Lately, I’ve been toying with the idea of getting an e-reader. They’re not too expensive, they’re pretty cool looking and they make reading a lot more convenient, but I’m conflicted because I love books.
I don’t just love reading, I love books. Books are my favorite thing to collect, above even elephant-themed knick-knacks and high-end eyeshadow palettes. I like to buy them and read them and fill my shelves with them, and I’m afraid of a day when people (not me, of course, because I’m going to hoard my books until the day I die) won’t be able to do those things anymore.
Books came out of a long history of people figuring out ways to share their writing with the world. Before there were books there were scrolls, and before there were scrolls there were tablets, and before there were tablets there were big old rocks with things carved into them. I don’t know if big-old-rock-users were upset when tablets were invented, or if tablet-users were upset when scrolls were invented, or if scroll-users were upset when books were invented, but book-users sure are upset about e-readers being invented.
Everyone knows the reasons why books are in danger. People don’t read as much as they used to. New books are expensive. People like the extra functions e-readers can give them while they read (links to relevant places, dictionary definitions of words and the ability to highlight and note-take without having to grab a highlighter or a pen) and when it really comes down to it, downloading the story you want to read is a lot quicker—and cheaper—than going to the bookstore. We want our books the same way we want our music, and we all know how the music industry is faring.
It’s not like music and storytelling are going anywhere anytime soon; they’ll be around for as long as we are, but the forms we access them in are changing, and maybe not for the better. Digitalization is an amazing and terrifying process. Imagine what would happen if every last byte of our information was digitized, and then we somehow lost the ability to power our technology. We would lose everything. We’d be thrown into another dark age, and it would all be because no one thought to keep a written record on paper, just in case. (On the bright side, the trees would be saved for good when we forgot how to make paper or build houses or start fires.)
Dystopian scenarios of the future of the human race aside, I really just don’t want books to become a thing of the past.
I can see why records, cassette tapes and CDs went out of style; if you listened to them too much, they stopped working. But books don’t stop working. You can love a book for centuries and it will still be able to fulfill its purpose. Books get better with age, not worse; the spine cracks to make it easier to open, your favorite chapters are dog-eared, you’ve underlined the passages that made you feel the strongest, and maybe even made some comments here and there. When you pass it on to a family member or friend, or a person who you’ve never met before picks it up secondhand at a garage sale or an antique store, they will find your mark in it. They will not only experience the story of the book, but also the story that you and that book shared.
Books are antiques that never go out of style. I don’t think the same could ever be said for e-books.
I could try passing digitized books down to my grandchildren, but, “Grandma left us all of her e-books, so let’s copy the .pdfs to a main network and we can all download copies of them,” just doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as, “Grandma left us all of her books, so let’s go through them together. Wow, she wrote ‘March 1st, 2013’ in this one. That was eighty years ago! And look how many times she must have read it! She really must have loved this book.”
I’m sorry if I sound old-fashioned, but books are something I’m not ready for technology to replace. Buying an e-reader seems like a traitorous act when I think about it leading to a future without books. But honestly, whenever I have enough money lying around to drop on a Nook, I’ll probably get one, if only to save my books from the dangers of being read outside the comfort of my own home. The trick is, though, to keep buying real books too.
So for all the bookworms like me out there who aren’t sure how to deal with the dilemma of e-books versus books, here’s my two cents:
If there is a book you’re forced to buy or one you’re not too interested in, save your money and get the e-book. But if it’s a book you love, one you think you’ll read over and over for the rest of your life, buy a real copy. Spend the extra money and get a book you can leave your mark in for all the bookworms who’ll read it after you when your book becomes theirs.