Silicon Valley Reads kicks off more than two months of programming Wednesday centered around the theme, "Books and Technology: Friends or Foes?" It's an interesting question and one that should resonate here in the valley, where so many of those smartphones, e-readers and their other digital kin were born.
The two main books being used to illustrate the complicated relationship between the printed and digital worlds are Robin Sloan's entertaining novel, "Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore," and Nicholas Carr's thoughtful -- and at times scary -- nonfiction book, "The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains."
Both authors will be at Wednesday's kickoff at the Campbell Heritage Theater, where they'll be interviewed onstage by my Mercury News colleague Mike Cassidy. The 7:30 p.m. event -- co-presented by the Commonwealth Club -- is free, and seating is on a first-come basis. (Both will be back a few times between now and the closing event March 30. Check www.siliconvalleyreads.org for the full schedule.)
Carr, whose book was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2011, has written about technology for years, but he told me this week that he's looking forward to interacting with Silicon Valley readers.
"I've spent a lot of time in Silicon Valley and San Francisco over the years, but almost all of that was dealing with people in their roles in the technology field," he said. He's assuming that audiences will have similar reactions to "The Shallows" as he's seen in other communities, "but obviously, that will also have a different twist because the computer industry is so important here."
Sloan's novel, which takes place primarily in the valley and San Francisco, sets up a fascinating battle between the guardians of printed books and the tech evangelists who firmly believe in the world of the Internet, scanners and e-readers.
Carr's book is less about good guys and bad guys but tackles the idea that the fragmented way we consume media online is rewiring our brains to the point that it's difficult to consume and retain longer forms of writing. "The printed page provides a shield against distraction," he said. "As human beings, we're naturally distractible. A computer screen -- as soon as its networked to the Internet -- is a very different technology that's designed to let distractions in."
In addition to the books by Sloan and Carr, there are companion books for younger readers: William Joyce's "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore" (ages 4-8); "Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library" by Chris Grabenstein (ages 8 and up) and "Reading Makes You Feel Good" (prekindergarten) by Todd Parr. There will be storytelling and other programs related to those books, too, including some with the authors at various bookstores, community centers and libraries throughout Santa Clara County. (The San Jose Public Library Foundation, the Santa Clara County Library District and the Santa Clara County Office of Education are the programs three main sponsors.)
So wherever your stand on the interesting and changing relationship between printed books, the digital age and reading itself, pick up one or all of these books and get involved in the conversation.