Books and Ebooks, A Ramble.
I love books. I love the feel and smell of them, the way you can flick through them and catch tantalising little glimpses of the plot to come, or flick to the end and ruin the whole damn thing. I love nicely-bound books, hardback books; great lumps that feel like they’re important even when they’re not... especially when they’re not. I like the way they smell when they’re new and get that funny dusty smell when they’ve been sitting on your shelf for years and years. I love breaking a paperback’s spine so you can read it on a train, or hanging off the end of a bed or sofa, or treat it like a holy relic and hardly dare to touch it just in case you get a fingerprint on the pages and never take food or drink within a mile of it... things that never trouble a ebook because you can’t dirty code, unless its dirty already. You can always just wipe an ebook reader clean, but drop it...? A book will survive falling off a cliff, but an ebook reader won’t. Neither will survive a dunk in the bath, although you might be able to salvage a book after sitting it on the radiator for a few days. Of course it’ll be a bit like reading a book made of corrugated iron, but if you read books in the bath you’ll be used to that.
Ebooks are different. They have no smell; they have no tactile qualities, you can’t even flick through them easily -- they’re all about the words and nothing else, which is what books are all about in the first place. They take up no space and have no more weight than the actual ebook reader itself. Books are packaged words, dolled-up words, painted words; ebooks are words in the raw: weightless and ephemeral.
Books take up all your personal space and make your shelves groan and bend from the weight. They impress your friends (“ Wow, have you read them all?”) assuming they don’t look too carefully at the titles, and make you feel at least a little bit learned. Yes you have a copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses, but you’ve never got past page 3. You can always pretend you have, hoping that your friend hasn’t read the book either, which is almost certain unless they are an intellectual or a masochist (apologies to those who have read Ulysses who are neither intellectuals or masochists).
Nobody knows what you have on your ebook reader except you, which makes it your secret library. You might have Fifty Shades of Grey on it or de Sade’s Justine... or even the Adventures of Noddy. Who’s to know?
All books are truth and beauty and lies and ugliness. They enlighten and they mislead; they make us see the light and, in the worst cases, create fear and spread intolerance. You can burn a book, but flame can never touch an ebook, only the reader itself. Of course you can try to delete an ebook out of existence, but who knows who might have saved it away on their HDD? In this way again an ebook hides.
Many people love books and claim to hate ebooks, although in truth they complement each other... now if there was only a way to sync them. But whatever people say Ebook are with us now forever and they aren’t going away, but then on the other hand I hope books never die and we go on reading them forever too. Long live books, in all their formats.