And Why I’ll NEVER Own One
Guest Post by Eva Pugzlyte
Moses was already marketing the stone prototype (
second-generation since he broke the first one) of this gadget around Mount Sinai before it was cool. Hipster. Apparently he was hooked on it for forty days and forty nights (gadget dependency was seemingly not a hot topic back then) before he finally got off the mountain and showed it to his followers (and that before Twitter!). Since the Stone Tablets the e-reader has gained a few more electrodes (hence the ‘e’) and millions more who swear by it like the Israelites did by the ten commandments. Now there’s the Kindle, the Bookeen, the Nook, the Pocketbook, the Kobo and the Sony. Basic, Mini, Touch, Sense, Glo, Pro. The Essence. The iLiad (which ironically was discontinued) and the eClicto (which ironically hasn’t been discontinued). Then there are the tablets you can use as e-readers and e-readers that you can hook up to Wi-Fi and use as tablets that can be used as cameras, which can be used as coffee makers which can probably navigate satellites.
And I’m – I’m equally unimpressed, because in the end all I want to do is read a book.
Ah! Let me finish. An actual book, which is “a set of written, printed and/or illustrated sheets made of ink, paper, parchment, or other materials, usually fastened together to hinge at one side.” That kind of book.
“But e-readers can store thousands of books in one device, which is perfect for a book worm like you,” you might argue?
Valid point, if not for the fact that I like to physically be surrounded by my books in that creepy porcelain-doll collection sort of way. I love to see their colourful spines snugly stashed on various shelves. I love the double rows. I love the random piles that tend to sprout all over my flat like mushrooms after rain. It makes my home feel inhabited not by just me but also by the characters in those books and the great minds that birthed them. Granted there’s also a few that are the equivalent of that one aunt or uncle who channels North-Korea at family functions (with or without booze), but you love them anyway. Because it’s family.
In addition few things beat walking into a bookstore or a library and knowing that you’re literally surrounded by millions of words. Thousands of e-books on a Kindle will never kindle the feeling of walking in to a place like this: http://www.miragebookmark.ch/images/inside-shakespeare-and-co.jpg and ordering an e-book will never be as satisfying as feeling the weight of the novel you purchased in your hands, nor will you feel the little thrill of being the first to properly open a book, the cover still rigid from never being used, the pages crisp as you brush your hand over them to set them in that first fold (of hopefully many) until it is pliant and perhaps a bit weathered under your fingertips. Same way an e-reader will never hold the charm of an antique book or even simply a second hand one, perhaps holding a personal inscription or a few incriminating dog-ears, fondly pressed in the pages. It will not give you that slightly mouldy smell of old paper.
You’re probably rolling your eyes at the illusive book smell, but here’s a little fun fact: An international team of chemists has devoted a study to this unique odour of old books and concluded that the smell was “a combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness”. Call me when anyone starts waxing poetic on the scent of an e-reader like that.
Which brings me to the next point. Books are mostly made from organic elements. The paper, the ink, the glue, the fabric, etc. All these compounds react to temperature and humidity, exposure to the environment and even each other as time goes by and release what in the study of degradomics (the science of book-sniffing if you will) is called volatile organic compounds which cause a unique smell. So you see, books are a living organism. They age like we do. The yellowed pages, the different scents they absorb and the weathered edges are the wrinkles etched in our skins.
The story remains, but if you eliminate its physical existence, its body if you will, you are left with a fragrant perfume in an airtight bottle. And then there is the sharing of books which I find somehow intimate, both receiving a book belonging to someone else or lending one out to someone. A friend of mine who spent 6 months travelling the world told me about the practice of backpackers exchanging books as they travelled (both the books and the backpackers). Imagine a manuscript travelling around Vietnam and suddenly crossing paths with you only to leave your side on the sandy beaches of Bali after a short but meaningful love affair only to thrust you in to a new adventure, both on page as in reality.
Imagine making that same trip with an e-reader. It surely is much more convenient. An e-reader offers thousands of manuscripts in one light-weight gadget. It eliminates spilled coffees, crumbs between the pages, reservations at the library or late returns, it eliminates frantic searching for that one quote you read somewhere between page 53 and 734 or the quest spanning four bookstores in one day to find a certain title, it offers font-enlargement, and makes bookmarks obsolete. It saves space in your suitcase and in your cramped flat.
It’s convenient, but then the best things in life often aren’t.
I rest my case. If you need me, I’ll be curled up on the couch with the yellowed pages of The Great Gatsby copy I picked up at a second hand bookstore for €2 last week. It smells vaguely of coffee and has a dog-ear on page 24.
I agree with the previous owner. It’s a good page.
About the Author
Thinker. Dreamer. Independent. Observer. Night owl. Frank. Stubborn. Easygoing on the surface, but shy underneath. Prone to sarcastic remarks. Ticklish. Lover of arts. Foodie. Would never exchange the feel of paper under her fingertips for an e-reader. Often talks in references. Could eat her weight in licorice. Secretly suspects her house is trying to kill her and shall deny every accusation of klutzery on her behalf. Is known to on occasion name inanimate objects and oftentimes can’t decide whether she loves something because it’s beautiful, or whether it’s beautiful because she loves it.