Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Joy of (e)Books

“You went full retard, man. Never go full retard.”
- Robert Downey, Jr. “Tropic Thunder”

Recently I’ve seen a significant amount of hoopla, and let’s call it that, about books vs e-books. Hoopla isn’t a word I get to use much because it’s somewhat out of fashion, but it sure does describe the things people get worked up about sometimes. I’ll pretend, for a moment, that this really is an important issue and engage in little of it myself.

My hoopla stems from the sheer scorn and superiority that pseudo-intellectual luddite wannabes heap on anyone who happens to be unfortunate enough to get caught carrying a Nook or a Kindle. I enjoy people like that so much. Tearing them down is almost a compulsion. We’ll save that for some other time, though, and focus just on the “arguments.” We’ll also set aside, for now, the more relevant argument of “reading vs. not reading,” regardless of format.

The primary point of contention is that printed books are superior to electronic books. Now, normally, I’m of a mind to do a little research on a subject before going off on it. Deep dive into it, muck about in the juices, and claw out the details.

I think on this one, we can wing it.

The arguments are wildly varied. That alone is telling. To wit, they tend toward personal experience and preference, not some quantifiable measurement or nail-in-the-coffin detriment. The arguments range from the ridiculous to the inane.  I even read about one philosopher dude (all philosophers are called “dude”) who claimed his retention of material was less with an e-book than with a printed book.

Gee wiz! Golly! Really? That couldn’t be your weak-ass brain getting in it’s own way, could it? Or did you take an extra puff that morning and go from wake-and-baked to wake-and-broiled?


While there are many more, here’s a few of my favorites:

“E-books are cold and impersonal.”

My Kindle Fire is warm and fuzzy. If I so chose, it can literally be fuzzy. It is uniquely mine. No other tablet computer is exactly like it. It has what is me in it; it holds my interests, my contacts, my thoughts, my memories. It has books galore, movies, magazines, entertainment, science, how-tos, notes and the entire world of information and knowledge at my fingertips. I carry it with me everywhere I go and it is a constant companion. Most “real” books, once read, sit on a shelf gathering dust. Hardly a fair comparison in the “cold and impersonal” department.

“Printed books have a feel to them that you just can’t get from an e-book.”

There is a “feel” to a “real” book. The jacket, the cover, the pages flipping, the sturdiness of the spine. There’s a feel to an e-reader, too. My Kindle is considerably more comfortable to hold. Not as bulky or rough on the hands as a hardcover, but much more solid than a paperback. It’s got a good grippable back, as well. I can flip it upside down, prop it up on a pillow, hold it with one hand, and lay it flat without the pages flipping closed.  I can read it in complete darkness.  Perhaps people who think this have only tried something like an iPad, which is a horrible device for reading.*

“There’s a joy in holding and smelling and feeling a good book in your hands.”

Granted, row after row of stacks a beautiful sight. Shelves lined with books are inspiring and humbling at the same time. I love that feeling of vastness I get when walking into a packed bookstore or library. A shelf of e-readers really doesn’t get the aesthetic motor running. For decoration, we’ll give good old fashion “real” books a win. I’ll give “real” books snaps for smell, too. For some reason that smell makes me hungry. Ever sniff a Kindle? Nothing. That’s not enough to make me choose a printed book over an e-reader, but it’s something.

“You can’t highlight and mark up an ebook like you can a real book.”

Bullshit. Anyone who would say this has either not actually used an e-book reader, or is an idiot. If you’re in the former category I assure you most certainly can, in ways that are significantly more capable and useful than the good old No. 2 pencil method. Not only can you mark, bookmark, highlight, annotate infinitely and cross reference, but you can share your notations and read other people’s. If you’re in the latter category, alas, I have nothing for you. Actually read that book you’re fondling, maybe?

“Paper books don’t require batteries.”

They do require a light source. So, really, you either need to get some sun, a plug or... well, batteries. My original Kindle reader can run a month on a single charge. When just reading, my Kindle Fire runs about a week. Granted, if that’s too inconvenient then yes, a “real” book is the way to go. Plugging in that little USB plug at the end of day (while I plug in my cell phone at the same time) is a real pain in the ass. Did I mention I can read in the dark? Yeah.

“E-Books are too expensive and not all books are available.”

I even read one article where the author pointed out five specific books that weren’t available as e-books (three of which were not available on Amazon but were available from Project Gutenberg) and that the cost of a reader was too expensive for most people. Then they listed one (only one) book that was more expensive in e-book format than printed. The mind boggles. There are millions of books that haven’t been converted to e-books yet. Yet. In the meantime, there are more magnificent books than you could read in a thousand lifetimes available right now in e-book format. The vast majority are the same price or considerably cheaper than their printed siblings. Granted, your initial investment in an e-reader is about $80 on the low end, but well worth it when weighed against the benefits.

“I don’t have to worry about breaking my book. LoL.”

Of course you do. It just breaks differently, fucker. You have to be as careful with an e-reader as you would with a real book.  E-readers shatter. Printed books tear. Both are not so good with water. Although, I can buy an e-reader that is completely waterproof. Waterproof printed books are hard to come by. One proponent of printed books went so far to claim that “real” books can last hundreds of years, whereas electronic books don’t. She didn’t bother qualify the last part of that statement, though, so I’m curious. How is “hundreds of years” longer than eternity?

“You can recycle real books.”

Um. Without the paper, there’s no need to recycle. This is not a point in printed books favor. This is asserting that recycling is good because it’s recycling.

“You can’t share e-books or check them out at a library.”

Actually, you can.  Sharing an e-book, by the way, is no more legal than sharing a printed book without the author’s or publisher’s consent. E-books just make it easier and more convenient for authors and publishers to enforce their rights. Which means the old practice of handing a paperback to a friend to read, instead of them paying the author for their own copy, is hampered. That pisses people off. Yet the some publishers and authors are making it possible to do it anyway. How about that?  The electronic book makes possible, for the first time, a global virtual library without the need for a physical buildings or bulky distribution. All the knowledge of humanity available to everyone, anytime, and anyplace. Granted, there’s quite a few hurdles to overcome, but it’s entirely possible (Amazon Prime and Amazon Lending Library are examples of some baby steps in this direction) and the potential is staggering in its implications.

Bashing e-books is simple. I was a bookseller for a good chunk of my professional life. Loving books is something that’s second nature to me. Slamming e-books makes us feel superior because we prefer a venerated and ancient method to acquire knowledge under the mistaken belief that doing so makes us better, or that the old method is more desirable and admirable than the new.

In the 1960s, the same was said about paperbacks.

The efficient and effective distribution of art and knowledge to all of humanity is never a Bad Thing. It is something that should be embraced and celebrated.

Enjoy your “real” books. I do. I love to hold them, flip the pages, smell them and see them on the stacks. They are beautiful and awe inspiring.

Don’t let that blind you, though, to the raw power and infinite possibility of being able to tap instantly into the collected experience, artistry, consciousness and knowledge of all of humanity.

I present for your consideration the electronic book.

Welcome to … everything.

"Do not read, as children do, to amuse yourself, or like the ambitious, for the purpose of instruction. No, read in order to live."

*You really didn’t think you would get out of this kind of discussion without a little Apple bashing, did you? If so, I LOL in your general direction.

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