ARE YOU AN EBOOKER? OR A REAL BOOK PERSON?
Why do you hate the eBook? so many people would ask. You love reading yes? You can have a million books in the palm of your hand!
I have to admit, I was very anti-eBook when eReading devices were first springing up years ago. But after a while, I got around to buying a Kobo (mini).
Yes, it’s true. Like the TARDIS, I can fit as many books as I like into my little eReader.
The best thing about it is just that – its tiny-ness. It fits, all snug, into my bag and hardly takes up any room. A far cry from the days of before when I would struggle to stuff thick or heavy books into my bag or when I would buy a bigger bag just so I could fit my book into it.
Other eBook positives for me include the in-built dictionary (though the Kobo one leaves much to be desired) and the ability to search digitally. And of course, cross-device syncing – I can read my Kobo at home, and then head out with only my phone and keys and continue reading.
And yet, despite all these perks, I’ve grown absolutely tired of my eReader. Something is stirring within me – the need for a paperback, a real book. I can’t stand being “trapped” inside that digital thing any longer.
Why would you go back? everyone remarks. It’s more convenient and cheaper with an eReader, and you can download an eBook and start reading it instantly!
And besides, it’s not like the words are different. Reading an eBook is exactly the same!
But it’s really not.
Scouring through endless rows and shelves of books at Powell’s City of Books in Portland the other day (my husband had left me for an hour, and I was pretty much high on book ecstasy), I’d almost forgotten what it was like to have a real book, with real, tangible pages in hand.
There’s some kind of magic that happens when you first open the cover of a real book and begin reading. When you turn or flick – not swipe or tap or press a button – through to that first page and see it before you, words and all. There’s a deep, subtle sense that a real journey is beginning. That you’re diving in.
Touch is important, too. With real books, you can sense their weight in your hands and run your fingers over the texture of their pages.
Different books, prints and editions have covers with different textures as well – some are matte, some are glossy, some are embossed, others are made of fabric. And each adds to your experience of the book.
There’s also a kind of deep satisfaction that happens when you read a real book. You dog-ear the pages, crease the spine, bend the cover accidentally, spill things all over it and (as I’ve done many times) drop it in the bathtub.
In a way, the book becomes yours and yours alone – there’s a unity found, a uniqueness. It’s not a small device, one of convenience. A book is a possession, and it possesses you.
I know what you’re thinking – that I’m missing the whole point. That the raison d’être is the words, the story. And of course the words are all the same – print, eBook, it doesn’t matter. Right?
But the physical experience of books is important, too. It shouldn’t be done away with or simply ignored.
I’m overwhelmed by nostalgia when I see real books from my past. The hardcover edition of Enid Blyton’s The Strange Umbrella sends me back to a childhood time that feels like a dream, and I spent many a week hunting down the same version of John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat that I used to own as a kid.
Yes, I know I could’ve bought those books on an eReader. I could’ve read them digitally. But it just wouldn’t have been the same. It wouldn’t have been as magical or as rewarding. It wouldn’t have felt like I was holding something to be treasured in my hand (and yes, books should be treasured).
I know something else that you’re thinking, too – that I’m just a victim of the times.
Like old men who still love to buy and read the actual newspaper rather than looking it up online. It’s just because you grew up before eReaders, I hear you say.
But are we really just screaming towards a purely digital future, where the experience of all books will just be via a tablet? Will future childhood memories be saturated with quips like, I remember my mother reading that to me on my first eReader!
And if so, what of real children’s books, the ones with fuzzy, furry things to touch and thick, cardboard pages to turn and plastic ones that are good for the bath?
We’ll all grow out of that, someone whispers in my ear. That stuff’s for kids. Adults don’t need real books.
But don’t they?
After all, it’s one thing to watch a recording of a Shakespearean play. You get the same scenes, the same words, the same story, don’t you? But it’s another to actually sit in the stalls and watch it all unfold, in the flesh, before you.
There is something to be said about going to a real bookstore, as opposed to just sitting on your butt, downloading a book and having it appear before you. I know there’s enchantment in a bookshop that has real books. Every single person that goes to a bookshop and walks among the shelves knows it, too.
It’s there, in those moments when you first pull a book off the shelf, and feel it in your hands, and open it to that first page.
When it becomes yours, bent corners and all.
When the story unfolds before you with each, physical turn, with the literal feel of the words on the page, the pages between your fingertips.
I know there are people out there who just don’t get it. Who don’t value the tangibility of a book, who find no sense of the sensual in picking one up and turning its pages. Who perhaps don’t own any real books or don’t remember what it was like to hold a book as a child. Who just, in a sense, write the whole ‘book thing’ off.
But please – the next time you are out, just try it. Ditch your device for an instant and walk into a real bookstore. Walk through the shelves, find something, pull it off the shelf.
It might not be magical straight away, but I promise you will find something in there. A sliver of enchantment, perhaps. A tangibility that you’d perhaps forgotten. A bookish adventure, with real, turning pages and a delightful thickness that can rest, forever, in your hands.
(Image courtesy of adamr, koratmember, dan, winnond, Surachai at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)