Monday, February 22, 2010

On a World Without Book Shelves

Are you on the digital book bandwagon?

A group of us were talking about it at lunch today, and several of my friends are convinced that the advent of the Kindle and all of the other digital reading devices is the beginning of the end of real live books. And they weren't upset about it. They thought it was fine; in fact, one friend was convinced that he would read more if he had one. I'm going to be honest with you - the thought fills me with pain. No more books? No more pages to turn? No more dust jackets? No more bookcases filled with books? Could that really be the direction that we're headed?

I just really can't believe it, and yet these aren't crazy people that I was talking with. They're smart folks, and they pointed to the demise of floppy disks, records, giant personal computers, CDs. Maybe books are just following the same path. But isn't there something different about books? Something about the way they feel in your hands? The way they smell? The way you can leaf through one absentmindedly? The way the edges look on a book that you've read over and over again?

Am I crazy here?*

One person mentioned the environmental impacts of books. Listen, I'm an environmentalist, a tree hugger. I love the environment. But can we lay off the book concerns until nobody's driving hummers anymore, please? Pretty please? I carry fabric bags to the grocery store, I buy as much of my food at the local farmers market as possible, I don't own a car, I use the swirly light bulbs, we keep the heat low in the winter and the air down in the summer, I use reusable sandwich bags. Please please please do not make me worry about the environmental impact of the books that I so love. Don't get me wrong - I adore the library. Borrowing books is great, and we might all try to do more of that. But I love the books on my shelves.

One final note - I don't deny the appeal of these digital books. I like fancy electronics. I love my netbook. I pine for an iphone. I'd love to have a swanky kindle to carry with me on long plane rides, if only because it's neat.** But I just can't stomach the thought that these things will take the place of Real Live Books.

I'm thinking of starting a book sanctuary, where all the orphan books will be loved and nurtured.

*The babe would be too cause she's totally with me on this one.
**I want to also point out that I think these things might cause premature blindness.


Virgin In The Volcano said...

I love books too, but don't you think there's a place for both e-books and paper copies? I love the convenience factor of carrying hundreds of titles on a single machine. But I do prefer reading without a blinding electronic screen and there are some books that I'll always want a hard copy of--especially my favorites that have been signed and inscribed by authors (and as much as CDs have fallen victim to iTunes, people still buy copies to have signed by favorite bands). Also, e-readers are still relatively expensive and therefore exclusive to middle and upper-class income brackets. Can you see libraries refusing to loan titles to people who don't own $300 electronic devices? And while it's possible to watch movies online, for free even at some sites, I still see people checking out a dozen DVDs at a time at the local library. I guess I'm trying to say that I'm not worried. The publishing market will change but will not disappear. I care that I can read good stories; the format I read them on is largely irrelevant. And I think that at least for the foreseeable future, consumers will have both electronic and paper options.

(In)Sanity Gal said...

Virgin, it's possible that I'm being a little sensationalist, and you're right - there must be a place for both the paper books and the digital ones. I mean, there has to be because I can't afford a kindle, and I don't actually know anyone who has one. But I guess the thought of it just makes me nervous - even if it's 50 years from now. Several people did make the point that digital books allow less-known authors to get their books out there - sort of like what itunes has done for lesser-known musicians.

Erin said...

daughter of a librarian, here. the kindle makes me worry. i love books. the heft. hearing the pages turn. even the smell. with the kindle you lose all that. that makes me sad.

my fiance's mom received a kindle last christmas, and she loves it. it lighter than the big mystery books she normally reads, so she can take it on trips easier. she likes how the screen adjusts to the light you are in.

i think the most important aspect of a book for me is that it is NOT on an electronic screen. i spend a lot of my day looking at a computer, and i like how the book lets me "rest my eyes" while still doing something fun.

Snuffleupagus said...

Let me be sensationalist in the other direction.

Books are obsolete. Will they always exist? of course they will. Even records still exist, and books have significantly more tangible benefits than records. First and foremost, they don't require electricity. But their primary purpose is to convey words to a reader. In that function, they have been replaced.

I'm going to through out a loaded word, please no one take offense. But the defenses of books that I hear from book lovers all sound pretty elitist to me. You love the turn of the pages and smell of the book because you are a *reader*. Most people aren't. You have an attachment to books. Most people don't. But, the ebook doesn't threaten your book. The Kindle police aren't going to come take your books away. It sounds like the concerns are that ebooks will take away the 'specialness' of books. That making them electronic somehow 'lessens' them.

