Why I Hope Real Books Never Die (and They Won’t)
I have tried to get into ereaders. Really I have. First, someone was kind enough to give me a Kindle. It seemed pretty cool at first. I could download books instantly. I didn’t have to weigh down my carry on bag when traveling. What a treat.
I read two books on my Kindle and got tired of it.
Then I tried reading books on my iPad, definitely a better reading experience in my opinion. I prefer the white page and back lit screen over the electronic ink. It was exciting to think (again) that from now on I could purchase most books whenever and wherever I wanted to. I could buy something new while on vacation. I could finish something in the airport and get a new book right from my seat, without having to lug around any extra pounds. The iPad even allows you to flip the page with your finger just like the real deal. What a gift.
I read two books on my iPad and got tired of it.
Perhaps I am a wishful thinking bibliophile, but I just don’t think the physical book is going the way of the dodo bird. No doubt, many scholars and students will house parts of their reference libraries on an electronic device. Some frequent flyers will stick books on their tablets instead of in their brief cases. And some techno-geeks will conclude that everything is better on an Apple product. I’m sure ereaders will make inroads. They serve a useful purpose. But only to a point.
Old books are like old friends. They love to be revisited. They stick around to give advice. They remind you of days gone by. Books, like friends, hang around.
And they prefer not to be invisible.
I can’t tell you how many often I sit at my desk, push back my seat, and allow my eyes to drift around the room full of bookshelves. I’m not procrastinating, not exactly. I’m scanning the room to see my friends. Their covers jog my memories. They remind me of what I learned once. More than that, they remind me of my life–where I was when I first read Lloyd-Jones on the couch, how I knelt by the bed with tears when I read Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, how my life was so different 15 years ago when I read my dad’s copy of the Institutes as a college student. If all my books disappeared on to a microchip I might have less to lug around and I might be able to search my notes more easily, but I’d lose memory; I’d lose history; I’d lose a little bit of myself.
The other problem with ebooks is their bland sameness. This is why I can’t make it much farther than two books on any electronic device. The books don’t feel like anything. The font is the same and the white space is the same. There is no variance in paper or size or weight. Each book, when read on an ereader, loses its personality. I can’t quite explain it, but I simply couldn’t read the new Jeeves and Wooster book I downloaded for my iPad. On my computer screen–looking and feeling like the last book I read–there was no joy in Wodehouse, no novelty, no new experience to be had. It was just another PDF or Word document sent my to inbox.
Books have not been around forever. There are other ways to put words together on paper, papyrus, or cow’s hide. So it’s possible something else will come along to take the book down from the shelf. But it won’t be the iPad I’m using right now. It won’t be the laptop on which I’ve written books and blogs and sermons. In a virtual world, with all its ethereal convenience, there will be many–an increasing number I predict–who long for what is real. Something solid. Something you can hold. Something that hangs around even when you are finished with it. Something like a book.
And kind of like an old friend.