From a Plinky prompt: “Would you ever get an e-book reader?”
Imagine if hot chocolate got in a fight with sunsets.
Or if you had to pick sides between the laughter of small children and tender hugs from loved ones. Imagine if great music somehow became the archenemy of tasty food, and you had to choose which one wins.
Can’t we all just get along?
And yet, that sort of quandary is where we are, thanks to the e-book reader.
In this corner — Cutting-edge technology. Oh, how I love you. Oh, how you make my life better. Words cannot express to you my gratitude for my iPhone, which makes me happy in countless little ways. I can’t imagine life without you. You make everything better and faster and shinier and usefuller and awesomer.
And in this corner — Words, printed on paper. Ideas incarnate. Facts and fantasies, information and imagination, captured in physical form. So delightfully visceral. So comfortable. So comforting. So familiar and yet so exciting — my oldest friend, continually taking me to unexplored realms.
How does one choose? How could one be asked to choose?
Yes, I love the idea of an e-book. I love the idea of being able to carry a library in this small portable form; of reading several books at once and always having the one I want to read with me when I want to read it. I love the idea of technology transforming reading; I love the idea of relating to written words in new ways I’ve never been able to before.
But at what cost? At the cost of not owning a physical copy of a book? Of not being able to hold it in my hands, to leaf through it, to feel its heft and know its dimensions? Of not feeling the texture of the dead tree pulp on which its words are printed? Of not having it on a shelf in my home, a proud sign for visitors that this volume is a small part of who I am? Of not being able to go into my library and pull down the perfect volume that a friend simply must read? Of not being able to skim a bookcase for that one book that has exactly what I’m looking for? Of not having a pile in my bedroom of books queued up to vie for my time and attention?
As an author, am I willing to pay the cost of no longer having the overwhelming thrill, the victory, of lifting a bound block of paper, and knowing — like Joyce and Faulkner and Dickens and Hemingway and Dostoevsky and Miley Cyrus before — that I made this?
May it not be.
I imagine it is inevitable. I imagine that in the not too distant future, enough people will have readers or tablet computers or whatever next-generation device they come up with by then that electronic books will gradually become the default, so insidiously that we don’t even notice that printed volumes have joined vinyl records in intriguing obsolescence.
And I imagine that it will be convenient and delightful, and make reading more enjoyable than it ever has been before. And I imagine that when that day comes, I will be happy, and will love reading books electronically.
But, so help me, I will miss real books.