I share some of Sara Barbour’s sentimental attachment to good old hardcopy books.
Ms. Barbour, in a June 17 L.A. Times article, offers an impassioned defence of books in the face of the Kindle invasion. For instance, books are more charming because they’re wrinkled and the spines are cracked. You can scribble in them. Big hardcovers make a satisfying “whomp” noise when you drop them squarely on the table. (OK she didn’t mention that one, but I always liked it.)
I don’t even own an e-Reader myself, yet. Like Sara, I take a certain retro-minded comfort in persisting with the old technology.
But Ms. Barbour’s melodramatic prose and wonky reasoning had me wondering if I was on the wrong team here.
Things get iffy in a hurry: the article begins with the expression “several weeks into December,” when her parents were feeling her out about possible Christmas gifts. Now I suppose the word “several” could be used to refer to a number as small as three, sometimes. But I personally reckon that “several weeks into December” is better described as, you know, “January.”
An editing issue or two could be excused, though, if her arguments were sound. Or rationally expressed.
But too often they’re neither. Some examples:
- She likens Kindles to video-chatting online with a friend. It’s nice, she tells her pal, but “the screen isn’t you.” Well, a hardcopy book isn’t the work itself either, any more than a Kindle version is. They’re both just publishing formats. When an old classic is reprinted numerous times with different cover designs, which is the “real” book?
- Her ode to books can tug at the heartstrings at times, but she overdoes it with lines like this: “Something crucial is lost forever,” she writes, when a story is “trapped in a Kindle.” I get visions of the Jaws of Life being called in to save the day.
- And what is this something crucial that’s getting lost? “The book can no longer be scribbled in, hoarded, burned, given or received.” Burned? I thought you liked books, Sara?
Her main point, though, appears to be that books are better at connecting people. Gifts make for happy reminders, and suchlike. But it seems to me that e-Readers can do the same or better with functions like copying a favourite passage and e-mailing it to a friend. If anything, curling up with a hardcopy book has more of a solitary nature to it than using any device with links to the vast public meeting space known as the Internet.
On top of all this, Ms. Barbour’s nostalgic resistance to the new technology seems a bit hysterical. There’s no sign that books will vanish any time soon. A recent poll found that one in six Americans now use an e-Reader, but those people are also buying the most hardcopy books. And e-book sales remain a small fraction of the total. If books are destined to go the way of vinyl records and VHS tapes, it won’t happen for a very long time, at this rate.
So let’s not get too weepy here, Sara. You’ll have books to burn for many years to come. For me though, if the case for sticking to books can’t be made much better than this, I may be off to Amazon’s website to check Kindle prices.