The first book I can remember holding—holding, not reading—was a copy of "Treasure Island," which had been inscribed to me by an overly enthusiastic grandfather on the occasion of my turning a month old. I still have it, and have now, as an overly enthusiastic father myself, tried reading it to my own children, whose interest thus far has been limited to a scary Norman Price image of Pew, whom they associate with a pirate-themed episode of "The Backyardigans." And so it goes.
Like many of you, I adore books. I have tested the bounds of domestic felicity by fighting any efforts to prune the rising number of volumes at home. (For some reason, a copy of Matthew Arnold's "Literature and Dogma," which I confess I have never read, has often been used as Exhibit A in my wife's occasional attempts to argue that perhaps it is time to clear out some shelf space. I have thus far resisted, but it is touch-and-go.) I know that a lot of my colleagues share this weakness of mine, and I suspect that a lot of our readers do, too.
It was with enormous interest, then, that we heard about Amazon's Jeff Bezos's new attempt to improve on one of the more enduring inventions of history: the book. As Steven Levy writes in this week's cover story, Bezos is launching the Kindle, a handheld reader that may be the 21st century's best effort yet at merging long-form prose storytelling with digital-age technology.
The debate over the future of books (or printed magazines, for that matter) sometimes gets framed in extreme terms. On the one hand you have devoted online denizens who seem to think that ink on paper is hopelessly out of date, and that the world Gutenberg made possible five centuries ago is as doomed as the Titanic. On the other are hard-core traditionalists, often older, who insist that, in a formulation I have heard over and over, you cannot "curl up with a computer."
Bezos, Steven reports, appears to have found a middle ground. "The key feature of a book," Bezos told Steven, "is that it disappears" as a reader is imaginatively transported to the writer's universe. In Steven's view, the Kindle manages to pull off the same trick: "It can take you down the rabbit hole." This single device is not going to kill off the book as we know it, but it is a milestone in bringing a new kind of reading experience to a broad public. It will be fascinating to watch what happens.
Elsewhere, Rod Nordland writes a personal account of the Baghdad he has found after an absence of four months, and Dan Ephron raises an important question: why aren't we offering the veterans of our own time a GI Bill? In THE LAST WORD, Anna Quindlen points out another critical issue, one that is particularly poignant this Thanksgiving week: the problem of persistent hunger in America.
This week also marks the debut of two new occasional contributors to our pages and to Newsweek.com: Karl Rove and Markos Moulitsas. They are controversial figures, which is why we asked them aboard. We have a long tradition of asking practitioners and opinion makers to write for us (George Stephanopoulos is a good recent example) and believe that Rove and Moulitsas will give readers useful perspectives. Sometimes they will write in the same issue (as they are this week), sometimes not. Agree or disagree with them, or with me for asking them to contribute from time to time, we can safely say this: conducted civilly (as it will be here), debate and disagreement are good and healthy things. I think I read that in a book somewhere.