As an unashamed gadget freak I suppose I should applaud the rise of the e-book in all its wondrous forms. But actually I much prefer the “real thing” (TM). Some while back I became involved in a series of email exchanges about e-books in general and the Amazon Kindle in particular. That exchange made me think about what it is that I like so much about books. I have no idea exactly how many books I have dotted around the house, but I’d guess the number is somewhere north of a couple of thousand, many of which I have read more than once. Someone on the mail list discussion pointed out that I could probably get that entire collection on one Kindle, a thought that, frankly, horrified me.
I like books. I like the fact that I can lend them to people, I like the fact that I can read them in the bath, drop them when I nod off, and know that they are still (just) readable afterwards. I like way that they are actually objects of beauty in their own right, independent of the contents (can you imagine a bookshelf full of Kindles?). I like the fact that the words remain the same between me putting the book down and picking it up again. I like the fact that when I have bought a book, I can be sure that both the book and the original words will still actually /be/ there when I next pick it up (that may not always be the case for electronic words. In fact Amazon themselves very famously shot themselves in the foot when they deleted customers copies of 1984 and Animal Farm back in July 2009).
A real life book doesn’t need batteries, and it will (probably) still be readable in several hundred years when no-one on earth will still have a Kindle. Books can be given as gifts to a friend. That gift can contain a flyleaf note personalising the book in a very special way (I have duplicates of some books simply because a close friend or family member has given me an inscribed copy of a book that I already possess. Such gifts from my kids are beyond price.) E-mailing a friend an electronic book somehow doesn’t have the same aesthetic.
I like the fact that you can scribble in the margins. Many of my books (particularly the text books or reference books) have such marginal notes. Yes I know you can do that with a Kindle, but it somehow doesn’t seem the same as coming across a note you made to yourself 40 years ago whilst you were boning up on a new topic.
I like old bookshops and market stalls selling books. I can happily spend much time browsing shelves for old SF pulp from the 40s and 50s. Time I would probably otherwise be wasting on something entirely frivolous. Sure I could probably find what I wanted by electronically searching on-line, but where’s the fun in that? I’d miss the serendipity of stumbling across a previously unread author. And there would be no bookseller to chat to who could recommend similar books to the ones I had just picked up.
Oh and I like the way old books feel and smell.
Cartoon from the New Yorker dated 14 September 2009. Copyright is fully acknowledged.