Sam Grobart at the NY Times lists gadgets to get rid of, and gadgets to keep. In the “keep” pile: books.
Yes, e-readers are amazing, and yes, they will probably become a more dominant reading platform over time, but consider this about a book: It has a terrific, high-resolution display. It is pretty durable; you could get it a little wet and all would not be lost. It has tremendous battery life. It is often inexpensive enough that, if you misplaced it, you would not be too upset. You can even borrow them free at sites called libraries.
Indeed. Neil Gaiman agrees:
Paper books are really, really useful things. They are wonderful things. I’m still convinced that the paperback book is something that will probably live forever. Because it’s cheap, it’s cheerful, you can drop it in the bath, you can put it in your pocket. It’s driven by sunlight. You can find your place in it in seconds.
(Granted, his very next line is “But there are places where Kindles win,” but the point is that physical books haven’t lost. Not by a long shot.)
It’s also hard to see how e-books, for all their convenience, can replace the unique tactile experience of the physical book. The Lemuria Bookstore Blog has a great post on the history of books as decorative objects; and I share blogger Rae Botsford’s fondness for the way books accumulate associations, imperfections, and history:
[…] physical books contain history (as a quality, not necessarily as the content). That’s why used-book stores feel like magic. Somebody owned, read, and probably loved those books previously. Some of those books were gifts from one person to another. Some contain markings, names, or dog-ears. You don’t get that history in an e-book. When you buy a new book, you start creating that history. You’ll remember buying it, where you were when you read it, or things people said to you when they saw you reading it, every time you pick up that copy again. Items have associations. And, items have imperfections that are gathered over time. When I pick up my well-loved copy of Carrie Pilby, it’s obvious that it’s been read over and over, by me and a few people who have borrowed it from me. E-readers have far less room for associations. […]
The feel of books is very important to me as well. To begin with, I like that different books feel different. Why should my hands respond the same way to both a textbook and a small paperback novel? The Complete Works of Shakespeare should feel more daunting than Artemis Fowl. Also, some books have strangely-cut pages, some have fancy embossed titles, and some leather-bound books have special leatherwork in the spine. Real books are tactile. E-books are not.
Ben Macintyre sees a role for both e-readers and traditional books — effectively dividing literature into enduring treasures and passing fancies:
Some books are worth sacrificing a tree to make; others are not, and that is the distinction that the electronic book offers. Ruskin once observed that literature is “divisible into two classes, the books of the hour, and the books of all time”. The books of all time will remain on paper, but those of the hour will increasingly be digital: the airport novel, the reference book, the celebrity memoir. A personal library will no longer be the repository of unread paperbacks, but a genuine index to individuality, as it was in the days when books were rare and precious.
I’ll admit, of course, that an e-reader has its uses; it would certainly have saved space (and spared my back) on those long family trips with five or six hardcovers stuffed into my backpack. I wouldn’t rule out owning one someday. But I won’t give up dust jackets and deckle edges; spines and endpapers; the wrist-straining weight of an epic saga; the bright, vivid images on an art book’s wide pages; the astonishing paper structures blossoming from a children’s pop-up; or — occasionally — a favorite author’s signature sprawling grandly on the title page. E-readers may take over the world, but my heart belongs to the book.