Last year, I won a Kindle Touch in a raffle. I read a handful of good books on it, but since I got over its novelty, it’s done nothing but collect dust. The allure of e-readers is just not there for me; traditional books, in my opinion, are better in all of the most important regards: the experiences of acquiring, reading and simply having the book are far better with a traditional book than with an e-book.
Words are what make a story. One of my favorite novels, Stephen King’s The Stand, is the same story whether it’s written with ink on wood pulp, projected digitally with electrophoretic ink or laser-engraved microscopically on a metal plate.
A story’s efficacy – its perceived goodness – comes from its ability to immerse, transform, resonate with and inspire its reader. The experience a story affords through its aforementioned set of abilities, however, irrefutably varies depending on the medium from which it is crafted.
Good fiction can make me feel intellectually, emotionally and spiritually connected in ways that drugs, loud parties and visceral movies cannot. The latter chase away loneliness by making me forget it’s there. Fiction, however, as author David Foster Wallace said, is a place “where loneliness is countenanced, stared down, transfigured, treated.”
Have you ever felt when you are reading a great book that you are having a deep, significant conversation with another individual’s consciousness? I don’t want anything to jeopardize or dull that experience.
Let’s be clear that arguing about e-readers versus paper books is not vainglorious quibbling on the part of affected intellectuals or the crotchety pedantry on the part of neo-Luddites; there is actual substance here that matters, and should matter, to a lot of people.
First, acquiring paper books is more fulfilling than acquiring e-books. Local bookshops are some of the most majestic and whimsical places I have ever been to, and the beauty of a nice library can hardly be matched.
You can buy a book online, but why would you? The ambience of Amazon’s website has nothing on the amber-lit mahogany shelves in fine bookstores and libraries. With e-books, online purchases are your only option.
Also, the culture of lending books is effectively snuffed by e-books. When I borrow someone’s book, it’s their book; the pages are embossed with their oily fingerprints and marked by their marginal scribbles.
When someone lends on an e-reader, the connectedness is not there at all. There is no physical thing that used to be my friend’s and is now mine, and so the idea of lending one’s property becomes vacuous. Lending is a misnomer in the e-world; lending merely gets one a copy – a copy indistinguishable from the other e-copies out there – of the digitized book for free, which is but a petty upshot of book sharing.
Secondly and, for many, most importantly: The experience of reading is better with paper books. What could be called superficialities are in fact quite significant: every book’s texture, its weight and the color and vanilla-like smell of its pages – its overall character – are all unique. E-books are “eo ipso,” or thoroughly lacking eccentricity and distinctiveness.
Lastly, a paper book is alive even when no one’s reading it. When I’m asleep, my shelved books are resting too; their words, my scribbles, every blemish on their pages are still there, tucked snuggly under their two covers, just like me.
I’m drafting an epitaph for my cadaver of an e-reader, which looks inert and spineless as soon as I turn it off. A book should not have an off button.