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There seems to be a group of people out there who are trying to convince us that the book as we've known it for the last few hundred years is facing extinction. I keep reading things on the web about how book stores and libraries will become obsolete as the world becomes increasingly digital.

I don't buy it, not for one second, because I know I'm not the only book lover out there. And by book lover I mean lover of books, not lover of novels or stories or biographies or histories or plays or anything else that books might contain.

For the last few years I've had people try to convince me that I should give e-books or audio books a chance. Various arguments have been made, and they all miss the point. So today, when I was told that the latest e-book gadget-thingie looks like a real book, I felt compelled to make the following reply, which I then decided merited a post of its own:

Can you dog-ear the pages? Underline passages and scribble notes in the margin? Can you read previous readers' markings or find interesting bits of paper forgotten between the pages? Or the occasional squashed bug or worm-eaten page? Can you fold one side back over the spine? Can you rifle through the pages under fluorescent light so you can see the light split into yellow and blue bands? Can you stick a finger in a section for quick reference while reading another? Can you smell the distinct dusty odor of dry, yellowing pages? Feel the grit? The paintbrush-smooth edges of the pages? The texture of each page? Can you admire the cover art and ponder its relevance to the text? Can you stack them on your night table or arrange them on your shelf and admire the collage-like mash of colors, shapes, and sizes? Can you easily give it to a friend who might like it without hampering your ability to read another? Can you write inscriptions on the flyleaf when you give it away? Can you admire the way the text looks on the page? The font types and sizes, the arrangement of text, the distinct look of verse, different types of prose? Can you feel that exhillarating sense of discovery when you find a gem of a title for nickels and dimes in the least expected places?

I think proponents of electronic books think it's all about information, about the content on the pages. It's not. Certainly content is a significant component, but it's not hardly all. Content would not explain why some might prefer paperbacks to hardcovers, others nicely bound special editions to mass market editions. If content were all, why not just listen to audio books? It's perfectly valid to be interested in the content only, but to all proponents of alternative content delivery, please stop trying to foist your e-books and audio books on us book lovers!


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 10th, 2008 03:21 am (UTC)
I don't think real books are going to go away. Printed pictures aren't going away either, but more and more people distribute, catalog, view, search, and display them electronically because of cost and convenience.

Consider some of these issues which are economic and market oriented and can positively affect the user experience of reading,

Printed pictures aren't going away either, but more and more people distribute, catalog, view, display them electronically because of cost and convenience.

- ebooks don't take physical space to store - this is a big convenience and cost saver for individuals and for libraries

- the production and distribution costs are much lower which will result in lower prices to purchase

- they don't get mold or mildew (a problem in damp climates) and they don't deteriorate with age (brittle paper, broken bindings, etc.)

- as the technology improves, the UI for ebook readers will get better and more enjoyable to use and offer features that are valuable to some people - e.g. you can search for things you've already read in a book in order to remember a detail..., set extra bookmarks without pieces of paper falling out etc.

Aug. 10th, 2008 05:21 am (UTC)
I haven't unpacked my two dozen or so boxes of books after my last move because I no longer have the space to unpack them into.

At my new office, I'm not yet sure if I'll have a desk or a bookcase, but I do have about a dozen long boxes go through. Some of them are full of files, but at least two or three are full of books on differentiated instruction. My office mates all have bins and bins full of printed matter. I'm feeling rather oppressed by the weight and volume of it all.

Of course, since the move, I've bought at least two magazines, a collection of travel writing by American women (including a friend of mine), and a couple of other books. Another book was given to me by my pastor.

Will it never end?
Aug. 10th, 2008 05:51 am (UTC)
This was a beautiful entry. Thanks, Derek. I feel the same way about books. I love the way they smell. I love the way the type looks. I love re-reading notes I made in them at different periods of time ( example: a copy of The Orestia I read at 17, 22, and 25).
Aug. 10th, 2008 04:00 pm (UTC)
One of the things I find interesting about this discussion is how much it refers to writing in books - notes taken by an earlier self, or by previous owners.

One of the rules I was raised with (like always tuck in your shirt, always flush when you finish, etc.) was never write in a book. Emphasis on never. Even if it is your own book. There are some things that you just don't do. I think this rule comes from a somewhat misplaced reverence for books in their pristine form; I suppose that the source of this rule (I don't know if it is just my parents, or if it goes back farther) would actually approve of electronic books.

I find it interesting (and a bit ironic, I guess) that a large part of the appeal for bibliophiles in real books consists of activities (dog earing, writing, molding) that less sensitive folks would consider abuse.

Aug. 10th, 2008 04:12 pm (UTC)
I got a bit of both growing up, being told to never deface a book in any way and also that a book that is not marked up is one that is not loved. I'm not a copious marker, and I would never write in a nice hardcover edition of a book. Perhaps that is one reason I prefer paperbacks, though: I want the freedom to treat the book like a partner and not an idol.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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