Monday, December 31, 2012

Books and EBooks

Kathleen Parker has become the latest to bemoan the rise of electronic media over print. Like many, she has a sentimental attachment to ink on paper.

Paper, because it is real, provides an organic connection to our natural world: The tree from whence the paper came; the sun, water and soil that nourished the tree. By contrast, a digital device is alien, man-made, hard and cold to human flesh.

Yes, paper is organic although books are printed on paper that is mostly cotton, not wood fiber. Raising cotton stresses the environment. So does ink. I keep my ebook in a nice cover that feels like real leather and is much nicer than a glossy paperback cover and has much less impact on the environment.

Parker believes that real paper adds to the reading experience.
One can read "One Hundred Years of Solitude" on a Kindle or an iPad, but one cannot see, hear, feel and smell the story in the same way. I'm unlikely to race to the sofa, there to nuzzle an electronic gizmo, with the same anticipation as with a book. Or to the hammock with the same relish I would with a new magazine. Somehow, napping with a gadget blinking notice of its dwindling power doesn't hold the same appeal as falling asleep in the hammock with your paperback opened to where you dozed off.
I read One Hundred Years of Solitude from a paperback. I don't remember much about the texture or smell of that particular book but around that time many science fiction books were printed using a very low-cost method. The pages smelled bad and often came loose from the binding as I read. Sometimes it was a single page that came out. Sometimes it was a whole section. Yes, it did add to the sensory experience but not in a good way.

My wife still mainly reads printed books. When she falls asleep with one she loses her place. That doesn't happen with my ebooks.

As I have said before, the important thing to me is the content. I don't read because I love fondling pieces of paper. I want the easiest access to the actual words. Right now I am alternating between a novel and a non-fiction history of Marvel Comics. I have both on a 7" tablet (a Nook Color) and I can switch between them painlessly. If I was reading the printed editions I would be carrying two books around, one of them a heavy hardback or trade. And I can read them in a larger font on a brighter surface than a printed book. If I find myself waiting at the doctor's I can use my phone to pick up reading either one without losing my place.

Another important factor is availability. Parker mentions One Hundred Years of Solitude which was written around 40 years ago. How many other books from that period are still in print? And how hard is it to find them? There are several writers from early 20th century whose works I like but are not in print. Sometimes they are available through the library. Many of these are available for free through Project Gutenberg. I've read several novels that way and availability will only become easier as more books are converted to electronic format.

It doesn't matter how nice the feel of a book is if you can't get a hold of it. Conversely, if I hear of a book I can start reading it in minutes electronically.

There is nothing special about paper. It was the only technology available for centuries. Now other options exist.

Get used to it.

1 comment:

Liz Evans-Gist said...

I think the amount that I read last year doubled compared to the year before, purely because I had a Kindle.

I get most of my reading done on the train, and since I'm usually carrying around a netbook as well, carrying a book can get pretty heavy. Considering some of the books that I read this year were brand new, only available in hardback and over 500 pages, I don't think I ever would have gotten through them if I'd been carting a printed version around.

There have also been several books that I've wandered away from because they're a very niche sort of content, then come back to them when I'm in the mood. I don't know when I'll be in the mood for them, and ADD makes it hard to break the morning patterns long enough to figure out where I'd stashed them, so I probably wouldn't have finished them either.

Cath and I even swapped Kindles at one point when each of us wanted to read something on the other's.