Whenever I go into Barnes and Noble, the Nook salesperson takes me for an easy mark. I have glasses, I’m overweight, I look smart. Hell, I’m in a bookstore. I’m probably a reader.
They always start with the same line: “Have you heard about the new Nook?” as if they’re spreading some electronic gospel to save our souls. I always respond in the same way. I put my two index fingers up in the figure of a cross as if I’m warding off vampires. This puzzles them.
That’s usually the end of the conversation since they can tell from my reaction that I’m probably not going to buy a Nook, or a Kindle, or whatever the new flavor or e-reader is for the week. But sometimes the salesperson persists. He tells me how much more efficient an e-reader is, how sleek, how weightless. He tells me that I can store thousands of books on that slim little calculator-shaped tool of the devil. He tries to tell me that the printed word as we know it is dying a slow, yet inevitable, death.
Actually, he never says that last part, but that’s what I hear. I love my books. I love the feel and smell of paper, the heft of a hardback on my lap, the ability to flip back to a page I loved or marked or dogeared. You can’t dogear a Nook page.
My logical brain insists that e-books are great. They open up publishing to so many more people…I mean, if you don’t have to convince a publisher to spend lots of money on paper and print and distribution, wouldn’t that mean that publishing a book is less of a risk? And therefore, wouldn’t publishers be more inclined to offer more and more titles? Yes, it seems. Writers who couldn’t get publishing contracts under the old system may find that those books an agent “really liked but couldn’t sell in this tough market” may be viable suddenly. Wouldn’t this open up opportunities for the quirky, the off-beat, the writers who don’t follow the formula?
I guess that could be true. Yet still I resist. I’ve been trying to figure out why. I think maybe it has something to do with the difference between vinyl records and digital downloads in music. I remember when I used to buy records. Albums. I’d get a new one and treasure it, read the liner notes, listen to tracks over and over again to dig for deeper meaning. I had a big collection of LPs that stood in a row like old friends.
With digital downloads, things are so different. I can download a song immediately, listen to it a couple of times, discard it if I want to. I have nothing to hold, nothing to tuck away, nothing to remind me that it’s there waiting for me to pick it up again.
This is probably why I have such an attachment to old-fashioned paper books. The physical presence of a book is like the physical presence of a friend. Sharing physical space and seeing them face to face (books or friends) is different than email or e-reading. We are creatures of the physical world, but increasingly our lives are being lived in pixels. There are no real records of our words or deeds. Small bits of electronic data accumulate, and in their vastness, become meaningless. Our whole existence revolves around this premise more and more: online social media, online schools, online cameras, online credit card transactions, online ordering of food, online prayer groups. If we wanted to, we could stop having real physical human interaction at all, except maybe for the UPS guy.
I’m not a luddite. I have a laptop. I’m blogging! I have books published in e-book format. I use the internet compulsively, checking more times than I’d care to admit every day to see if any new email has come in. But I wonder if we’re losing something with all this convenience.
And if the space aliens take out our power grid, I sure as hell want to have a paper copy of my favorite books to read by candlelight.
What are your feelings on e-readers? Heavenly or hellish?