Hi, we’ve never met, but here is a little information about me: I like to ‘stalk’ people’s bookshelves. They say that you can’t judge a book by its cover, but I like to think that you can judge a person by their books, or at least, understand them a little better through their reading choices. I don’t go out of my way to do this, but if someone leaves me next to a bookshelf, I will look at its contents. For those of you looking at this page in terror, don’t worry, this obscure, and (I’ve been told) quite weird pastime will be all but wiped out with the rising popularity of eReaders, such as the Kindle.
In the same way that I can no longer casually glance at someone’s CD collection and learn surprising knowledge about the popularity of Dolly Parton among our generation, I can no longer have a casual glance here and there to see if someone prefers Frodo to Harry, and which random, unread course books we may have in common. This is because music and books can now be stored electronically, rather than in physical (i.e. stalkable) form. I have no problem with this where CDs are concerned; books, however, I am not so happy about.
There is a certain website (with a name reminiscent of a rainforest) that is my place of choice to buy physical books. Every time I log in, however, I am greeted by a huge image of a Kindle and the tagline: ‘#1 bestselling product’; underneath this are the words: ‘order now’. There is no question mark – this is a command. I do not own a Kindle, (so far I have resisted the pull of the ‘order now’ button) but this site (and the security guard at work) both speak highly of them, and I am under the impression that the Kindle is actually very good.
EReaders being released now have loads of sparkly new tricks which makes using them as good, and in some respects preferable, to reading straight from a book. EBooks are cheaper than their paper counterparts are, they don’t suffer wear and tear and you can keep a back up on your hard-drive, etc (and there is, of course, the added bonus of immunity from book stalkers, unless you decide to let them browse your Kindle). There would clearly be no point in buying both the eBook and the physical book, and with all these benefits, it makes sense that many people may begin buying eBooks regularly, instead of real books. At some point it might even be possible for physical books to fall into obscurity and become a retro piece of ornamentation that exists to look pretty and show how cool you are, but serves no real purpose except to demonstrate how technology has moved on, and how disadvantaged our reading was ‘back in the day’.
For many people, this is just progress; for me, this is rather sad. I am not one of those people who goes around smelling old books – I know some people enjoy the smell but it just reminds me of how dirty it must be. It’s hard to describe what exactly it is about real books I like. In a sense, books tell more than just the stories contained in them: by looking at the damage my books have taken, they tell me about my experiences whilst reading them, they are my childhood. In my limited experience with eReaders, I already know that I am much more inclined to read the colourful and pretty; or the smartly bound; or the worn and tatty, physical book in front of me, than I am to read the picture of the book’s cover on a screen.
And yes, I know that the Kindle is much more environmentally friendly than real books. It certainly takes a lot less energy and resources to make a Kindle with a 1000 books on it then it would take to make the same 1000 real books. You might think this would sway me into giving up my paper books, however, I took Sustainable Development for one semester, I’ve taken Literature all of my academic life. Quite frankly, I know where my loyalties lie.
Don’t get me wrong; if I ever go travelling again, a good eReader will be the first thing I invest in. I spent my gap year in China with 30kg of luggage allowance. The four books I managed to fit into my suitcase would barely have lasted me the 13-hour plane ride each way. The Kindle certainly has some advantages over physical books, more than I can be bothered to list in this article, to be honest, but I don’t think it has enough advantages to serve as a permanent replacement for them. At least, not for me.
Maybe I am just biased, maybe I am afraid of change, maybe one day I will get a Kindle and actually prefer it. Somehow I don’t think so, though. Books have a value to me; it’s not surprising that eBooks are cheaper. To me they are worth a lot less.
Image credit – Chris Jones