eBook Rambles

29 Feb 2012

Nicholas Carr, on offering an electronic version with every book purchase:

Buy the atoms, get the bits free. That just feels right - in tune with the universe, somehow.

I am a reader and I love books. My favorites are love stories, not in content, but in their character, their form. The way in which a book will age through use is a testament of the reader’s love.

Each book and every bookshelf is a biography of the owner. If you were to explore mine, a great deal would be revealed. The obvious: science fiction, Stephen King, and political theory dominate my history; and the aesthetic of a collection is more important than strict organization.1 The odd: Twilight sits upon a stack of feminist thought; at least four Bibles line the shelves, amidsts athiest manifestos and Christian scholarship; and there is an Atari 2600 gathering dust and taking up precious space.

And then the books themselves, holding more than the author’s intended words with stories added by each reader: God Emperor of Dune is dog-earred on every third page2; Twilight has been defaced, all red pen and hate3; and numerous novels are bookmarked with old receipts or gum wrappers, indications of unsuccessful attempts.4

Occasionally, visitors will inquire, awe-struck, “have you read all of these?”. That question strikes me as a particularly mad one, akin to asking whether I have watched all the shows on my television. My library is as much a to-do list as it is a display. Old books stay, just as old friends do, and new ones wait until their contents need to be revealed.

There is something rather silly about my attachment to paper and ink, especially when one considers how ruthlessly I mocked those who would not make the switch to digital music, but awareness of my hypocrisy does nothing to alleviate it. I will not give up the physical book; I cannot rid myself of the ability to flip through it, picking out defects and memories alike, tugging at the strings of the person created through the experience of the book.

Electronic books can likewise shape and change the reader, but I have been unable to recreate the same visceral nostalgia that imperfect paper holds. Perhaps this stubbornness is a sign of getting older, of becoming stuck in my ways, but the truth of the matter is that I want nothing more than to carry around entire libraries in my pocket. I yearn to easily search via keyword or phrase. I get excited thinking about the ability to copy, define, and annotate texts all within the actual medium of the message.

It is the future and I want to be a part of it and yet, at the same time, I find myself resisting the urge to develop an eLibrary. Nicholas Carr offers a way out for those like myself whom are rooted in the old ways: buy the atoms, get the bits.

If only it were that easy.

(Via John Gruber)

At the portal, one Fish Speaker guard whispered to another: “Is God troubled?”

And her companion replied: “The sins of this universe would trouble anyone.”

  1. This is not entirely true. My bookshelf may not be at all easy for an outsider to grasp the methodology to my sorting, but that is not the purpose. The shelves exist to showcase and store my books in such a way that allows me to access them with ease. If you want to know where a certain book is, ask. 

  2. “Heteronormative” in capital letters across an entire page, as an example. A word that doesn’t exactly flow out of the pen. Eventually one develops a shorthand for these things. 

  3. The Kite Runner has been half-finished for two years. At this point, I have resigned myself to being out of the loop on that one.