I received an e-book reader as a gift recently. It was not something I wanted but there it was, given with love, so despite myself I thought I'd give it a try. Here are the results: The good news is that nothing will ever replace my love of books. The bad news is that the reader is light and efficient. So, now, how is that bad? Well, inherently these are both good if each is taken in measure for what they both offer. I guess my concern is whether or not I can I trust myself to keep the difference straight. More importantly, can I trust publishers and other book buyers to stay balanced on this as well when sales of new books are dominated by e-book sales. I've considered this a while and so now, here are the thoughts, in no particular order.
- The book is a lovely and necessary object with pages I can turn and a cover I can hold. As an object I develop a relationship with each book individually as it comes with me to my bed, the beach or whever it might be. The book as object has a type of face and personal identity that reminds me of the author as real and discreet. It highlights each book as a meeting between author and reader.
- The reader is efficient and light. It offers information and in this way seems to be useful for philosophy and other non-fiction books that I might not read if I was bound to carry a tome on my back. For research and textbooks the reader is comfortable and inspires me to read work that is technical.
- The book is egalitarian. I can trade it. I can give it away when it is done. I can loan it and I can borrow another. I can put my name inside the front cover of it and send it on its way, while the book collects other signatures and history along its way. The book as object has a life of its own and it can travel to people and converse with them openly without my presence. The book in this way, is also a type of currency, a useful tool for propagating ideas directly as it passes from hand to hand.
- The reader offers classics for free. Mark Twain, Aristotle, Virginia Woolf, can all be had for nothing and this makes them somehow exciting again.
- To summarize an antagonism inherent in points 3 &4: The book can be read anywhere since most people can't resell your book for a lot of money, the reader is electronic and is therefore a re-saleable commodity. In an airport a reader is chic. In a subway, a reader is pretentious. Now, this makes information suddenly something that must be covered and protected, so until the technology is cheap and ubiquitous the reader can not be taken everywhere.
- The reader depends on resources differently: The reader needs electricity and people can track my choices. If the lights go out due to a storm or a shortage the book can still be read by candlelight. The book is private and if I buy it with cash no one anywhere needs to know that I have it. So the book is a private relationship whereas the reader seems somehow rather public.
As an author I've decided that all of my books should be released in both forms, this way my feeling before I had personal experience with an e-reader and I still think this is the balanced approach. The book as object is as luxurious as a good cup of coffee and just as necessary. It is the the cut flower versus the flower's facsimile. So, for me, limited edition and personalized books are key. I make the cover art, I write the words and I want those to live in a book that decorates a shelf, is pulled down by a curious friend and yes, has a bit of coffee spilt upon it if that is what happens. Also, as an author I want people to read the words and assimilate my journey into theirs. I can not make a person care for a book and more practically I might not be able to distribute a paper book clear across the world to small shops in tiny towns, but an e-edition can do that. The book and the reader, let's remember, I think to myself, are not in competition.