Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Why E-Books Feel Like the Lesser Technology. A Short Rant.

I've been told that e-books are going to dominate the future and I get it. I do. By that I mean I try to get it, but I don't.

There are a few problems with my brain that make the glue-and-binding book such a better technology than the e-book. This has mostly to do with me as a sensory being. My brain has been wired to remember by weight and balance of pages, by left or right page, how a book progresses. In other words, I've learned to read physically, not just mentally. And if you asked me at this moment, where a scene happened in a book that I was holding in my hands and had read in book form, I'd be able to find it. A good phrase is one I see in my head -- three-quarters through, left side, second paragraph or so. Book reading is kinetic and sensory for me. The book burrows into my hands as well as my head.

I also write all over books that I love. I have marginal conversations with the authors, underline, write full sections of novels of my own that are in progress jotted in the white pages in the back.  Of course, my brain can really hold onto a note scrawled in my own hand. There's no competing with the individuality that a book takes on once it's been fully marked up.

But, but, but ... the e-book has the little % bar at the bottom. My brain should be able to switch to that, right? And I've been told that the highlighting functions are excellent. And, to be fair, the search function on an e-book is the one place where they trump paper books. These are things that a child raised on e-books can surely rewire for, synaptic-firing-wise, and come to prefer. Oh, and for the person who doesn't want to pack 10 books for vacation, but can't make the tough call on which to bring, the e-reader wins.




But there's one thing that an e-book doesn't do well and never will.

Linger, laze about, be left behind. It doesn't end up where it wasn't meant to be very well. It isn't good at being a physical object.

The e-book strikes me as the idea of food instead of, say, an actual peach.

This realization seems very important this time of year. Summer is when I sometimes linger, laze and get left behind myself. I'm very good at being a physical object.

And I think of all the wonderful and weird books that I found because they were just simply there -- tattered and worn and simply being. Many of these books were vacation books. And I've left behind many books as well -- turning them over to the universe.

And as someone who's organized many, many book drives, I see that tradition of passing a book along slipping away.  

I uploaded a book that I'm dying to read onto my Kindle -- it was a special e-book deal. I haven't read the book. It's been about six months.

The e-book gets trumped by all the physical object books that are stacked on my bedside table. 

If that e-book were in my house, lingering, lazing, and simply being, I'd have read it by now. It's likely a kid of mine would have picked it up too and sauntered off with it.

The little black book of Kindle just doesn't draw me in. I look at it. It looks at me. We should be inseparable. But it's flat. It's always the same. It deadens the tactile experience that I have with each individual book I read. I can't dog-ear it. I can't throw it across a room. I can't hand a book on it off to a friend. I can't write my ideas into its margins.

And therefore it's less of an experience -- for my senses, for my soul.