Mar 9, 2011

Booked Out

Books! I love books! There's just nothing like the smell of a book, is there? The feel of a freshly opened cover, ink wafting off the pages, the touch of dead tree - it just makes me want to curl up with a hot cup of tea and let my imagination....

...oh, I can't go on.

I'm getting right jack of sentiments like the above. They've been cropping up for years, but with the rise in eBooks and eReaders, they've become the go-to argument for every neo-Luddite who fancies themselves a literary Imelda Marcos.

"This one has a surprise twist ending." 
I'm so over the overt love of books that I'm almost over books themselves.

And that's no good, because books are great. They've been great since Gutenberg dropped a few k on a few moveable ks and wound up inventing modern printing. They've been great since before Bede was Venerable. They've been great since an Egyptian worked out you could twist reed into papyrus; since a caveman discovered you could scratch out a few thoughts about your day spearing bison on the dried ass-skin of that self-same bison.

Hell, even the Bible got a few people in.

Yes, books vary in quality, but even the trashy ones have their uses. The Da Vinci Code, for example, makes an excellent door stop.

But what is new, or interesting, or dynamic, or even relevant about this anti-electronic cliche anymore?

It seems to me that this humble information-delivery-via-paper-bundle (the essential nature of a book) is being co-opted by literary elitism.

Now I don't own an eReader. I've never even used one. I'd probably get frustrated with the damn thing and resort to reading the included instruction manual instead.

But I've got no beef with them - because it's not the fact that they contain information that's changing. It's just the delivery method that's evolving.

And it may seem heartless, and soulless - but hey, we've largely moved on from vinyl. Sure, MP3s may not have that rock 'n' roll authenticity but at least you can put your iPod on for 17 days straight and never hear the same song twice.

Now here's something controversial.

I enjoy books. I really do. But I don't need or want to be completely surrounded by them.

I've done the collecting things. I've done my time at Lifeline Bookfests, shoving dog-eared tome after tome in a plastic bag so I could get my $5 worth.

But you know what? At least half of them went unread. Not enough bookshelf space means they went in bags or boxes.

And then they began collecting dust.

Oh, you try to deny it, book-lovers, but you must admit - books collect dust like Charlie Sheen collects evidence for the prosecution.

Yes, you can clean. But if you're like me, you don't clean enough. Not enough for books. The dust gets everywhere, in little piles. My apartment is starting to resemble Episode 1 of Red Dwarf, after the radiation leak.

The other fallback argument against eReaders is the romanticisation of the bookshop.

You fiend! I hear you cry. Again, I'm not anti-bookshop. Bookshops are great. Lovely places.

Of course, they're starting to shut down now, but that doesn't take anything away from the delight of browsing a bookstore.

But does it make me an inherently bad person if I tell you that while I find bookshops perfectly delightful to pop into, I would MUCH rather spend my time-wasting time at Priceline, or in the cosmetics department at Myer? Why? Because it's even more haptic than books. Because YOU CAN'T TEST OUT JEAN-PAUL SATRE ON YOUR FACE.

Well, unless you're Simone de Beauvoir.

I'm sure these feelings make me some sort of hollow mannequin of a woman, devoid of humanity and feeling. But I fail to see why you have to parade around an obsessive compulsion with the printed page to be considered literary or clever or in touch with stuff.

My point is - stop writing columns, blog posts, opinion pieces about how GREAT bookshops are and how WONDROUS books are and how they'll NEVER replace them with ebooks and Kindles and iPads and spangly text wheels and whatever gadget they think of next.

If you're going to turn people off eReaders, you're going to have to come up with a better argument. It's not like they're aren't any. Cost and catalogue availability, to start. I'm sure writers with more intelligence than me (and that's quite a few) could brainstorm a few more. Maybe they need some inspiration. Might I suggest curling up with a cup of tea and a good book?


  1. for one, the traditional paper books are better for my horrible eyesight. and they need not be charged so that's always a plus cos I hate having to charge my things.

    personally, I'd never get an e-book cos I'm too used to books and I like flicking through pages. the ability to highlight and make notes on my textbook pages. that's pretty much it!

    btw, the Da Vinci Code was horrible??!!! I've never read it but I've heard of so many good reviews.


  2. RS -- you can change the font size on e-reading devices so that your horrible eyesight is not a problem. And e-ink means that you don't need to stare at a backlit screen. It's like MAGIC. You can also make notes, highlight passages and all manner of other clever things. Just sayin'. Now, back to my Kindle ...

