One would think that, considering my life-long status as an ardent bibliophile, I would have been one of the first to get my knickers in a twist at the rise of the (shudder) e-book.
I do admit that books are a wonderful, magical invention and that the solidity and heft of a printed book are a comfort. And the smell of them! When I was a kid I used to haunt Dennis Used Books and the moment I walked in, I was overwhelmed with the scent of paper, dust, ink, spices, pipe smoke, and the warm space heater.
I used to go to the library and come home with glorious stacks of books, each awaiting my avid reading. And rereading. And rereading. My mother would insist that I get at least one book I hadn’t read before.
Even as I write this (on a computer, not with a quill pen and a pot of ink), I am surrounded by shelves of books, stacks of books, piles of books, toppling towers of books, bags of books, autographed books, even a couple of first editions.
I wanted a book within reach everywhere. I had a bedside book, a purse book, a bathroom book, a car book, lest I be stranded somewhere with only a ketchup bottle for company. Hell, I used to buy purses based on how many paperbacks they would hold. (I would try to make each book a different genre so that I could switch back and forth among them without losing track.)
The thing is, many of my bibliophile friends complain of the insubstantiality of electronic editions. And admittedly, they do not offer the same sensory delights as “dead-tree” editions.
The content of a book is still the same content, no matter how it’s delivered. If each new technology had been rejected for its difference and novelty, I would be sitting here surrounded by scrolls of papyrus and creating these words with a pointed stick and a slab of clay.
Printed books were easier to make and distribute than hand-copied ones. Saint Gutenberg brought inexpensive, widely available reading to the masses. Anyone could own a Bible, a biography, a newspaper, a novel. And bibliophiles were born and said, “It is good.”
E-books have made the written word even more accessible. You don’t even have to go out in the snow. Just press a few buttons and you have a new book – or even a very old one – instantly available.
The e-book functions very much like a printed book. It may not replicate the heft or scent, but it remembers where you stopped reading and goes there promptly. It allows you to look up an unfamiliar word without first hunting down a dictionary. It lets you read in bed without disturbing anyone who is sharing that space.
There are some types of content that are not suited to e-books – picture- or photo-heavy texts, for example. (Though I read National Geographic quite happily on my tablet.) But otherwise, the content of a book is still the content of that book, whether it’s ink on a page or pixels on a screen.
And for me, the e-book holds one overwhelming advantage – the very insubstantiality that others dislike. I now can carry with me, wherever I go, 300+ books. Even 3000, if I want to. To a person with a bad back, this is a godsend.