Right now, I’m reading a book about gender in Romantic literature – Romanticism and Gender by Anna K. Mellor - which has exposed me to a number of women authors of the Romantic period whose names I have not found in my previous studies. They wrote novels with titles that are unfamiliar to me and told stories that I have not had the pleasure to read. According to this discussion, part of the reason that women were actively publishing their works at this time, both anonymously and under their own names, is the “establishment of the lending library, which spread rapidly throughout England in this era [which] meant that books were widely accessible to a new and ever-growing readership, a readership composed in large part of upper- and middle-class women who preferred to read literature, and especially novels, written by women” (Mellor 1-2). The lending library, an institution that helped to shape countless lives over the centuries - an institution based on the printed book. All of that is a long-winded way to say that books, physical paper books are a part of our cultural heritage and you may call me a sad sentimentalist and a Luddite, but I believe – strongly – that paper books should not be relegated to the past in light of the new e-reader craze.
Before I tell you more about why you should cherish your printed books, let me make a concession to this e-reader business. First, let me admit freely and openly that I have not used an e-reader, and have not spent any time investigating their features. I have looked at a friends’ Kindle and pondered its uses and whether or not I would hate reading on a digital screen (I hate reading anything longer than a medium length essay on the computer – oh the glare!). However, I can see some uses for them. For instance, if I were inclined to travel it would be simpler to bring an e-reader than to lug a suitcase of paperbacks with me. Not only would it be lighter (paper sure is heavy) but it would also take up less room so I could take less luggage. Also, having my library with me wherever I went would likely have some advantages, such as being able to access quotes and sections at need, which could be useful for school and you never know when you’ll need to prove that you remember the ending of Perfume correctly and all of your friends are wrong. Yes, I can see how an e-reader could be useful and perhaps one day I will purchase one, but it would never replace my love and need for printed books. It would only be an accessory to my library.
Now that I’ve served you an anecdote and some disclaimers, let me tell you about why paper books are amazing and why you should want them to stick around. Books are sensual. Hear me out. They engage the senses, not just sight and imagination, but smell and touch and they are wonderful ways to evoke memories – sensory and otherwise. When my eyes roam over my shelves and I pick out Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar I remember the times I’ve read this novel and how I felt then – oppressed by the future, suffocating in my own mental glass dome and wanting nothing more than to escape and live without the pressure I was putting on myself; or perhaps my eyes rest on my copy of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov (which at the moment they can’t because I’ve loaned it to a friend) and I recall the weekend I spent closeted away, barely talking to my friends and family because I was having a love-affair with a dead Russian author and his book. They are visual cues for my memory bank. As Anne Fadiman writes:
“Our books, however – even the ones printed long before we were born – remained ageless. They recorded the passage of real time, and because they reminded us of all the occasions on which they had been read and reread, they also reflected the passage of the preceding decades. / Books wrote our life story, and as they accumulated on our shelves (and on our windowsills, and underneath our sofa, and on top of our refrigerator); they became chapters in it themselves. How could it be otherwise?” (xi Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader).
Books become a part of our lives much more so than our computers and iPods and gaming consoles, our cell phones or laptops. But I was telling you about the senses, so let us return to that with one more visual appeal: I’m a sucker for a beautiful typeset. There is just something about a gorgeously lettered book that makes my heart beat a little faster and makes my eyes dance over the page with added pleasure. Another thing you gain from the printed book is the lush evocativeness of its smell – whether you love the new-book smell or the scent of a well-loved used book, or a book you’ve owned for so long that it smells of your own particular past. And last but not least is the feel of a book in your hands, the friction of the paper, the thickness and density of the pages, the smooth or matte or leather or cloth of the covers, the different weights of paperbacks and trades and hardcovers. These sensory impressions are important to me and I don’t know that I could replace all of these experiences with the cold feeling of an electronic device – I don’t go into raptures thinking about picking up and opening my laptop.
Let me backtrack to what I mentioned in passing above: I lent a book to a friend. Are you following my train of thought here? How would I lend a friend a book if I was reading on an e-reader? The lending and borrowing of books is a treasured activity between my friends. If I’m honest, I have to admit that it gives me some pains to send my treasures off into the world, but ultimately I know that I’ll see them again soon enough and that in the meantime someone is also enjoying a story I’ve loved. By the same token, I’ve been exposed to and have come to love many authors and novels that I would never have thought to seek out on my own because a friend lent me a book. I suppose if I really wanted to I could lend an e-reader to a friend, but with that I would give them my whole library and a fairly expensive piece of technology compared to a $10 paperback. Which brings us to issues of cost: in this type of economy lending and borrowing books makes sense (also, the library which lends books), although I suppose if you’re paying $100+ for a fancy e-reader you’re not worried about your bank account. P.S.: Don’t forget about used books, which fortunately will still be around even if the printed tome goes out of fashion, at least for a time so that bibliophiles like me can still get our required fix of paper and ink.
In closing, let me say that you may label me as a Luddite and a sentimental old lady clinging with desperation to the world she feels comfortable with rather than accepting and welcoming the winds of change, but that doesn’t change the fact that printed books are important. Picturing a world with only fancy gadgets and no one sitting in a coffee shop with a beat up paperback makes my heart ache with a loss we haven’t even experienced. I cannot picture my life without books. They are my silent, soothing companions, always ready to welcome me back with open pages and their ever-yielding words. Those are just my two-cents and I’ll likely lose this particular battle. As a society we love technology and I’m not an exception – I like having my iPod and writing blog entries and am a Twitter-addict, but I also think that with the rise of technology we might lose more than we gain. I’m not sure I want to trade the sensory experience of reading a book for the convenience of carrying my whole library with me wherever I go. I’m not saying you should frenziedly burn your e-reader in an attempt to escape the shackles of modern technology, but that the next time you pick it up you ask yourself this one simple question: what would it be like to read this in a print book?I’m not saying you should frenziedly burn your e-reader in an attempt to escape the shackles of modern technology, but that the next time you pick it up you ask yourself this one simple question: what would it be like to read this in a print book?
If you like what you’ve read and want to read some more of my thoughts you can read my weekly contributions at http://girlonbookaction.blogspot.com/ where I (you guessed it) review books along with my cohorts Wren (predominantly movie reviews) and Tdro (the mistress of telling us about cute men).
Bio of our Guest Blogger: Irene (a.k.a. Doomwench) is, no kidding, getting her Masters degree in Vampire Studies (okay, she’s actually getting a degree in Germanic Studies, but she’s bent it to her will and is writing aboutNosferatu). She lives in Canada (but is originally from Austria) and enjoys reading about draculas. She also hates it when you call them draculas. Needing somewhere to vent her thoughts on all of the books she reads, she began the Girl On Book Action blog with longtime friend and bibliophile Wren. Irene likes long walks on....wait, no she doesn't, she likes staying indoors reading, blogging, playing videogames and generally ignoring the sun.