“There is an elegant simplicity to it; simply open the covers and turn the pages”
What is a book anymore? I mean, really? Everyone seems to have a passionate connection to everything these days, from their political views to favorite food and choice of reading materials is no different. As a librarian I find it amusing whenever I speak to someone on the telephone who is hunting a book and is informed it is in e-book only format. Ninety-nine percent of the time the answer is a virtual “ewww!”
This puzzles me. I admit, I’m somewhat geeky and like gadgets and doo-dads that go clickety-click, light up, and generally look cool. If they also enable me to read anything, anywhere then they are just that much better. I frankly do not understand how a reader can be against something that gives them MORE choices, but the resistance is real.
I get the appeal of a printed book, I truly do. There is the crisp smell of new ink and paper, or the gentle bouquet only an old tome, handled by countless hands, can breathe. There is an elegant simplicity to it; simply open the covers and turn the pages. It requires no electricity, no charging and Internet. When an electrical storm took us by surprise a few years back and shut down the electric grid in my area, my sister went into a panic because her Kindle was on low charge. I told her if she was desperate and power was not resumed in a timely manner, she was welcome to my shelves of “real” books. She sniffed. She has completely gone feral for the electronic version; a snob in reverse.
Ironically the one book trait which seems to cause the most rhapsodies among print-lovers, the “feel” of a book, is often times the one thing that annoys me the most. Books can be just downright clumsy and awkward. For a well-read volume with a looser spine, especially one which is normal-sized, this is not such a problem. But I have literally stopped reading books that were too big, too heavy/floppy, to tightly bound, and waited until I could download a copy to an e-reader. I realize this whining is the height of “first world problems,” but sometimes wrestling a huge, heavy, unwieldy doorstop is just not worth the bother. It also poses a limitation handily bypassed by electronic books, namely that you can only carry so many chunky print versions while a slender e-reader can literally tote around an entire library. As one who is normally reading multiple books at once, the thought of being bound to only one sends me into a mild panic. Finally, another trait of e-books that is becoming more and more relevant every year, is their adaptability to aging eyes. You can make the print larger as eyes tire, brighten according to ambient light, read in literally any location without relying on illumination falling “just so” across a page. To me, this alone should be a siren song to seniors.
I wonder if this same debate raged in the overlapping years between scrolls and codex? Regardless of the convenience of the new-fangled reading format, did the die-hard resistors cling to their awkward scrolls as the only way literature should be enjoyed? What about the move from hand-written manuscripts to the printed page, or non-punctuation to standardized usage? I’m sure it did. Basically humans hate change and cling to not only what is familiar, but what takes them to the safe place of their childhood and more innocent memories. Perhaps we will see a shift in this debate in the future with current youthful generations growing up with electronic devices who will see them as the norm. This frankly bothers me a bit. As fond as I am of my glowing electronic device, I find it horrifying that books might one day be viewed with the same eye-rolling disdain we now feel towards scrolls and clay tablets.
The bottom line for me however is not the format of the literature, it’s the words on the page/scroll/tablet that are the most important. If you are a reader, a real reader, you will read anything, anywhere and in any form. As a child I read cereal boxes at breakfast, and whatever near me contained words if I found myself trapped in boring place. If you want to read something bad enough, it won’t matter what device is the carrier. I would even try a scroll.
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