[By Nic Lindh on Sunday, 16 November 2014]
I love books. Always did. I was the kid in middle school who’d be late to class after lunch because I was in the library reading.
But with the advent of e-readers and read later-type apps I’m realizing more and more that it wasn’t books I loved, it was the content of those books. This is not a semantic quibble, it’s at the core of the disruption happening to the publishing industry.
I still love going to a bookstore to browse the aisles and get ideas about things to read, but I’m not purchasing more corpses of trees. Which is of course very bad news for the bookstore and I do feel bad about that. I’ll usually buy a cup of coffee so I’ve at least done something to keep them in business.
(I should add here that if you’re a fellow book lover who’s fuming at this cavalier attitude to Keeping Bookstores in Business, I feel you. I get loving books as objects. The image at the top of this post is a fraction of the books in my home. Books I’ve read and loved.)
We’re at the point now, though, that e-readers are valid ways to read all by themselves and the artifact that is the book as physical object is no longer necessary.
Not only is it not necessary, but it is worse than the electronic equivalent.
Can you change the font and font size in a printed book? No you can not.
Can you tap on a word you don’t know and get a dictionary definition? No you can not.
Can you finish a book, be super excited about reading the next installment in the series, buy the thing right there and start reading it? No you can not.
Can you realize you don’t remember who a character is and search for the first time that character was introduced? No you can not.
So, the utility of a dead-tree corpse is actually worse than an electronic version. And yet, and yet. It does hold a special place in a book-lover’s heart. Holding the thing. Smelling the thing. It’s a thing, a physical manifestation of a writer’s blood sweat and tears. It’s real in a way an e-book just isn’t.
But then, so were CDs, which were in themselves a much better audio experience than vinyl, but also a much worse physical manifestation than vinyl.
Listening to an album on vinyl was a physical experience: Taking the album out of its cover, putting it on the turntable, cleaning it with the brush and cleaning solution, lowering the needle, hearing that static before the track started… Physical and real.
And way worse of a presentation of the actual content of the medium than the CD provided in its own detached, clinical way.
If you’re the kind of person who relishes touching and holding physical books (or vinyl albums, for that matter), more power to you. Keep doing your thing. As long as you have money to spend you will be catered to. But you are a member of a diminishing minority.
Apart from but related to the conveniences listed above, here’s the number one reason I love e-books: They give me the choices. Not the publisher or the designer. I get to choose (within Amazon’s needlessly limited options, granted) which font to use and which size I want it and—and this is the important part—that choice applies to all the books I read. This way, the only thing I care about in the book, the content, is distilled down to its essence.
It’s just me and the words.
You can’t influence my perception with nicer paper or a better design. It’s just the words.
As it should be.