a book or ebook?

I used to believe in the humble book. There was a time I was certain that nothing could come between us and our fistfuls of musky scented yellow pages; that undeniable sense of character imparted by time and the tender hands of countless companions. Somehow I was sure that no matter how technologically advanced we became, nothing could possibly replace an authentic and unassuming hard cover.

There’s something deeply romantic about the book; a physical collection of words and sentiments, whose compilation is tangible evidence that as a people, we have existed. Through the book we happily accept the love and laughter, tears and tragedies of others; a testament to the human condition. Then when we’re done, we pass it on so that those words that shook us might wake the senses of a new reader. In that moment when we hand it over, we send our own story wordlessly with it; an unspoken yet undeniable shared history that can be sensed in the margins of every page. The happy knowledge that the leaves you now turn have been caressed by some number of others, binding you with your humanity, like the linking fingers of a best friend.

I was wrong, of course. I have always been, above all else, embarrassingly naive. How green to imagine that while the rest of the world became increasingly clinical, disinterested in their brother and the intimacy of breathing someone else’s air that the defenceless book could survive. No one wants to own something that’s been handled by an unfamiliar other any more. We want to live apart. Possess our own things. Selfishly believe the world is ours; that we are the only one. Populations are booming, but even as we’re forced to dwell on top of one another, moving ever higher into an unconquered sky, we are slamming tight our shutters.

Needless to say, there will always be stories. We’re too governed by ego to let the story die; we see ourselves in every narrative and our sense of self importance is affirmed. But books and stories, those words that were once synonymous, are about to be broken apart. Driven by our need for efficiency, we can now download our own version of the texts we wish to read. These days we need not even leave the house. What a blow of cruel irony when the interwebs adopted the phrase connectivity.

Like so many things, it’s come to pass that every book you own can be uniquely yours; you read it once but do not pass it on. The pages are ever crisp and white; untarnished as a surgeon’s scalpel. But the romance is gone. In our hunger for perfection and instant gratification we have sliced off and slaughtered the glorious romance.

are books becoming kindle? like, literally?

It’s been estimated that within this decade, electronic books will have completely replaced commercially available paper publications. There are of course, many advantages to the electronic book. Affordability is one; for the time being, they are certainly cheaper. Owning an electronic reader also means you can have countless titles at your finger tips. Many people are also citing the environmental card, claiming that the e book is better for the environment. I’m not sure I buy this one. While I’ve done exactly no research on the subject, I can’t believe the process involved with constructing these little gadgets is particularly sparing on the fossil fuels.


What do you think about our move toward electronic books?

Have you taken the leap to e reader?

How do you feel about the humble hard cover being made redundant?


16 thoughts on “a book or ebook?

  1. I’m in two minds, here.

    I love books. I’m an English nerd, I’m a writer. I love the feel of paper between my fingers, the smell of old paper, the look of my dictionaries that are older than my parents (and I will buy older in time). I love the treasures found in second hand books — postcards left as bookmarks and forgotten, inscriptions to loved ones in inside covers, or someone’s scrawl for notes for an essay. The history of a book is beautiful. A book can experience more than most people can, with people bringing their own interpretations, their own histories, to be applied to the words on the pages.

    But, as someone said to me once, a good book is a good book. Be it paper or on the screen, if the author has written something worth reading, it is worth reading no matter the format.

    I am yet to convert to eBooks. My neighbour, a history buff and massive reader, recently did mainly because she travels 80% of the year with work, and toting books in her suitcase was too much. She loves the ability to read no matter where she is. And, to be honest, if I don’t get lucky, I’ll likely self publish, and self-publish in eBook format, where it is cheaper for me to do.

    Books will always have a place for me, but the stories are where it’s at.

    • I agree with all of the very sensible arguments you and others put forward for e books. If we could have both, that would be awesome. But news on the street is that the electronic book is going to replace the former variety in a complete sense.

      Maybe I’m just resisting change. Alright; I am definitely resisting change. I mainly always do, if I’m honest, and things usually work out alright regardless.

      But I’m having these post apocalyptic flashes where our kindles can’t even be used as such and literature is one again a luxury of the rich and powerful. That would be a sad thing with which to reckon.

  2. I said I would never do it (switch to an e-reader) because I’m in love with books in their physical form. The smell of the pages, the feel of something heavy & real in your hands, the way the pages crinkle and the rustling sound they make when you turn them, hungry for the words printed across the next page. I even love that feeling of anticipation you get when you’re searching every bookstore you can think of for one book; inevitably, they either don’t have it or they’re out of it and you end up searching everywhere else until finally (FINALLY!) you find it and it’s like being reunited with your best friend after a particularly long, torturous vacation. I would choose the real thing over an e-book any day.

