Will the eBook Damage the Experience of Reading?
Like anyone who grew up reading by flashlight after bedtime, who travels with a book in her purse at all times, and whose idea of a beach read is Great Expectations, the emergence of ebooks and tablet readers has sent me into a tizzy of ambivalence. All the arguments for and against have been made– they get more people reading by making books cheaper and more accessible, they don’t destroy trees, and yet no matter how close the simulation, reading a computer screen doesn’t evoke the familiar excitement of reading ink on paper or smelling musty pages. Is it worth being able to buy more books for less money or to read thousand page tomes on the subway without elbowing your neighbors, if it also means giving up the pleasure of browsing a bookstore?
Of course buying a tablet doesn’t force you to forever relinquish all old-fashioned book reading. And physical books will continue to be sold for at least a little while to come. But with the booming popularity of ebooks (USA Today reported this month that ebook sales have for the first time exceeded paperback sales) comes a very intriguing question: what makes a book a book? And even more intriguing, what is it about books that we value?
Obviously, a book is more than the sum of its parts. Books give us information, escape, a vision into a world we don’t belong to, a mirror of the world we do. They prescribe remedies, persuade us to see the world differently, or convince us that our opinions are right. No matter what form it’s housed in, a book will still do these things.
But can’t blogs do the same for us? Online writing (ahem) can be equally persuasive, moving, or liberating. Additionally, by reading online, you’re immediately joined to a whole community of readers sharing the same experience. Ebook applications like Kindle and Nook have large community forums that can provide us with that same network.
What’s happening now is a blurring of boundaries. The lines between a physical book and a virtual file are rapidly fading, and even bookstores are becoming increasingly linked to their online counterparts. Clearly, I’m not running from technology or the virtual writing world. But here’s why I haven’t bought a tablet: I love the aesthetic of books. I love that smell, I love the lines of colorful spines on a shelf, I love pulling a book in front of my face and shutting out the world. To be honest, more often than not, I don’t want a community when I read. I like that reading is solitary and personal. I’ve spent my whole life in love with books; at twelve, I volunteered at the library, at fifteen, I began working at an independent bookstore, and now I’m an assistant to a literary agent. I’ve spent my whole life reading and writing and hoping to one day hold in my hand a book, printed and bound, with my name on the cover.
But if the next generation grows up reading past bedtime by the glow of an iPad… well, I hope that their books will hold the same power.
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