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"A good book is like a good kiss: we want to devour every minute of it, yet savour it and never want it to end."


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Reese Alexandra
Artist | Student | Literature

Miss Reese Alexandra
.also known as Alea.

twenty-three, blonde, blue eyed, scottish/irish in heritage but not in accent.


"there is beauty in all things - spiritual, intellectual beauty will manifest itself in physical ways, and one commences to become whole: a fusing of the internal and the external self. Connections between the tangible and the abstract are most obvious in the eyes: ever-changing waters that reflect the soul."

"Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music:—do I wake or sleep?"

The Power of Preference, or, Why the Book Will Not Go Out

Five years ago, Ryan Nadel made the analogy that the endurance of the print book would be like that of the candle’s:

The greatest analogy is to the candle. When electricity was invented, people said no one will use candles anymore. And now there are more candles being made than in the history of the world. They offer ambience and experience, not functionality. I hope the same thing will happen with the book. Its purpose and nature will change.
Ever since hearing this analogy in a lecture last winter I’ve been entranced, and somewhat mystified, by it. This essay aims to compare the production of candles into the 21st century to the production of print books, and how technological advancements in both industries have affected both products.

    Without any scientific backing, I’ll begin by stating that humans are odd creatures. We are inherently progressive, yet our collective obsession with things past, with history, with things that used to be, marks us as what some would call regressive. But sometimes this nature of forward-yet-backward, in a way, enables us to learn and move forward, and to take the best of the past into the future. We can see this “selective nostalgia” in our fashion, our speech patterns, and certainly our technology, as things that have worked in the past are either retained or reborn, while those facets of culture that no longer serve any type of function to the majority fall away into history. As time gets older, we naturally have more choice: more new things, and consequently, more old things.

    People are quick to assume the old technology will always be superceded or replaced, as “every time there’s a new medium, everyone says the old one will disappear” (Nadel n.p.). We can see that, as with TV not replacing radio, or the phone not replacing face-to-face interactions, new media do not necessarily facilitate the erasure of old media. Rather, the roles of old media shift and continue to serve a purpose unique enough to stand up alongside newer technologies. Through this essay, I will explore the degree to which books are currently holding up against their digital counterparts, and compare this to the endurance of the candle throughout the invention and widespread adoption of electricity.

    Outside of any analogy, candles are a good example of an object’s shift in role, as with the introduction and implementation of electricity for use in homes, beginning in the 1870s and moving through until the 1930s, these older ways of lighting were in danger of becoming needless. However, people still used them for special occasions and in the case of power failure, a role in which they are still necessary today. Despite this shift to a necessity in case of the failure of electrical lighting, candles are not an object reserved only for emergency kits. As the Association of European Candle Makers explains, “with the arrival of electricity, the candle had lost its place as a light source. It received however a new role: the one of creating an atmosphere, a romantic feel and warmth.” In other words, candles have continued to be used when unnecessary, simply because they provide a unique atmosphere that electric light cannot capture.
    By the numbers, candle sales are “
roughly $2.3 billion a year” in the United States; they escalated in popularity in the 1990s, when they became part of home decor. Their sales grew at 10% or more each year until the 2000s, where they flattened out, likely due to recession. However, “the market for luxury candles is sparking overall growth” currently, with social media aiding sales (Houston Chronicle). The industry is a small one (comparatively, the computer industry has sales of $86 billion per year), but it is a stable one, with online sales and social media trends helping to continue the candle’s popularity.

    The invention of ebooks and ereaders is much more recent than that of electricity, and the long history of the print book comparable to that of the candle; despite the newness of one technology compared to the other, print books and candles still have much in common. The shifting of the candle’s role in society is indicative of an endurance shared by print. By 1999, Simon and Schuster had launched its own ebook imprint, becoming the first trade publisher to publish both in digital and print. In this same year, Dick Brass of Microsoft “predicted that by 2018, 90% of all books sold would be ebooks.” 2018 is now less than three years away, and the numbers are far less drastic. The print book is an enduring force, capturing 89% of sales in 2013 within Canada (BookNet Canada 11). Conversely, BookNet found that “approximately 17% of unit sales in English-speaking Canada in 2013 were in a digital format” - these and the print statistics won’t correlate, as BookNet Canada’s SalesData service does not track particular ebook sales in Canada (BookNet Canada 1).

