As you may have gathered from my comment on Jordan’s recent post, my disdain for e-Readers (the machines, not the people) burns with the heat of a thousand suns. Amazon’s ability to delete e-books without warning from it’s customers’ Kindles, as it did last year with two books by George Orwell (delicious irony!), is offensive to me. A friend in the book industry recently explained that a Kindle user can send a book to a friend. “It drops off your machine, and then when the specified time is up, it comes back to you, dropping off the friend’s device.” My friend, who loves the aesthetics of books but appreciates the usefulness of e-books for doing research, told me that Amazon is trying to create a “specter world of books and book experience.” The specter world is not one I want to be a part of yet. In fact, it’s the corporeality of books, the earthliness of them, that I love; their weight and texture and the smell of ink on paper.
I buy books not only to read myself, but also to share, and eventually to pass on to my daughter. Owning an Kindle or iPad, I would miss out on some of that. I would also miss the experience of browsing in a bookstore, getting drawn in by a provocative title or a blurb by a trusted voice, and perhaps stumbling on an unknown gem that will send my reading life down an unexpected path. Not only that, reading is one area of my life that I won’t have mediated by a backlit screen. I’m duly impressed by the technology that allows people to read books on their iPhone. But why is that even necessary? Here’s a rallying cry for a new generation of Luddites: “Smaller cellphones. Bigger books.”
And yet I can’t go as far as I want and put quotation marks around the “book” in e-book. History isn’t on my side there. The very word “book” is derived from an Old English word meaning beech – not as a reference to paper, but the beech tablets used more than a thousand years ago for record-keeping and inscriptions. There is always a messy transition from one medium to the next, as illustrated in the video below, from a Norwegian sketch comedy show (via Susan Isaacs). I remain stubbornly devoted to the printed word, but I recognize the broader culture may be going somewhere I can’t follow.