They say e-books are the wave of the future. Well, this reader would like to disagree.
Granted, they are more portable and lighter than books. As they become more popular, the title list expands rapidly. As Kindles and Nooks take over the planet, and iPads rule the land, more and more e-books are being sold. Print is dead. So say the pundits and youngsters.
Course, they been sayin’ this for years. Given the scarcity of resources, the cost of printing, the difficulty of getting books published these days unless it involves a celebrity, sleeping with a celebrity or really gruesome crimes (preferably involving a celebrity), among other reasons. And besides, print is so 19th century — why waste time reading a book when you can get all the information you need from the 24-minute evening news, or – better yet – scrolling through an Internet site with flashing graphics, guaranteed to take only 10 minutes out of your day?
I didn’t believe it then, and I don’t now. Not just yet, anyway. For one thing, according to my publisher friends, more books are being published (the old fashioned way) than ever before. No longer are writers at the mercy of an amorphous corporation passing judgment on their precious words. With self-publishing, on-demand publishing, and even Amazon and Google getting in on the act, we writers have more opportunities to put our words out there than ever before.
Those of us who view reading as more than just a way to gather information find the pictures words put into our heads more attractive than J.J. Abrams’ imagery; books are so much more than just printed words on a page conveying a message.
For me, books have always been companions, trusted friends I can turn to when the cold world outside is just too mean to take. Growing up as I did in a military family, the library was always the first place I’d find when moving to a new base. The kids and teachers changed regularly; Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” and Charles Dickens’ Scrooge never did. In a world constantly beset by change – often intense and sudden – a familiar face was always welcome.
Later, books became ways to learn about things I couldn’t experience first hand. I haven’t been to Australia, but reading the history of that continent, I can understand how hardy souls would be forged on a prison island.
Books were also a way to alleviate boredom. Back in the “old” days, there wasn’t 24-hour television programming. And there were very few programs that could be called “children’s shows.” There were always hours in the day unfilled with chores and homework, so reading kept me from going insane or taking part in sports games, which might have hurt my self esteem and turned me into a serial killer.
E-books do not convey the sense of familiarity and friendship the printed page does. There’s no page to turn, so no sense of accomplishment, especially when wading through a massive tome that’s — to be quite frank – really boring. That can be discouraging.
Printed books have a smell familiar to every reader. It’s an almost intangible odor of history and excitement and lives lived. It helps clear away the dull film caused by every day living, and opens the mind up to new places and people, and renews and refreshes a tired brain.
Sitting at a desk and turning on a computer just doesn’t do it for me. Besides, I spend all day at a computer, staring at words. Why would I – for fun – pick up a tiny screen at home and squint at little words after doing that all day? For those of us who spend our entire lives working at a computer, scrolling, inputting, searching – honestly, that’s the last thing I want to do in my “leisure” time. If I stare at a screen, I want Sean Connery on it.
Books are convenient, for the most part. When I was driving children to doctors and practices and school, there was always down time. I could throw a book into my purse or stuff a paperback into my pocket and pull it out, open up to where I’d stopped, and read until interrupted. Then I just put a bookmark in, close the book and get on my way.
And though there are now amazing devices that eliminate the need for a bulky, slow computer, there’s still the need for charging and powering up and all that nonsense. By the time you’ve gotten your Kindle warmed up and found the page you were on, I’ve already read two chapters in my “analog” paperback.
The idea of snuggling on the couch on a cold night — with a fire roaring, the dog sleeping on my feet, and a good, solid printed book in my hands — is pure heaven to me. It reminds me I have a life and mind beyond the office, that my brain is still working on something besides groundwater assessments and grammar checking and other people’s resumes. It gives me life beyond the office, and gives me ideas to use in the office.
My children and I had a tradition long ago – whenever there were two of us in the car waiting for another, we’d get a book and read it out loud. We took turns choosing books, and kept reading, even as one or the other would leave and return. They’d pick up the back-story through whispered comments from a sibling or by context. We would huddle over the book, take turns with the pages and the reading. It gave us a sense of bonding leaning over a screen would not have. And it gave us a sense of the past – our history as human beings –a blinking cursor cannot.
We did the same thing during power outages – a flashlight, blankets, and the five of us huddled together on a couch, forgetting the darkness, the cold, the storm outside – caught up in the adventures of Charlie and Willie Wonka, or crying over Lad the dog. It forged a bond and closeness that remains to this day.
So let the young folks have their Internet news and e-books. My house will continue to be a repository for all the printed books I can lay my hands on. Just don’t light a match, okay?