Suck It, eBooks; I’m Keeping It Real

I’ll be the first to admit it: I have a love affair with books. Not the next iteration of their evolution, ebooks, but the real deal; the true printed word.

I’ve consumed books with a great zeal ever since I learned to read. Yes, I was the odd child in the gifted and talented classes who was reading at the collegiate level in the seventh grade. Engrossed in thick, thousand-page fantasy and sci-fi novels is how I’ve enjoyed spending my free time for nearly three decades now.

I love the tactile experience of books. The thump of your hands when you clasp a hardcover. The jagged, offset page edges some publishers use to embellish their titles. The clean smell of the paper. The colored threads at the base of hardback’s spine. The subtleties of the fonts and typefaces; a bonus if the publisher gives you a short soliloquy about the ones they chose after the author information at the back.

The entire process of picking up a book, thumbing to either the very first page or wherever you left off, and paying homage to your collection when you’re through is a wonderful experience to me. I continue to entertain the fantasy of someday owning a true library, all decked out with hardwood shelves, a leather chair, thick rugs, and those wheeled ladders to reach the taller stacks.

While I’m a full-fledged convert to digital music and have never looked back since the arrival of the MP3, I find I have great hesitation when it comes to ebooks and their ilk. There’s just something distant and cold in the act of “paging” through a text on a Kindle, and the crystalline, candy-like display on the iPad is just ripe for distraction (“Call me Ishmael…”; say, what’s happening on Twitter?). There’s no satisfaction to me in lending, returning to, or passing down a treasured text in digital format. These stories, treatises, and essays are art forms that deserve the sanctity of physical dimensions.

Rest assured, I’m no literature luddite; I’m fully enthralled with Twitter and the information streams in social media, and I do see the promises and opportunities inherit in the ebook format. I’m certainly not one to advocate against an ebook format simply because I won’t use it; you have to give the users what they want.

Nonetheless, I have no fear saying today that, as far as I’m concerned, ebooks can suck it. When it comes to settling down with a riveting dungeon crawl, an essay on astronomy, or Norse mythology, I prefer to keep it real.

Photo: The gorgeous stack of texts I received on Christmas 2010: two treatises on psychology, four sci-fi novels (three of which I’ve finished as of this post), one essay on the demotion of Pluto to dwarf planet status, and a Dungeons & Dragons strategy guide. Oh, and some polyhedral dice, just for good measure.

  • Alyssa

    A word in defense of the ebook.

    I share your love affair and passion for the written, printed word. I, too, have spent hours devouring novels throughout childhood, school years, and adulthood. I also started my first full-length written masterpiece at age 9, but that’s another story. I’ve never lost the joy and exhilaration of the first whiff of the delicious scent of a brand new book, and I still forget what I came to the mall for in the first place when I walk past a Barnes & Noble.

    That being said, I was a total skeptic when I received a Kindle for Christmas two years ago. I never would have bought one for myself. So, upon giving it a try, I found several instances when I would prefer a Kindle to a printed novel.

    First, airplanes, subways, and car rides. When in transit, you’ll never drop your book, or lose your page marker. Your carry-on luggage stays light even if you carry 5,000 books with you. Not satisfied with the book you are in the middle of? No problem, just buy another while waiting to board your delayed flight.

    Second, free libraries at the tough of a search engine. Faster than wandering through an immense physical space, just Google free ebooks. Voila!

    Third, the sheer weight of the printed word. I’m not currently a student, but when I was in college I had to purchase and carry to and from class the Complete Works of William Shakespeare (unabridged). It probably weighed an unnacceptable percentage of my body weight and that was only for one class.

    While my Kindle does not replace at all my printed library, I now recognize there are many instances when an ebook will do. For instance, light pleasure reading, quick reads, or books that I do not think I will want to read again. However, for those special, exciting reading experiences, I will still make a special trip to the online store and purchase a printed novel. And then probably lend it to my mom.

    • Luddy Duddy Study Buddy

      “A word in defense of the ebook”

      Your posting was already “TL;DR” for the average e-book reader (the person reading it, not the device itself). It had too many words and was well thought out. Not too appealing for the average ebook “author” either. I couldn’t bear much more than a couple pages of Hocking or Konrath’s crap.

      And now for something completely different. Airplanes? You can’t read an e-book or use digital devices of any sort on airplanes. Alec Baldwin might beg to differ, but the rules still apply. Subways — we’re talking urban areas here, and if I were you I wouldn’t bring a $200+ electronic device on a mode of transportation where it’s highly possible you’ll get mugged and have your Kindle stolen. And car rides — unless you’re one of the very few fortunate who don’t get motion sickness while reading in automobile transit, doing so has actually been advised against by numerous physicians and even auto safety experts.

      I personally am discouraged by that next-to-last sentence — “I will still make a special trip to the online store and purchase a printed novel” — because I would rather that there still remain brick and mortar stores to browse in, to walk around and just lose yourself in the realm of the stacked shelves. Besides, bookstores are for more than just buying books — they host events, too, like guest readers, writer’s workshops, even bake sales — none of which could ever be replicated adequately by a Skype conference or online forum. I NEVER buy books on Amazon; I never have and never will. I do buy other things, but only on occasion, and even then it’s usually only in case of emergency (like if the microwave dies on a major U.S. national holiday and there are no physical stores open to buy a new one). As annoying as the service reps in-store are, I realize internally that they’re just doing their job, and need to access customers because more so than not, they either work on commission or get marginal bonuses for good sales. It is not a job I would be good at, because I am far too introverted and not a Willy Loman type at all (more like a Burgess Meredith type — hopefully there’s someone who gets the reference beyond the Family Guy sketch). But shopping online takes jobs away from in-store associates and swaps them for $2/hr database fillers and unintelligible phone support in Turbanistan.

      I do not own an e-reader or tablet PC and have no intent of owning one either. The only books I read anyway are older titles, usually by established authors (Grisham, Patterson, Grafton, etc.), or ones recommended word-of-mouth (not word of mouse). By the time Grisham et. al. are ghosts of authors past, probably all books will be e-books — but with the quality of new releases being roughly on par with Hollywood’s abysmal offerings, I won’t have any need of an e-reader anyway because I won’t be bothering with the next iteration of Dim Bulbs at Twilight or Fifty Shades to Beat Your Lover. Amazon can go cut itself like some pathetic fourteen-year-old hemophiliac Cullen groupie and I won’t be there to hear it or care.

      Jonathan Franzen for the win.