I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal about e-books and how they will change the way the world (or more immediately, America) reads and discusses books, and I realized something about myself.
I hate the idea of e-books.
I can’t say that I hate e-books, because I’ve never actually used one, but the concept is so repugnant to me that I don’t really care to try. I’m not a luddite by any stretch of the imagination. I read several dozen blogs on a weekly basis, I twitter, I’ve got an active Facebook account, and I send the occasional text message (I don’t like to, but not because I’m not a fan of the technology; I feel that whatever needs to be said can actually be said, not reduced to a code of 10 characters that I have to decipher while waiting at a stoplight). I have an iPod. I don’t have an iPhone, but only because I like my current cellular provider, which is not AT&T, and I don’t want to unlock one since I break everything eventually and the iPhone would be no exception (I find that my life is no poorer for not having one). I really want a GPS system for the car. I get lost a lot.
But I hate the idea of e-books.
I remember very clearly my first experience of reading a book. Sure, I read picture books with my parents and the occasional big board book, but when I was in kindergarten I really learned to read and took home these battered, taped-together books with lots of words and fewer and fewer pictures. I was so proud of those. I probably felt the same when I read my first book without pictures (this memory is not so vivid). I remember how library books smelled and how excited I was for the Scholastic book fair (okay, so half of it was for crazy neon pencil erasers, but it was exciting).
E-books give me none of these feelings.
I am also a big proponent of book preservation. I think that somewhere along the line, with the ability to mass-produce quantities of cheap printed material, we’ve forgotten how exquisite a book can be. I have some hand-bound books from the 17th century that are still in pretty decent condition, while a lot of my modern paperbacks are crumbling. I wonder what will happen to the libraries full of rare books when e-books become the standard. Will books become an expensive luxury item again? Will people actually start to put time and effort into building them? Can I expect to pay a month’s salary for a book with gilded covers and vellum pages, hand-printed on a press in Europe? Or will books just stop being made, like Polaroid film?
I don’t really want to carry an electronic tablet to read my books on. I want to stuff a book in my bag and look at the potato chip stains I made the last time I read it and remember that, because the book has character in a way an electronic device can never have (and for those of you who say, “but… sustainability!” I respond that used books are just as good and readable as new ones, and you’ll never really run out of things to read).
I also don’t want to have to refer to a thing with a battery in it when I’m miles away from civilization and want something to pass the time. Books never run out of power.
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