Monday, January 28, 2013

I'm Just Not Into E-books

By Robin Widmar

Well, you can start scanning the skies for airborne swine: I've finally stepped into the world of e-readers. I've resisted the allure of these gadgets since they hit the market because I never really needed or wanted one. I won’t bore you with the reasons why I succumbed; suffice to say circumstances have changed, and here I am with a shiny new electronic device that's smarter than I am.

So far, I've downloaded a couple dozen PDF files for school and six e-books to read for fun. The PDFs were required reading, but I haven’t even cracked open any of the e-book files.

I have, however, finished three paperback novels in the time I’ve owned the e-reader.

It seems I’m just not into e-books. But after about two months of subtly avoiding the expensive dust collector, I began to wonder why.

Sure, there are the obvious tactile experiences associated with books made of paper. There’s nothing like the satisfaction of opening a brand-new book for the first time, the aroma of freshly printed pages, or the challenge of trying not to crinkle that flawless spine. I love the progression of book pages flipping from the right side to the left side, and the suspense of wondering how the story problems will be resolved as I get closer to the back cover.

But reading is reading, right? At least, that’s what the manufacturers of e-readers want us to believe. While the publishing world touts the commercial success of electronic books, the cold hard numbers don't fully reflect what’s being lost in the transition from paper to e-ink. We’re losing more than physical books.

We're losing memories.

I recently overhauled my writing space, which meant removing hundreds of books from bookcases, rearranging said bookcases, and then putting the books back onto their designated shelves. I spent the better part of a day on the task. Of course, that time could have been shortened if I hadn’t taken frequent breaks to thumb through beloved books from childhood. Or to read the notes my late grandmother scrawled inside a few front covers. Or to reminisce about novels I shared with family and friends.

To me, books are more than stories. They are ties to people, places, and times in my life. Many of the books I gleefully unwrapped at birthdays and Christmases sit on my bookshelves to this day – right next to my collection of Marguerite Henry horse stories, my mom's hand-me-down Nancy Drew mysteries, and my grandfather’s metallurgy texts.

Try passing down e-books to the next generation.

The vast majority of books in my personal library are connected to some sort of memory. One of my favorites is a paperback anthology of James Thurber stories I bought at a little shop on Oahu’s North Shore. It rode in the pocket of my leather motorcycle jacket the rest of that day, and I stayed up late into the night devouring its quirky tales. I don’t know if the store even exists today, but I still have that book, its pages yellowed by time, its thin cardboard cover worn from many readings.

How would that have worked with an e-reader? “Ah, now here’s a file I remember well. See, I was sitting in this little cafĂ© in Hawaii when I downloaded it from Amazon…”

Not quite the same, is it?

E-readers have their place in our busy world, and I’m sure I’ll get used to reading stories on mine. But the experience can never compare to reading – and collecting – regular books. Some of those paperbacks and hard covers do more than simply convey tales to entertain us. They tell the stories of our lifetimes in a way that digital books never will.

About the Writer:  Robin Widmar works to support a horse habit and writes to follow a dream. When she’s not writing about demons, dragons, or firefighting, she discusses the rampant typographical errors threatening to take over the written world at The World Needs a Proofreader.