    BUT. There’s always a but.

    My husband got me a Kindle for Christmas and to be perfectly honest, I love it. Not that I would have it replace the books sitting on my shelf that I adore…I hate the idea that they’ll one day be obsolete. But the idea of being able to consume any book I desire at the touch of a button…pretty compelling stuff. It saves me a little money & holds about 900 more books than my bookshelf does, all in one neat little package lol.

    It’s not the same as holding a book in my hands, but the words, I think, are what count more than anything. We may trade the hard cover and weighty feeling of a book for something thin and toylike. We may trade the homey, familiar smell of parchment for sleek design and reduce the beautiful clutter on our bookshelves, but the very same words that were printed on those pages have been preserved and as long as we can still read them, we can still connect with them. Of course, if I really like something I read on my Kindle, I tend to buy the hardback copy the same week, lol.

    • Yeah, I think I would do the same; if I liked the book on the e reader, I would want to know what it FELT like to read. : ) I feel very much as you do on this issue. I know that eventually I will get an e reader. Especially since in the last three months, while I’ve had a shortage of cash, I’ve read less than ever before in my life. Books are just too expensive for me at the moment and the library never has enough copies of anything popular; you have to reserve and wait and wait and wait…

      It’s the thoughts that one day fairly soon there will be no more books that upsets me. I also hope that the convenience of having books just a keystroke away means people are reading more, or at least as often. I’d hate to think the illusion of convenience converts into people feeling less motivated to pick up a book and read. Though I have no reason to fear this would be the case.

      I wonder if the old stories read on the e reader feel the same because we already had that connection with their hard copy parent? In years to come, when the only version comes as a download, I wonder if the story will carry as much weight? I sincerely hope so.


  3. I had a Kindle bought over from the US the other week, it’s still in the box. I bought it because I can’t access many books in English here, and while there is a second hand (third, sixth, eleventh hand) book sale twice a year, it’s not enough for me. I also bought it for the same reason above, travel. On planes I tend to read a few books, but paper weights quite a lot.

    That said, it’s also about that connection with a tale the challenges or affirms me, for that, I need paper, somewhere to write notes in the margins, something to crease and crack as more hands caress each page. I suppose that’s why my Kindle is still in its neat box for now, it’s more of a travel gadget for me, rather than a genuine replacement for that comforting feel of a book in my hand. It will be a shame when books are out-dated, but then again, we still have vinyls and horses, it’s not all mp3s and cars, not yet.

  4. Sorry to fly in the face of you young things – but from a man who has lived with the Luddites before….

    From a practical point of view, I love e-books (and by the way I have no problems reading your blogs on screen).

    E-books do not need trees, or production process or factories or transportation from factory to warehouse, and then into the town centres on lorries.

    I get e-books because they are quick, cheap and accessible.

    Being in the UK, I occasionally want to read an Australian book I have heard about (like Cloud Street) Could not get it locally at the book shop, but I could get it electronically.

    Sorry – paper books – like horses and carriages – romantic – but most people wont have the resources to own them or look after them soon enough.

    Get used to it guys.

    • The practical advantages to the electronic readers are certainly obvious.

      Perhaps you’re right, Glen.

      I’m reading ‘Requiem for a Species’ by Clive Hamilton at the moment (the paperback version; lol) and so I am feeling slightly flat about humanity’s imminent future. Let’s just hope that when life on earth as we know it smashes to a halt, we ordinary folk can still access reading material. x

  5. I think there is definitely a place for both. I love the convenience of my Kindle. I love being able to download free samples of most of the latest books I’m interested in.

    But so far the Kindle does not do a good job with pictures and diagrams and sometimes can’t even cope with endnotes. [I think this could be due to poor quality control in some instances.]

    I taught a student who downloads e-books from pirate sites, but if she likes the book, purchases a hard copy.

    I like the way the Kindle I own does not have easy internet access [apart from the Kindle store] and does not have distracting games and email.

    Encyclopedias and dictionaries are much better in electronic files, and are wonderfully accessible on a computer, but can be cumbersome and slow on an e-reader.

    It isn’t surprising that hard copy encyclopedias are being phased out, but I’d be surprised if books en masse disappeared.

    • Being able to access a sample is definitely an attractive draw card of the electronic reader; we rarely have the time to stop in the book shop and read a chapter to see if a book is worth purchasing.

      Some good food for thought here; thanks for adding these reflections. x

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