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Likely Stories

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Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009 3:45 pm
The Tomes They Are a-Changin’
Posted by: Keir Graff

Just asking: when did tome become synonymous with book? I ask because, in a Chicago Tribune article about the Kindle yesterday, the writer stated how many “tomes” the device could carry. Talk about a tin ear for the English language. My trusty Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition (though a print artifact, only marginally a tome) defines tome thusly:

1 : a volume forming part of a larger work   2 : BOOK; esp : a large or scholarly book

In my mind, a tome is a big, old book, bound in leather, possibly containing spells. Or at least arcane knowledge. The Necronomicon in The Evil Dead? Now, that’s a tome–hell, it was bound in human skin!

I looked for the original Tribune article, to link to it, and couldn’t even find it online. Their instance of tome was so flyweight that it wasn’t worth preserving, even electronically.

Which brings me to another thing: if you have eyes and ears and are not bricked up in a cellar (possibly a result of careless tome handling), you know that the new Kindle is upon us. I won’t be linking to any stories about it, because, frankly, I’m sick of the whole thing. Yes, e-book readers are here to stay, and, yes, they’re not nearly so bad as we thought.

But what really bugs me is all the free publicity Amazon gets when news outlets slaver over the story. Yes, it’s news because e-books are Changing the Way We Read Forever. Yes, I’ll probably check one out, one of these days. But I can’t help but think of the saps who line up outside the Apple store on Michigan Avenue every time a new iPod comes out: it’s a product release, not a life-changing event.

And, frankly, I’d rather spend the time reading.


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