A Eulogy for the Book

Book

Do you ever miss the feel of the page? The artwork on the cover? The smell of the paper, the texture of the spine, even the satisfying whisper of the page as it’s turned? The written word thrives as it ever has—but seldom on the printed page.

I have an e-reader, and I like it well enough. I like taking it on planes and having access to as many books as I want, and I like how much space I save by bringing it along. What I miss are the things I’ve described above: the pages, the spine, the front and back covers, the weight of a heavy volume in my hand. Media changes with technology, advancements are made—but books should never die.

There are many valid arguments for having an e-reader. I’ve mentioned some above, but there are certainly more. I myself like that I can get public domain books for free on my Kindle, whereas I’d have to pay around ten dollars for a physical copy. The variable font sizes are also valuable for anyone who has trouble reading small print. Many have backlit screens, eliminating the need for external light sources. Lastly, electronic books are, on the whole, cheaper than real ones.

But there is a social aspect to reading that some might overlook, an aspect which is completely ruined by the advent of the e-reader. Imagine reading in a public space. A stranger notices the title or author of the book you’re reading on the cover. This stranger might ask you how the book is, and you might say something like, “It’s good so far, but I really don’t know what’s happening yet.” Or, you might hate it, or love it, or feel ambivalent toward it. Whatever the case may be, you and this friendly stranger have started a conversation because of the book in your hand.

Now imagine the same scenario, only with an e-reader. The friendly stranger will notice that you have a Kindle in hand, but will not be able to read the title of whatever it is you’re reading. He or she will therefore probably not ask for the title on the off chance that he or she has read the same thing. Some may say that this is not reason enough to spend more money on books, and perhaps it isn’t. My intent here isn’t to get readers to buy books. It’s to remind everyone of what we’re missing.

And what about book sharing? So far as I know, buying an electronic copy of a book only allows users to read it on their own device, unless multiple devices are connected to the same account. With a real book, however, one can purchase a copy and then share it with anyone. My mom loves to do this, and it’s one of the other social aspects of reading real books. Afterward, you can discuss the book with whomever gave it to you, perhaps exchanging ideas you hadn’t thought of before and thereby expanding your knowledge. This is not really a possible scenario with an e-reader, unless you don’t mind loaning your Nook out all the time.

Furthermore, don’t we rely on electronics enough already? I personally use multiple devices each and every day–my computer, my phone, my iPod. I love my electronics and I’m glad I have them–but once in a while, it’s nice to give all my focus to something that doesn’t have a digital screen.

The book is timeless. From the day the first Gutenberg Bible was manufactured on the printing press, books are how people have been sharing ideas. Now, however, they’re on the brink of extinction.

Perhaps it’s time we did something to save them.

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