The Beauty of Books, Actual Books

It’s been a while since I’ve gone off on e-books, perhaps because I’ve become resigned to the fact that they are already thoroughly embedded in the modern book market. It is a feeling very much like the pressure exerted by my American Heritage Dictionary when it’s propped against my chest, except I love that feeling.  That’s a hug rather than a shove, with an e-, or the invariable e-mptiness that comes from every digital book weighing somewhere between 5.98 and 18.9 ounces, depending on the Kindle model you’re sporting.  Where’s the satisfaction in that?  It’s a bit like logging into Second Life rather than just taking a trip downtown.  I thought, then, that I’d offer three arguments as to why print books are the best books, in case you needed reminding.

1. THEIR LONG HISTORY

Here’s a glimpse into book production in 1947, which will captivate any book lover’s attention the way Mr. Rogers did when he showed children how Crayons were manufactured:

Making Books (1947)

2. JONATHAN FRANZEN HATES E-BOOKS

In a recent article in The Telegraph, author Jonathan Franzen articulates what most book-book readers feel about the advantages of physical books, citing, among other things, the comfort of permanent pages and the magic of print.

“The technology I like is the American paperback edition of Freedom. I can spill water on it and it would still work! So it’s pretty good technology. And what’s more, it will work great 10 years from now. So no wonder the capitalists hate it. It’s a bad business model,” said Franzen, who famously cuts off all connection to the internet when he is writing.

“I think, for serious readers, a sense of permanence has always been part of the experience. Everything else in your life is fluid, but here is this text that doesn’t change.

“Will there still be readers 50 years from now who feel that way? Who have that hunger for something permanent and unalterable? I don’t have a crystal ball.

“But I do fear that it’s going to be very hard to make the world work if there’s no permanence like that. That kind of radical contingency is not compatible with a system of justice or responsible self-government.”

Speaking at the Hay Festival in Cartagena, Colombia, Franzen argued that e-books, such as Amazon’s Kindle, can never have the magic of the printed page.

He said: “The Great Gatsby was last updated in 1924. You don’t need it to be refreshed, do you?

“Maybe nobody will care about printed books 50 years from now, but I do. When I read a book, I’m handling a specific object in a specific time and place. The fact that when I take the book off the shelf it still says the same thing – that’s reassuring.

“Someone worked really hard to make the language just right, just the way they wanted it. They were so sure of it that they printed it in ink, on paper. A screen always feels like we could delete that, change that, move it around. So for a literature-crazed person like me, it’s just not permanent enough.”

“Jonathan Franzen: e-books are damaging society” by Anita Singh  The Telegraph

Thank you, Mr. Franzen.  For more damages, please read this excellent article published by The Author’s Guild detailing just how the industry has been rattled by the emergence of e-books.  Humph.

3. SPEAKING OF MAGIC…

The Oscar nominated short, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, says it all:

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3 thoughts on “The Beauty of Books, Actual Books

  1. While I do love physical books, I find that I must come to the defense of e-books. It seems that the most common insult leveled against the e-book is that it somehow looses the magic captured by a physical book and thus delivers a far inferior reading experience. There is a chicken-soup comfort in curling up with a book, but honestly, when you are truly gripped by a story, what part of you is still fixated on the fact that the words bringing you such excitement are drops of ink on paper? I would argue that the way you consume a book has no bearing on your enjoyment of the story and only plays a role in nostalgic recollections. I hear no jabs being taken at paperbacks and their more affordable and convenient form-factor when taking e-books to task for not delivering the hefty “hug” of massive volumes.
    My goal here is not to belittle the physical book, only to point out that there are many use-cases for e-books. I have no official study to back this up, but I would wager that the majority of e-book readers also have a bookshelf at home filled with physical copies of their favorite novels. Being pro e-book absolutely does not mean being anti hard copy. I think it is a shame that the opposite isn’t true.

    • Gordon, I agree that I am completely sentimental and nostalgic in my view of books. I also cannot dispute that e-books have proven their use in convenience and, for some, economic savings. Market studies have shown that mass market paperbacks, or disposable literature if you will, are exactly the types of books people are most inclined to buy as e-books, while meaningful books are still purchased in their physical form. My greatest concerns regarding e-books lie in how they have shaken the publishing industry and book market as a whole. But this post was not designed to seriously malign the things; it was just a nod to those who also love traditional books. When it comes the nostalgia of reading, I think that a novel’s physical manifestation is incredibly important. I love those ink droplets on the page, where they may have become smudged or faded. I remember the feel and smell of some books almost as fondly as I do the story being told therein. Physical books inherently carry a sense of history to which such feelings may easily attach. Regarding the magic of words, you are right that if a story is told well, it will be conveyed just as well on the screen as on the page–we’ll leave the augmentation of digital texts with additional media for another time. When I mentioned magic in my post, it had more to do with books flapping around like birds and being animated by the stories in their pages. I suppose a Nook could kind of coast like a flying squirrel, but the effect wouldn’t be the same. What is boils down to is this: I love books as well as their stories. If you’re just in it for the content then platform doesn’t matter (as long as all rights are properly observed and a fair, competitive market has been established).

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