I’ve long begrudged the rising popularity of eBooks and e-Readers and have struggled with the exact reason why they evoke such a visceral reaction in me. For some time I’ve tried to explain it away with simply a love of print books or the desire to see my work in print, but it wasn’t until I stumbled upon this article, The Objects of Our Obsession: On the E vs. P Debate, that it suddenly hit me. An epiphany if you will. First and foremost, I greatly appreciate the many benefits of e-readers, such as their convenience for travel and that they make it easier for people like my grandma to continue reading books even though she needs larger font and can no longer hold a thick book comfortably due to arthritis. Bravo for those things and for the lack of dead trees required in the process of getting the books to consumers. (I have mixed feelings about the new age of publishing in which anyone can publish their novel as an e-book, but that's a different rant.)
Something that I’ve always understood about my dislike for e-readers is the missing sensory experience. It’s like eating pizza without black olives. You may not agree, but I think eating pizza without black olives is like eating greasy cardboard. Add black olives and it gains a burst of bright new flavor, turning it into a more engaging dining experience. Yum! Reading a paper book is similarly more engaging than reading an e-book. You get the tactile experience of feeling the paper between your fingers, the rustle of the pages turning, and the smell of ink and paper brought together in blissful harmony (or something like that). You get a full sensory experience beyond just the text you’re reading and I love that, but the lack of all that isn’t what really gets to me.
I think there is an amazing social experience that is becoming lost with the advent of e-readers. One of my favorite things about going to a friend’s house for the first time is seeing what books they have on their shelves. You can learn a lot about people from their books (and the creepy assassin armor they wear). A person's book collection is a great way to start up myriad conversations, comparing notes on books you’ve both read or discussing books you haven’t read that might interest you. It really is an immersive social experience and no, I don’t think sites like Goodreads can take the place of that. Seriously folks, we need to have a little in person interaction occasionally (also a different rant), which leads me to my next complaint.
I’ll admit that it’s cool being able download hundreds of books on your e-reader and have them waiting in queue for you (not that I ever expect to catch up with the print pile I have already). Shopping that way also saves you from the burden of leaving your self-inflicted isolation and actually interacting with real people in a real store (yes, that was sarcastic). However, in a world bursting with technology, reading a print book strikes me as a delicious way to escape the constant hum of electronics and the ever-present screens that fill our lives. It is a totally disconnected experience. I love that.
I know I’m dragging my feet on something that is inevitable and I too will probably have an e-reader someday, but not yet. Right now, I’d rather be Luddite as far as reading goes. I write my books on a screen. I prefer to read them on paper, thank you very much.
Have you embraced the e-reading age? Why or why not?