I stand firmly in the camp advocating the importance of hardbound books. I realize we can save trees if we go entirely to a digital format for all books, but all I can say to that is, “Bah, humbug.” While I understand the value of reading on a digital device, I do not especially enjoy reading for pleasure on one after working on a computer all day. Reading for me is recreational, but when it is coupled with something that looks like my work instrument – my computer – well, it begins to feel occupational. Besides, I like books lining my bookshelves. There is something comforting and heartening about seeing books right there at my disposal. I feel better knowing that the wisdom and storytelling genius of my favorite authors is right at my fingertips in the form of a real, honest-to-God book.
Not to mention that I deeply regret the demise of bookstores. Where am I supposed to go during my free time to see all the new books that are being published? Where am I supposed to go just to hang out and read older books that I haven’t gotten around to reading yet? Where am I supposed to go to be around other people who value books as much as I do? Yes, libraries still exist and I do love them. I can go there. But I also love bookstores filled with books that I can browse and then buy to take home to my library.
Yes, I have been part of the problem. I ordered books from Amazon and not from Barnes and Noble and the now defunct Borders Books, Crown Books and B. Dalton’s. Did I realize at the time that my actions (along with the majority of the reading public) would have such a profound effect on the book industry and/or the national and international reading public? The answer is no. If I had known, then I would have bitten the extra dollars bullet and supported my local bookstores. The ones that are now gone because I was so stingy and shortsighted.
Thank God for used bookstores. At least they are still around and attracting customers. Still, I am annoyed that my choices of where to go to find new publications are now so limited. Yes, Book Soup – a great independent bookstore is around the corner and there’s one Barnes and Noble about five miles away – but what the heck? Only these two bookstores and a handful of small independents for Beverly Hills, West Hollywood and the majority of West LA? That is patently absurd in a day and time when cultivating critical thinking skills seems more important than ever.
We, who benefit from the advance of the computer, must be careful not to be held hostage by it. We, who are so busy working, need to be cautious when it comes to giving our power away through our very busyness. There is a profound benefit to sitting down with a book in our lap. We have time to catch our collective breaths, to relax, let our minds slow down, so that we can think with more clarity. Digitized reading devices are efficient, yes; however, sometimes we need to be cautious of such efficiency. It can rob us of the processing time we often need to be more creative, more discerning, more conscious in a world that desperately needs us to stay conscious. And we haven’t even begun to discuss the value of gorgeous illustrations and photographs found in art books and children’s books. Oh dear Lord, what did we do?
Technology is great. I am a hardy advocate for all the wonderful advances the computer brings to our lives. But let’s not forget that some benefits of a book are intangible. Reading for pleasure is not solely about having access to the information or the story; it also involves pleasure of the senses: the sight, smell, sound and touch that is part of the experience of holding a real book. A Notebook or Kindle can supply the content of a book, but is a poor substitute when it comes to the sensory pleasure of feeling a book’s heft. It is not unlike wishing to feel the warm skin of your lover, but having to settle for FaceTime instead. Yes, communication has occurred, but the quality of the experience has been greatly reduced.
I realize there are a good many people out there who would beg to differ with me about their Kindle or Nook. They can carry one device that holds countless books anywhere they go and enjoy the written word. They are not burdened with heavy books to lug to and fro to work or play; they can read with great ease anywhere they wish and enjoy the experience just fine. And I say to them, “Hear! Hear!” There is a place for these e-readers. I own one myself. My argument is that we must be careful not to inadvertently replace all real books simply because we refuse to visualize the consequence of primarily supporting digital devices. (Remember bookstores.)
The answer: let’s have both.
Read on e-readers when it’s convenient and real books the rest of the time. Bring back bookstores so we have a safe and fun place to congregate. Recognize there is room in the world for all kinds of ways to read, and then enjoy all that the literary world has to offer.
In the meantime, please support those brick and mortar bookstores – new and used – that are still putting up a good fight. Their future will definitely affect our future, for better or worse.
What’s most important is for us to all keep reading in whatever form that may be. However, a world without real books to hold and see and love would be very sad indeed. It would also be reminiscent of many a dystopic novel, in which people have been told that books are an unnecessary remnant of the past.
Let’s not let that happen.