    Regardless, the popularity of print books over digital is clear. Despite being more popular than digital, the printed book has still had to shift positions in order to thrive. When print books were all we had, they didn’t need to be anything else. Much like the candle, they were just what people purchased in order to accomplish a specific desire (lighting a home or reading a book). Now, print books are not the only form available for consuming stories, and this has caused them to shift into less of a need (if you want to read a story) and more of a preference through which to read that story.

    If candles and print books both fit into their respective industries by being a preference drawn on for specific instances, then how do they compare within this role, and to what degree are they different (both as an object, and a preferred vehicle)? Largely, the two are comparable because they offer sensory qualities which digital and electronic technologies do not.

    Although textual scholar Jerome McGann was describing books when he argues for the importance of bibliographical codes, the same logic can be applied to the candle. A bibliographical code is the importance of the physical object, or container, in which one encounters a text. McGann argues that these physical codes, or the “physique of the document,” are essential to analyzing or encountering a literary work (77). The same can be said for lighting. Depending on the object, or container, which is emitting the light, a person will have varying responses to it. The candle creates a unique environment that evokes a separate sensory response than electricity: candles can have a scent, their light is inconstant and usually less bright than a light bulb, and the object of candle itself is unique, being often of different colours and shapes.

    The creation of a unique environment by the candle makes for a completely different, and immersive, reading experience, as Stuart Kelly of the Guardian explains: “[reading by candlelight] had a curious and lovely intensity. I had to re-read sentences as the light played, and pause to angle the book and catch the shifting shine. The words themselves seemed less fixed and self-evident, as if you could read the same sentence countless different ways just by tipping the book forwards and back.” The regularity of electric lighting can’t offer the constantly changing environment of a candle burning, which forces the reader to adapt.

    The candle has a duality to its bibliographical codes: while creating a unique environment, it is also itself a unique object. The book, comparatively, is the aesthetic, and the unique environment in which a text lives, and the shape, smell, and feel of the book have an impact on a reader’s experience. There is, as Nadel states, a “power of the artifact inherit [sic] in these objects, a notion that is changing drastically as bits and bytes replace ink and pages.” In other words, each book produces becomes an object unique to the person who owns it; one can write in the margins, inscribe their name, rough up the book, or keep it pristine.

    The web restricts this uniqueness: rejects the idea of each person being freely able to manipulate a separate physical object. True, there are ways to highlight and annotate within the digital realm, but the intangibility of technology currently plays second fiddle to the weight and multiple sensory aspects of a book. As Nadel asks, “when we turn a digital page, what happens? It disappears.” Any qualities of the page being read leave behind no weight as it is replaced by the next. The multiple sensory aspects of candles, as I mentioned above, and their visible temporality (wax drips as the candle is used up) also mark them out as unique in comparison to the constant, regulated lighting of electricity, which offers only a last dimming sputter as a gauge by which to tell it is dying. Why is uniqueness important? Because it is the primary property through which print books and candles have an advantage over the technology.

    Despite the similarities mentioned above, the candle and print book do differ as products.  The future of the book, for example, is not necessarily only as an object of atmosphere, as the candle is, but as a preferred vehicle through which to read long-form. An ebook, with its “shininess and … insistent beaming” mark it out as “something radically other than a book,” something which, with constant light streaming up while reading, makes it difficult to focus on for the length of a novel, or without the distraction of checking Facebook. As Stuart Kelly acknowledged, using candlelight as a sole light source for an extended period of time creates a unique condition in which the reader (or person doing any task requiring light) must adjust themselves in order to capture the best lighting possible, as well as to avoid mishap in not knocking over the candle, or to prevent “the book and the candle [from] meet[ing] in an intense but short-lived mutual understanding. Electricity, in this case, provides more regulated lighting that can be preferential when reading (although, natural light is better, but that’s another essay).

    Physical properties of the two objects aside, the largest contrast between the two can be found by dissecting Nadel’s analogy. While I agree that the book, like the candle, offers a unique atmosphere incomparable to that of electric or digital means, I currently disagree in the extension of the analogy; that is, that the print book will become an object without functionality, and only offer atmosphere and experience. Candles have denigrated to only offering functionality in cases of no power; otherwise, Nadel is correct: they exist only because people continue to prefer them in certain cases where they want to create a specific environment.

