There’s a wonderfully engaging and thoughtful – and thankfully, LONG! – article on this subject over on Mashable today.
But for people who truly love books, print is the only medium that will satisfy.
“People who need to possess the physical copy of a book, not merely an electronic version, believe that the objects themselves are sacred,” he wrote.
“Some people may find this attitude baffling, arguing that books are merely objects that take up space. This is true, but so are Prague and your kids and the Sistine Chapel.”
I’ve been finding lately that I am buying more print books. Specifically, most anything nonfiction I buy in print. Most anything fiction I buy in Kindle form, though for those that I count as ‘Keepers” or ones to pass along to friends, I buy another copy in print. For nonfiction stuff – or stuff that I expect to mark up a lot – I need to page back and forth, put a few sticky tabs in, and that’s just not easily doable – or aesthetically pleasing – on an eBook.
Now, I love having a Kindle. I pretty much always have one book in progress on my Kindle, because it provides me the opportunity to read anywhere from the kitchen to the restroom to the bus to waiting in line for medications to be filled. But as the Mashable article argues, there is no aesthetic satisfaction in reading on that device. There’s no beauty in it, just cold efficiency.
Consider, for example, the idea of marginalia, the notes and highlights on a printed page. I know how a book has impacted a previous reader by its marginalia. I know how my own books have impacted me by my own. For a while, I was careful to read a book and leave no trace behind so that I could later sell it for good value, but the financial return for selling a book is seldom worth the time and effort. Best to save it, or give it away to friends or the library or the local used book store. And marginalia, when done well, can itself be gorgeous. Consider this page, from an article in the Atlantic about Flannery O’Connor:
If that doesn’t show love for the subject, I don’t know what does.
Years ago I saw a study Bible that had been owned by an old saint, a woman who was a true teacher of the Scripture. Her pages looked much like the above. As much as I appreciate a good online Bible or iPad/iPhone version (and use them often), they don’t reflect the beauty of a well soiled study Bible like the page you see above.
And so I hope that printed books never die. I doubt they will anytime soon; convenience has not killed other markets but made those markets revisit their roots. Perhaps the eBook revolution will ask publishing to reinvent itself and we will all come out for the better.