Books have weight. Boy, does that ever come into sharp focus when you have to move a few thousand of them…

It’s been a while since I’ve read a manifesto from the latest fanboy burning their books in favour of a new Kindle or Kobo, and ceremoniously (or unceremoniously) sledgehammering their bookshelves down off their walls. We’ve seemed to hit some sort of equilibrium, or perhaps an uneasy truce. In any case, it doesn’t seem that the Kindle is going to strike the coup de grace against books anytime soon.

I’ve always been skeptical of the ebook revolution. 10,000 books in the palm of your hand is hard to resist, I’ll give you that. Until you actually get it in your palm. I’ve never much liked electronic readers. I’ve borrowed my son’s Kobo a few times to try it out, and I’ve got both the Kobo and the Kindle apps on my iPad. I do like the portability, and if this was back in my heavy travelling days, I’d be drawn to the fact that I wouldn’t have to carry 8-10 books in my backpack, stocked up like a literary camel between far-flung English bookshop oases. On the other hand, I’ve never worried about someone sitting on my paperback if I put it down to do up my sons’ skates…

For me, the delivery system (that is to say, a book versus an electronic device) affects the reading, which in turn affects the enjoyment. I don’t get as immersed in ebooks for some reason. Perhaps part of that is the fact that I have it balanced in my left hand with my right hand hovering and swiping every few seconds like a trapped hummingbird bouncing off glass. It’s not what you’d call… relaxing.

Recently, I’ve been moving literally a lifetime of books – thousands of books of all descriptions. Contemporary novels, spy classics, firsthand accounts from WWI and WWII, coffee table books, encyclopedias, history books, science books, art books, biographies, text books from the 50s and 60s, Far Side comics. Some are fairly valuable. Some are falling apart and have no value at all. At least not monetary. Every book was loved though, to some extent, either on its own merits or as part of a collection.

Moving all these books on a Kobo would be much easier, for sure. But where would the emotional connection be? Where would be the tactile, the smell of the pages, the muffled clap when you close it? All of these things would be gone.

Books and reading are different. Lovers of reading, perhaps, can happily while away the hours with a Kobo in hand. But for lovers of books, the sensation and experience is much different. I know that puts me at risk of sounding like a Luddite, but I’m not saying that ebooks are evil. Far from it. They have their place. I remember wasting hours in university scanning back to all the books I skimmed as research for an essay, trying to find that one passage that, at the time, I didn’t realize was perfect. Now, I would just enter a few keywords and boom, within seconds I’d be able to locate it.

eBooks may have their place, but not in my heart. Writing is (usually) about emotions, and books I think are perfect containers for writing because it helps that emotional connection in a way that bits and bytes will never achieve. It kills me to part with the ones I have to part with, and yet it kills me to store the ones I just can’t let go. Flipping through, sorting, boxing — every single book tears free another fresh emotion.

Lo verily, I will never feel that way about an ebook.

My life and work would not be possible without computers, without the Digital Age. It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition, though. Cars are great, but they don’t have to deny you the simple pleasure of walking through the woods. You can appreciate the ease of use of digital tools (or even read a blog), and at the end of the day, still sink back and enjoy the wonderful corporeal feeling of a good book opening in your hand.

I have a feeling more than a few of you know exactly what I mean.

[Addendum to Original Post]

I should have mentioned that although I already had the idea for this post, it was certainly coloured by Tom Chandler’s recent experience with a book (and the death thereof). eBooks will never die — until the electricity goes out.


PS – I stumbled upon this quite serendipitously during the writing of this post. Made me laugh.

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4 Responses to Books

  1. Kelly says:

    Ha ha ha love the video.

    “Excuse me, that’s mine.”

    Yeah. That’s what’s great about bookbooks. Not the password-protection feature 🙂 , but the feeling of ownership. I agree with you completely—a book on a screen just never feels like it’s yours in the same way.

    And I know what you mean about moving them—the more you remind yourself they’re just more weight that has to go from house to house, the more each of them screams at you to remember the good times you’ve had together!!

    • Graham Strong says:

      Your comment reminded of Tom Chandler’s post about the Death of a Good Book (which, as I mention in the addendum above, coloured this post). Ownership is important. I was particularly horrified in the early days when Amazon (? – one of the big ebook sellers) actually took books back off people’s Kindles after they were purchased. Really? You can do that? Isn’t that akin to breaking into someone’s house unannounced and taking the book back?

      The few ebooks I have purchased I have downloaded and backed up on an external hard drive to ensure perpetual ownership. (Until, as I point out above, the lights go out…)


  2. I’m a little less sanguine about my ability to read today’s ebook as long as the power is on (e.g. — three decades from now). Maybe the software will still read an Epub (or the spawn-of-satan Amazon format), but don’t assume you’ll be able to access the media. Several years ago I found a stash of 3.5 Mac floppies containing files from my early writing career, which might as well have been on the moon.

    And then there’s the question of the DRM (copy protection). For that matter, what happens to the handful of books I purchased from Barnes & Noble if they go under?

    I like my ebooks, though I try to buy them sans DRM, and then upload them to Google Play (a cloud-based reader, so I don’t have to manage files on multiple devices). My ebooks are always at hand and I have control over the typography, but my take is that they’re less “archival” than my printed books.

    Or look at this way — I originally bought a copy of Breaking Away (a fav movie) on VHS. When we no longer kept a VHS player, I bought it again on a DVD. It won’t be that many more years before we give up our DVD player — will I have to buy it again online?

    I’m not going through that with my library.

    In simple terms, I remain firmly on the fence.
    TC/Writer Underground’s most recent blog post: The Week In Tweets

    • Graham Strong says:

      lol – clearly!

      That was part of my point, that really there doesn’t have to be a fight to the death. There is room for both, and both can serve different purposes. Therefore, fence-sitting is perfectly acceptable. However, emotionally speaking, real books will win out over ebooks for me.

      Funny you mention Breaking Away — just saw it again on Netflix a little while back. I listen to a podcast by comedian Jimmy Pardo, and that’s his favourite movie. If you are at all inclined to listen to podcasts (you know, on the rider mower, with the snowblower, etc.) then check out Never Not Funny: It costs I think $25 per season (about six months) but there’s a free feed too so you can try it out. It’s aimed at everyone, but men of a certain age (such as those who remember Breaking Away) seem to enjoy it most.


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