Wednesday, September 28, 2011

words on a page

Like Sara Barbour, writer of Kindle vs. books: The dead trees society, I have never used a Kindle, even though I am probably closer to the age of her grandmother, who was grateful for such a gift. No Kindle, no Kobo, no e-book readers at all. Also like Barbour, the only encounter I have had with an e-reader so far is over someone's shoulder while riding public transit.

I am not repelled by e-readers, but neither am I particularly drawn to them. I have some of what Barbour described of her romance with actual bound books. I treasure an old paperback box set of The Lord of the Rings that was given to me when I was a scared 12-year-old in hospital. I read those books so much that I had to tape the bindings back together. I later bought a hard-cover set, but I will never get rid of my original set. I have other books that are associated with old memories.

I love seeing books on shelves. I love the different colours, heights, thicknesses, typefaces on the spine. I love pulling a book down from a shelf, either for the first time or for the umpteenth time. The gift of a book is special, not least because it is a rare gift (one problem with family who don't really know me). The gift is even more special when it introduces me to a world that I had not known previously. It's like a new corner of the universe suddenly opening up to me.

An e-book can just as easily be a gift, and a thoughtful one, but somehow it would not feel the same, at least not yet. One thing that always strikes me about my over-shoulder peeping is that one book on an e-reader looks just like another. There is no individuality. An e-book is totally about the content, not about the medium. An e-book is a disembodied book.

However, I can see myself buying an e-reader someday, or being happy to receive one as a gift. If I buy it myself, it will probably be driven by the desire for convenience. When travelling, it would be much easier to slip a Kindle into my carry-on luggage than to choose a particular book or books to bring because they fit in the available space. I could read a book in the dark! And I could finally catch up on all those classics that I've meant to read but never have. If I had a Kindle, I have a feeling it would be my constant companion.

I've gotten used to so much else during my life. I'm sure I would get used to not having to use a bookmark, to not turning physical pages, to not smelling the paper and breaking in the binding of a new volume. There are other pleasures in the world. And in the end, I am really reading a book for the writing. Great writing will draw me in no matter whether it is printed on paper or formed out of pixels on a screen.

When books are only published in electronic form, should such a day come, will we have lost something, as Barbour says? Perhaps. But there are those who think that we lost something when we started to write rather than telling our stories aloud and passing them on orally. And surely there were some who lamented the replacement of the scroll by the new-fangled codex. Every generation loses something that the next generation never knows it missed.


Bridge Maiden said...

As both a lifetime reader and an author, I'm of two minds about e-books. On one hand, like you, I love the feel of a book. I have a huge library in my house and sometimes just looking at a book evokes the memory of it. As a writer, holding my published book is a strange power...I've made this thing that now lives beyond me.

But I also have a Kindle. As a reader, it's lovely. It's convenient and it holds the words that I want to read (hundreds of titles in such a small little bitty thing). But as much as I enjoy just the reading part, I will say it is slightly like listening to an MP3 versus the actual CD track. The music is there, but there is something slightly missing...some deeper enjoyment of the text that comes from the feel of a book, of seeing the pages read and pages left to read. If I only had the Kindle, I would still get to read, but I would be sad in a very fundamental way. As a writer, I sell a lot more Kindle copies of my novel than hard copies. At this point in my career, I want readers more than anything and if the e-version of my book is getting out there, then I am happy because it means I am being read and if one person reads my book and loves it, that person may tell a few more people and it could spread. And since I charge very little for the e-book in comparison, I will sell more of them.

There is a lot to be said for both...I hope people understand that and we don't lose the hard record of our great history of words.


Amy said...

I was speaking to a librarian friend, and she was weeding out the books that get poor circulation in order to buy new books(of course!). She noted that when she had multiple copies of a book, the older, more evidently loved and worn copy had more circulation stats that a new copy does. Interesting, eh?

And I love that medieval help desk video. So TRUE and speaks volumes about change.