But, from everything I've read about electronic books they seem to have one primary benefit: they get people to read more. Lots more. People who might not otherwise read much, people who used to read, people who read sometimes. In this way it seems like people who really love and appreciate books feel like they belong to a special group of people. People who 'get it' about books. It seems to me that the primary effect of ebooks is to make more reading available to more people without taking anything away. I get that you want everyone to experience books the way you do. But, I don't get feeling such an attachment to that, that you'd rather a world with less reading than a world with more reading. Even if that increased reading isn't in the right format.

I'll confess that maybe reading more with a Kindle is not logical. It has been pointed out that a kindle is really no easier to carry than a small book. But, a kindle is far more versatile. Not just as a book, but as a wifi capable device. And regardless of 'reasoning' all Kindle owners I've read about say they read more now than ever.

I think book lovers should celebrate the ebook world. It would be far worse for books to lose market share to portable televisions and game players, than it would be for physical books to lose market share to electronic books, would it not?

quick on the screens: I think that a ton of research and tech work has been done in this arena. A Kindle screen is nothing like a laptop or iphone screen. And this will only continue to get better. I suspect it will only be a few years before you won't be able to tell the difference between a printed page and an ereader screen.

(In)Sanity Gal said...

You make some really good points, and perhaps I and other book lovers are elitist. In fact, I would say for sure (not necessarily with pride) that I'm somewhat elitist about a lot of things, although I don't think that I want to create a special club of book lovers. In fact, the opposite - I'd love it if everyone loved books and reading. I'm wondering if the Kindle really going to open reading up to the masses? I mean, is the reason that people don't read because books are too hard to come by or too heavy to carry around? There are books stores all over the place. And for those who might not be able to afford lots of books, there are tons of really great libraries. And if affordability is an issue, then how would the kindle help anyway. Most people don't have the discretionary income to spend on them. After reading my post again and the comments, it's clear that I've got some deeper feelings about a movement away from things that we hold and touch in general and towards things that we see on a screen. And maybe there is nothing inherently wrong with things being digital - obviously there are lots of conveniences, and I love my little netbook and the convenience of things like on-line shopping. But at the same time, I miss the tactile sensations. I love to craft, and it's easy to buy fabrics and stuff on-line, but lots of the regular fabric stores have closed now. So I have to drive a ways to get to a fabric store where I can touch the things I'm buying. Obviously I'm not talking about books here but about an appreciation for the sensations that I enjoy when I can have a tactile relationship with things like books (or fabric).

the babe said...

Well said snuffleupagus. before i read your post, i was definitely with insanity gal on this (as you can see from the asterisk). but in the end, if something really is getting more people to read then it is definitely a good thing. of course, i hope it isn't the only thing.

i still very much love books, and like erin, i seek out books as an escape from technology. so the idea of books disappearing is still disturbing to me. i like reading, but i'm not into the feel and smell of the page type thing. for me it's more about not relying on technology/plugs/batteries for something in life.

the prohibitive cost of a kindle and required fluency with technology mean that it is only available to a small percentage of people. It will get cheaper and more people will buy them and it will probably help authors like iTunes has helped musicians. but will you ever be able to rent a kindle for free? i doubt it.

and what will put on book shelves?

Snuffleupagus said...

Yeah, I tend to agree with all the sentiments you express. I can't really say that it makes sense for ebooks to result in more reading. I'm just saying that from what I've heard, it seems that it does. It's entirely possible that it's a temporary effect based on the novelty or the cost of the device. If you pay $300 for something, you are probably going to go out of your way to use it. It's possible the Kindles go the way of the nordic track as people realize that it doesn't really change their longterm reading patters.

I don't feel strongly one way or the other. But, I tend to be skeptical the ebooks threaten to increase a reliance on technology, or distance us from the tactile. I guess, as I expressed, I feel that ebooks are a chance to keep reading relevant in world that will continue to be more and more dominated by television and video games. If a Kindle helps compete with a gameboy for my (future) child's attention, more power to it.

(In)Sanity Gal said...

Point well made about the gameboy - I'm with you there.

And thank you for bringing it around to the nordic track. great memories... :)

GW3L said...

I love real books. But not new ones. Ones that other people have read. With dogeared pages. Wrinkles. Tears. Even stains. It's like a connection to other people. Someone else has been there. Someone else has read those words, thought similar thoughts. It's connecting with other people while being taken on a trip to a fictional land far, far away from law school. I may someday have an E-Reader (if I ever get a start date), but I will never abandon the love for the real feel and smell and connection of a printed book.

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