    Past this, electricity is by and large the more popular mode of lighting a space (Consider the U.S. and Canada when clicking the link). Print books, by contrast to the candle, are currently the predominant method of reading in Canada, with sales still holding more than half the market at 79% in 2015. Although this is a 10% drop in sales from 2013, as referenced above, ebook sales in Canada are the same as that year, still at 17%.

    Print books are proving that they have a functionality, even as they shift to a preference rather than a necessity, and unlike the candle, are still on top in their sector. Consumers, for now, are largely preferring print. Who is to say, though, that ten years from now, these statistics will be reversed? Only if this does occur, will I fully agree with Nadel’s analogy; for the print book, like the candle, will continue to be a preferred mode of experience, enabling its continued production and consumption. When this ultimate shift will occur - and if it even will - can only be speculated. The candle stands as a good example of an enduring, older technology; many times over the years, it has had the possibility of being snuffed out by battery power, electricity, and other forms of artificial light. Yet, the power of the candle as an object through which to produce atmosphere still holds, and the industry is a stable one. The endurance of the candle over so many years aids in illustrating the future of the print book in publishing, to a degree: it won't become marginalized, but will operate alongside the technology as a continual preferred mode of the delivery of text. Where the numbers will end up is anyone's guess, but the print book will continue to serve a purpose and engage readers with its function as a unique container. 


Access to Electricity (% of Population) | Data | Table.” N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Oct. 2015.

Candle Use from a Light Source to Atmosphere Lighting - AECM Association European Candle Makers.” N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Oct. 2015.

Ebook Timeline.” The Guardian 3 Jan. 2002. The Guardian. Web. 5 Oct. 2015.

Facts & Figures.” National Candle Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Oct. 2015.

Lighting A Revolution: 19th Century Consequences.” N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Oct. 2015.

The History of Electricity – A Timeline |.” N.p., 13 February 2007. Web. 6 Oct. 2015.

BookNet Canada. “BNC Research : The Canadian Book Market 2013 :: SFU Library Licensed Material.” N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Oct. 2015.

Karp, Josh. “What Is This Buzz Word ‘Transliteracy’? A Q&A with Ryan Nadel | Spotlight on Digital Media and Learning.” N.p., 25 October 2010. Web. 1 Oct. 2015.

Kelly, Stuart. “The Illuminations of Reading by Candlelight.” The Guardian 6 Jan. 2012. The Guardian. Web. 6 Oct. 2015.

McGann, Jerome. “The Socialization of Texts.” The Textual Condition. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1991. 39-46. Print.

Nadel, Ryan. “The Book as Artifact | The Mark News.” N.p., 20 January 2011. Web. 22 Sept. 2015.

Shaw, Holly. “E-Book Sales Are Flattening, but Does That Mean the Technology Is Dying as Consumers Unplug? | Financial Post.” N.p., 15 July 2015. Web. 6 Oct. 2015.

White, Terry. “How Big Is the Candle Industry? |” N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Oct. 2015.

Zisko, Allison. “CANDLE SALES BURN BRIGHTLY; SCENTED AND WHIMSICAL STYLES DRIVE BUSINESS. - Free Online Library.” N.p., 5 July 1999. Web. 1 Oct. 2015.

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dasvidanya-bitches Featured By Owner Apr 29, 2015  Student Digital Artist
*whispers* remember me(me)?
(1 Reply)
pinkythepink Featured By Owner Apr 22, 2015  Professional Artisan Crafter
:love: Thank you for the favorites, it really means ever so much to me that you enjoy my artwork! I invite you to add me to your watch so that you can see all the future beaded and stitched pieces I have planned! :blowkiss: Just think of the sparkles... :squee:
(1 Reply)
cHlanG2x Featured By Owner Feb 27, 2014

HAPPY BIRTHDAY~ ALEA~ :iconballooonplz:
LOOMcomics Featured By Owner Feb 27, 2013  Student Interface Designer
Happy Birthday! :D
LOOMcomics Featured By Owner Feb 14, 2013  Student Interface Designer
:glomp: :love: :heart: Happy Valentine's Day! :heart: :love: :glomp:

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