  3. Books? BOOKS?! I refuse to give up the stone tablet. Nothing beats running your fingers across the chisled surface of a good old fashioned rock slab. You talk about the romance of the paper page, but have you ever smelled the visceral, immediate, and dare I say it, sexy whiff of freshly struck stone dust? Oh rapture! Oh wonder! Let's face it. If you write all your memoirs into one of your precious paper books then it will all rot away in less than 100 years (it's the acid in the paper, see) but my vibrant, lithographic musings will last until the continents slip into the sea. So, keep your tree leaf scribblers, I'm happy as a badger with my Rock Omnibuses.

  4. I hate the practice of covering the walls of the house with bookshelfs. I much prefer a tasteful blank wall with maybe a nice print on it. Unfortunately SOMEONE in my house likes nothing more than to fill the house up with fiction.

    (Yes. Tu know who I'm talking about)

    All of my books are sealed away in colour coded boxes. If I want to find them I just enter the title into my library software to find out which box it's in.

  5. can I have both? I still have vynyls :)

  6. ...don't care what it's written on, as long as it's written. "The Da Vinci Code" may not be Pulitzer material, but it was entertaining enough, and Dan B. put the effort into writing it...that makes it worth reading. Just sayin'...

    BTW, The Wah!

    I'm trying to picture your boulder-brary. Those must be some MASSIVE shelves!

    xoxoxo, cd

  7. Ask Stu about my love of books. I have walls and boxes and bags and more walls full of books. And I read them. If it was my wife our my books I'm not sure which way it would fall.

    eReaders; I'm not against them but they're not for me.

  8. Part of me loves the idea of someday having a library. You know, you go into the basement of my house and the walls are simply covered with books. I understand that some people, on a purely aesthetic stand point, would want to stick with books, but a Kindle can hold an absurd amount of books at once, and one with 3G and WiFi is still under $200 dollars. As far as convenience in every way, I'm definitely going to be an eReader. I liked the joke about Jean Paul Sartre on your face. I'll be following you, now, if I can.

  9. The most unexpected advantage of my ereader? Being able to read in bed with the back lit screen and no light turned on... My husband thinks it is great.

    I also love that I can take 10 books to work/ the doctor's waiting room without having to carry them or look like I have brought a book to work. The adjustable sizing, the ability to adjust contrast, all good things.

    I like flicking through books and feeling the textures too, but for me, there is a happy mix between the two. Some of the stuff I like to read doesn't need a tree to be cut down for it.

  10. Screw books! The day they invent an eReader that doesn't give me a headache within 1/2 hour I will get rid of all of my books. Well, except for the signed ones ... and my Pratchett collection ... and most of my comics ... and the nice mythology art books ... um

    Well, you can be damned sure I'll get rid of The Wheel of Time series anyway ... oh wait, I already did.

  11. I understand your points perfectly.
    I, as a comic collector, disagree a little and I think this may be due to the differing nature of the comic collectors purpose.

    I really miss the chance to rummage through a pile of old comics in a second hand store, looking for a hidden gem.
    Sometimes, comics are bought with the precise purpose of never being read (or touched by human hands actually) just so you can collect them.
    I am not like that. I collect - but I READ them all first.

    Modern book stores and comic shops have long since moved away from the options to rummage or search through comics. They allow a form of browsing, but the excitement of the hunt & find is long gone.
    And now e-readers also make browsing very sterile and represent a similar experience (albeit an Online one) to what the stores were trying to achieve.

    So, I personally don't think the demise of booksores, or the transition to e-readers will affect me as much personally.
    I think I got over it all a while ago.

  12. Everybody's dead, Dave... including the books...

  13. I do love owning books, the smells and the thrill of turning the page during a particularly exciting scene or skipping to the back to make sure it ends up the way you want. But right now my entire book collection is in boxes waiting for me to unpack them after I moved three weeks ago. It's gonna take me a while to get around to it.

    Thus I have little against e-readers but I won't get one because I scarcely need yet another screen to stare at. Reading books on paper is better for my eyes (provided reasonable light conditions). Plus I have always dreamed of one day owning a library. But hey, whatever floats your boat. E-readers are arguably better in many ways and as long as people are reading then I don't see why it's an issue really.

  14. I agree that not everything written needs to be printed on paper. Some things just shouldn't venture beyond the realm of cyberspace into the real world; women's opinions, for example.

  15. Jesus died so that we can kill trees to make paper for books...God hates e-bibles.