voices have not been heard for a century or more. They are part of the "cloud of witnesses" of Hebrews 12 who encourage us, but who have been pushed to the back of the cloud. But we need their voices.
In case you aren't yet a part of this web-generated spiritual book revival, I want to share with you some of my own experiences, and introduce you to some of the "revival tents" where you can find the old voices coming back to life.
Recently, I did a search on some key words and uncovered a wonderful collection of moral stories from the 1800s in England. When I got the little one-of-a-kind book from a shop in Ireland, it contained a publisher's listing at the back of dozens of other Christian books from that period in England. I did a search on some of those titles and, among others, found a children's allegory from 1861 that has become a favorite in our home. Then, I did a search on the author's name and came up with a two-volume biography of his life written by his brother around 1900. I am reading it now, and this man's godly testimony and life is having a profound effect on my own spiritual life and thinking.
Before I learned to use the Internet sites, a friend showed me a 1917 book on reading to children written by a Christian woman who was a librarian, a $2 find at a used book sale. I ended up paying $30 for a copy from a traditional search service. Later, when I discovered web-based searching, I not only found the same book for $10, but I began to look for titles from a recommended reading booklist the author had included. Two of those books were the author's own children's books, which I located via the web, and which have become prized possessions for our library, describing life from a child's perspective at the turn of the century. The original book is a rich and thought-provoking defense of the value of real books in a child's life that I still read for motivation.
Just a couple of months ago, I stumbled across a quote being forwarded around through email. The author's name was not exact, so I had to do some sleuthing. But soon I found two books by this author, written around 1920, that described homeschooling just like we would talk about it today. It turns out there was a short-lived homeschooling movement in America around that time, and the writing of this particular author is even clearer, more Christian, and more penetrating than much of what I read today. And as far as I can tell, I found the only copies of both books available anywhere on the Internet (for now anyway).
I have been greatly encouraged by a series of Christian books I traced down on the Internet. The author, speaking to young men at the turn of the century, filled his messages with godly, pastoral counsel, Scriptural insight, and wonderful spiritual poems. The three volumes address Christian manhood, Christian gentlemanliness, and becoming a 20th-century knightly man. I am anxious to begin reading these talks to my own young men very soon. I have uncovered several other books for young men (it was a popular theme at the turn of the century) that will provide stimulating reading for the next several years.
There are dozens of other such stories I could tell you, and they are all now sitting on my bookshelf. These few, though, should give you an idea of the unburied treasure that is waiting to be found on the web. And I predict, safely I believe, that we'll still be hunting for those treasures 20 years from now as a whole new generation enters the search.
Before I run out of room, let me point you to the better out-of-print book search sites on the web. Most include a way to list your "wants" if you don't find what you're looking for, so dealers can get back to you if they have the book. The better ones allow you to save references to books you're not ready to buy. However, I've missed several good books while pondering the purchase. Still, new books keep flowing into the system as more and more inventories are cataloged online, so keep checking!