Five Things an E-Book Can’t Do
By Michael McGee London
With the advent of the e-book, and with the excitement of a new round of e-readers and lower pricing, we all hear the speculation (and, sometimes, the proclamation) that the bound book is dead. It’s true that, increasingly, e-book sales are outstripping the bound book in many venues. However, the most avid readers who own an e-reader also keep their bound books. Why? Because there are still things an e-book can’t do. Here are five examples:
1. An e-book has no scent.
You can’t smell an e-book. Did you ever go into a used bookstore looking for your own copy of a favorite classic? The bookseller searches for the book with you and, finally, you’re both rewarded. You are holding in your hands a nineteenth century copy of Jane Austen’s “Persuasion.” You open it and a whiff of another time meets your senses. That smell of old paper becomes part of the experience of reading for you. That aroma is a bit of the icing on the cake of literature. Try that with an e-book!
2. An e-book can’t let you feel the differences in reading material.
One e-book feels the same as every other. Smooth. Pick up a hardback copy of Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help.” Feel the weight of it. Run your fingers over the embossed cover. Turning each page is part of the eager anticipation of the next development in Hinds County, Mississippi. You can’t feel the touch and texture of an e-book.
3. An e-book can’t really be kind to the environment.
You have a paperback copy of Steven Saylor’s “Roman Blood.” You’ve read it twice and lent it out three times. Your grandson pulls it off the coffee table and totes it happily to the muddy spot in the yard that the dog has created with that incessant bone burying ritual. It’s sad, but you know you have to replace the book and use this copy for fuel at the next weenie roast. It has begun the process of decomposition. However, should you decide to dispose of your broken or outdated e-reader, how environmentally friendly do you really think it is? “Roman Blood” is biodegradable. Can you say that about an e-reader?
4. An e-book can’t operate without a battery or a power cord and, preferably, a wi-fi hotspot.
That’s a real limitation for those who are marathon readers. However, a first edition hardback of Alan Furst’s “Night Soldiers” can be read anywhere there is good light, a hot beverage, and a footstool. And you can read for as long as you like without worry of a power failure. Seriously, you can even read it by candlelight in a power outage. Alan Furst… no batteries required.
5. An e-book is not easy to share.
Option one: You go to the store. You buy a copy of Katrina Kittle’s “The Kindness of Strangers.” You read it, cry, and know you have to give it to your friend, David, to read. (Mostly, because you like to see men cry, but Kittle really is brilliant.) You give it to David, he reads it, he cries, everyone’s happy. Option two: You get the e-book. You read it. It’s great, and then you start the hunt for a flash drive but eventually realize that you can’t put the book on the drive. You have to figure out how to get permission to share it. And by the time you figure it out, David has left for Chicago and the moment is lost. An e-book is not easy to share – and sharing may not even be legally possible, anyway.
For those of us who are book-aholics, we know the future. We get it. We are not in denial. E-books are here. That’s clear. Get used to it.
But there will continue to be those of us who will want our heavy, embossed, old-paper-smelling, environmentally green, easy-to-share bound books, because we, too, are looking to the future. One hundred years from now, try to smell the digital copy of next year’s yet-to-be-released classic.
The future of the bound book is not dead, just moving toward an active retirement that’s physically fit and engaged with a sense of the beauty of living.
(Michael McGee London is a playwright and the creator of limited edition hand-made novels. You can see his work at londonhousepublishing.com)