I’m not against technology. I’m a self-described Apple nerd, and the internet has long served as my third — and easily most irresponsible — parent. But the rising popularity of e-books, and the resulting downward spiral of the print and audiobook market, is not a welcome change to yours truly. The fact is, e-books will never hold a candle to the printed word, no matter how much information you can ﬁt on their hard drives.
The bound book has been around since long before Gutenberg’s printing press. In fact, no one quite knows how old books are, most scholars seem to agree on India as the starting point, but not on a speciﬁc date. Religious sutras were the subject of these early bound editions.
Buddhist monks, who would painstakingly copy each and every word by hand, spread religious texts throughout modern-day Asia, and soon, bound books began showing up in Mesoamerica and Ancient Egypt.
Though most books aren’t handwritten anymore, they still retain an air of delicacy and acredness that seems passed on from this humble origin. Their smell is unmistakable; a quick visit to any used bookstore in the Greater Vancouver area will conﬁrm that. The musky, nostalgic aroma of a much-loved book is often as unique as its contents.
Books also have a certain weight that becomes familiar over the course of a reading session. My copy of War and Peace has a weight that seems as impressive as its epic wartime fable, whereas Of Mice and Men’s 110 pages ﬁt perfectly inside coat pockets and on top of nightstands.
Bound books also have numerous logical advantages. They are easy to resell, they don’t have batteries to recharge or warranties to keep track of, and they are relatively inexpensive and portable. They also don’t have backlights, which have a tendency to irritate eyes and stave off sleepiness.
Above all, though, print books are tangible. My own collection takes up the entire Northeastern corner of my room, with each one connected to a time and place — a speciﬁc memory of when and where I read them. They’re collectible, beautiful, and real. The elegance of a bookshelf can never be replicated by a collection of ﬁles on a tiny, book-shaped computer.
Make no mistake, e-books are here to stay: their growth in popularity and prevalence is not only a sign of the perseverance of literature, but also a clear afﬁrmation that the new generation will surely be doing as much, if not more, reading on computers as they do on paper. Recently, a small town in Texas announced plans to open North America’s ﬁrst electronic-only library — the times, they are a-changin.’
With all of this said, I’m conﬁdent that the rising tide of e-books and electronic readers, like Kindles and iPads, don’t mean the end of print books. There’s no reason the two can’t live in harmony. After all, books go out of print, and many with vision problems or learning disabilities might ﬁnd electronic readers less intimidating than the usual micro-print fare.
Fortunately, books still have a place in as many hearts as they do in living rooms, and that isn’t about to change anytime soon.