I’m here to discuss a friend’s point of view — one that hadn’t occurred to me. I’m going to wander a bit because I’m also talking books, but it all translates to love for the written word.
Some people appreciate e-books, some don’t. Some hate the term ‘e-book’ and I take the argument on board. A ‘book’ is a bound set of pages. We might more accurately call the electronic file of a book an e-novel or e-story because I don’t believe the presentation affects the content.
The narrative ‘exists’ the moment the author penned, typed, or dictated the words. When one used typewriters or even quills and ink, the method didn’t make the yarn exist any less. Although by no definition could hand written or typed pages be called ‘books’, I would take them over the existence of nothing. A story exists regardless of presentation.
I’m not against electronic files, but I still love paper; always will. I admit there’s nothing like a physical book one can hold. It’s nostalgic. If a gift, we may recollect when we opened a brightly wrapped package, the second we first saw what was inside, felt a fission of pleasure, and spare a moment’s thought for the person who gifted it.
An electronic file, mostly, lacks the personal touch. An old book even deteriorated… Well, those creases in the spine and cover could have developed over many years of handling and love. I don’t see a scruffy volume as one discarded or ill-used.
Also, for someone like me who spends a great deal of time in front of computer screens, then the printed page is a departure from our world that thrives so heavily on electronics. I find room for both formats simply owing to practicality. I write e-books and would be a total hypocrite to say I loathe them. Far from it. Sure, I would adore the library the Beast gave to Beauty in the Disney film. Push my bed and a chair and desk into the middle. I’ll be fine — but I’ve yet to stumble across any enchanted castles even if I’ve found my Prince Charming.
I love many types of books, from the classics to children’s stories, fantasy and horror, some romances. I can be fussy about my romantic tales more than any genre, but they stand alongside all the other genres I cherish. To call my collection eclectic is an understatement. Unfortunately, I simply don’t have room for all the books I want to own — I will never live long enough to read them all even if I had said library.
My key problem is I’m one of those readers who struggles to part with titles, especially if I enjoyed them. I’ve relatives and friends who don’t understand this. They feel a book read, or a film seen, they’ve finished with. The story told, the reader/viewer knows what will happen, so why read/watch repeatedly?
I comprehend the point but disagree. A much-loved experience can be enjoyed more than once and often one can miss things on a first pass the same way an author can during the creation process. Among my many ‘wants’ is a desire to own an entire library of classics. I’ve an abiding affection for them. I’m amazed when I hear someone say they’ve read none of the literary greats. Black Beauty, Heidi, Pride and Prejudice, Gulliver’s Travels, Oliver Twist… all these and more were my childhood reads. I cannot even remember when they first earned the term ‘classics’ — they were simply books, and they were my first adventures. They took me to different worlds and gave me experiences I would never have had otherwise. I experienced these alongside stories like The Water Babies, What Katy Did, Ballet Shoes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and never differentiated.
Now they are looked upon as stuffy and dry, the language outdated. I cannot help feeling that people were better educated, more eloquent and literate when such volumes were picked up at a younger age. I was born when almost all parents read to their kids, where they gave me titles intended for older children; if unable to enjoy them right away, I wanted to. That longing made me strive to learn. If I didn’t know a word, my parent handed me a dictionary and told me to look it up, and yes, I took the time to do so.
So these stories remained with me, ingrained, and the electronic format allowed me to revisit some of these classics lost through moves, through lack of space. They are adventures and memories revisited, and I can keep them in virtual reality. Although I still often buy my favourite authors in print, I branched out and discovered others owing to electronic formats. I am grateful, and I would prefer the world where there wasn’t an argument for or against, but where all can live side by side. In an advanced society, life is about individual choice.
I personified my thinking when speaking with a friend. This person is in his seventies and he recently bought an e-reader… and adores it. His reason is simple — he has struggled to read a book for some time. His eyes aren’t quite as they used to be and there may be other factors in his health, but whatever the cause, he can ‘see’ the words better on his reader as opposed to looking at a printed page. He can also increase the font size if need be, or zoom in. This small device made his whole experience come alive again, and where he had as good as given up on books, or took a long time to struggle through a single novel, he’s reading again… devouring titles, and what I saw in his eyes as he told me all this was joy.
So I’m putting this thought out there for those much against. Maybe e-books and e-readers aren’t for everyone, and for some, they never will be, but I think this proves that it’s pointless to criticise the needs of another person and that none of us can know what we may one day need ourselves. Should there be anyone saying they’d rather give up than commit sacrilege and read electronic books, then I can only think ‘nose, spite, and face’. I could never cease reading.
Strangely, I’ve never heard such venomous disagreements over audio titles, which many people enjoy who aren’t blind and don’t have seeing difficulties. The arguments come from fear — a dread that the production of printed books will one day die out altogether. I understand that emotion well. Without print, this would be a poorer world, but one cannot ignore the increase of electronic formats (although sales have dropped back they’re holding their own) — something I knew would take off long before the first e-reader was even conceived. I foresaw a time before such devices existed, where e-readers and titles intended for them sold alongside things like audio were considered as commonplace, and where — for some — they’re a lifeline. Just as someone brought books into my life to enrich it — in my ‘book’ that makes their existence tolerable and even worthwhile.