For me, it’s the WORDS

News came out this past week about how, for the first time, e-books on the best seller list outsold their printed counterparts. The reason was known – and kind of obvious when one thinks about it. Many readers found a little something extra under the Christmas tree this year in the form of a Kindle or Nook (or other e-reading device). And lo, what else did Santa bring them but gift cards for, b&, etc. Armed with these weapons in hand, what do you think these readers did? They purchased and downloaded tons of e-books, of course! Well, what would you have done in the same situation? Me too…

In my personal experience, I’ve encountered a lot of resistance (I don’t want to use the word “hostility,” but sometimes it feels that would be more appropriate) to the concept of e-reading from incredulous people who ask, “Don’t you miss the ‘feel’ of a real book in your hands?” Well, maybe sometimes I do, but I find that it’s less and less as time goes on. In fact, now that I’m primarily an e-reader, I also experience the reverse. I miss the feel of my iPad or my Nook in my hand. Or more to the point, I miss being able to quickly highlight a passage, or find a passage I’ve already highlighted, or jot down a quick note.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a distinct aesthetic pleasure (which I also experience) in holding or looking at a well-made book, and one feels a great sense of pride or accomplishment in looking at a shelf full of books that one has read. I don’t think I’ll have the same sense of pride in looking at the “my library” display on my Nook app on my iPad. I’d argue, though, that this pleasure is an entirely different thing than reading the book itself. Anyone can buy a printed edition of On the Road or East of Eden and, yes, it will look good sitting on your bookshelf, but what really makes me feel good is knowing that I have read THE WORDS in those books and that they have left their mark on me. The words (i.e., the ideas) should stand on their own regardless of the medium in which they are delivered to the reader.

I think there is a virulent strain of technophobia involved here as well. I feel that some readers who oppose the e-reading medium and e-books themselves view themselves as “martyrs,” defending the honor of a long-cherished medium (indeed, how long has the printed book held sway? Wasn’t Gutenberg a 15th century printer? And before then there were hand-printed books which, thanks to legions of lonely monks and others, were works of art as well). It’s personal to them, and I guess I can understand that. To me, though, it’s the words that shouldn’t ever change, not the medium. But that is sadly happening too. Also in the recent news..

I know many other book bloggers have already spoken out against this, and I won’t echo their comments here, but I feel this is clearly wrong.

How do you feel about the e-book vs. printed book issue?

Sent from my iPad