Of Jewish Book Month, Yeshivat He’atid, and Isaac Asimov

Of Jewish Book Month, Yeshivat He’atid, and Isaac Asimov

There’s some irony in this week’s issue. Our cover story heralds “Jewish Book Month,” but the community news looks at Yeshiva He’atid and serious discussion of post-book computerized education. As it happens, back in 1951 — the year that Jewish Book Week was upgraded to Jewish Book Month, and our cover art was commissioned by the Jewish Book Council of America — science fiction writer Isaac Asimov published a very short story which predicted the reign of the Kindle and the computerized classroom. Entitled “The Fun They Had,” it takes only a minute to read. Here’s the beginning:

Margie even wrote about it that night in her diary. On the page headed May 17, 2157, she wrote, “Today, Tommy found a real book!”

It was a very old book. Margie’s grandfather once said that when he was a little boy his grandfather told him that there was a time when all stories were printed on paper.

They turned the pages, which were yellow and crinkly, and it was awfully funny to read words that stood still instead of moving the way they were supposed to–on a screen, you know. And then, when they turned back to the page before, it had the same words on it that it had had when they read it the first time.

“Gee,” said Tommy, “what a waste. When you’re through with the book, you just throw it away, I guess.”

It’s hard not to imagine some version of the computerized classroom succeeding some day, and books belonging only to grandparents — and that Kindle future is more likely to happen in 2057 than in 2157. I suspect that my grandchildren will read some of their Asimov on a screen — and some in my dusty paper copies. But they won’t understand what’s science fiction about this story.

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