Sunday, July 25, 2010

In Defense of The Old Fashioned Way of Reading

Just when I was getting comfortable with the idea of electronic books taking over the world, a few events occur that shake me to my foundation.

I've been more than willing to accept the idea of electronic books, especially from the viewpoint of an author. Electronic books are much more easier to distribute, in many ways can offer more in royalties, offer instant purchases, and can also be much easier to produce. Heck you can just go to the Kindle site on Amazon and make your own book and it's almost as easy as making a cup of coffee. It is very, very tempting.

But as a reader, I tend to still be on the fence. The arrival of a few books at my house in the past week have fueled the fire of debate - at least in my household.

This week I ordered two hardback books. One is a brand new memoir, Slow Love: How I Lost my Job, Put on My Pajamas, & Found Happiness, by Dominique Browning. Browning was the editor in chief of House & Garden, a Conde Nast publication until November, 2007, when she lost her job.

The other book is one of the great memoirs, A River Runs Through It, by Norman MacClean. I used to own a first edition, published in 1976 by the University of Chicago, but I sold it when I needed some money - a move that I have always regretted. Recently I decided that I still needed this book in my library and purchased the new edition.

These are the first hardback books I have purchased in a long time. Expense has always been a factor, but also size and weight. I have found that I am not a fan of big heavy hardbacks. So in the past years I have focused mainly on buying paperbacks.

But has anyone noticed how cheap hardback books are getting on Amazon now? I'm wondering why that is occurring. At any rate, the price of these two books was too good to pass up - they were just as cheap as some paperbacks. I ordered them.

Here is the first thing I would miss if books were no longer available in "real" book format. Once I've ordered a book on amazon, I get real pleasure in the waiting for the book to come in the post. There's something about knowing that you're going to get a package in the mail that makes your work week go a little better. When that little package is a book, the anticipation becomes that much sweeter. You wouldn't get that when ordering the download of an electronic book.

Once the package arrives, there's the opening, the pushing aside of the plastic filler, and the first sight of the books. Call me weird, but I love small books. For a while, I collected the Modern Library books from the 1950s and 60s that are roughly a little smaller than 4" by 6." (If I'm inaccurate in my measuring, forgive me, because they are all in boxes at the moment).

On my last trip to London, I discovered the Oxford World Classics, (also called Oxford Pockets) a series of classic literature works published in very small hardbacks, probably no bigger than 5" X 5", beginning in the mid 1940s. I bought one, Larkrise to Candleford, when I was in a used book store in Gloucester. When you buy books on vacation, they are a special kind of souvenir, because everytime you think of that particular book, you are transported back to that time and place where you bought it. As soon as I got home and pulled it out of the suitcase, I wished I had bought more. I have since bought four more from the shop in London, who shipped them to me.

Both of these new books are on the smaller size. Slow Love is 5 1/2" by 7 1/2", and A River Runs Through It is 5 3/4" by 9". They are both made of lighter paper as well, so they are lightweight. Another plus.

Then you get to pick the new books up for the first time. Both of these have dustjackets made of paper with a rough finish, not the glossy shine that most publishers used for many years, especially for their bestsellers. I am so glad that there's been a movement towards using this new type of paper. These books are a joy to touch.

Then I opened them and was greeted by a lovely surprise: A River Runs Through It is also illustrated with woodcuts by Barry Moser. Barry Moser is one of the most famous of woodcut illustrators; you may have read a book, Cowboy Stories, that I reviewed several months ago that was illustrated by him.

There are some things that electronic books will never be able to simulate. I know - never say never - but I think it's going to be a long time before they can catch the sensation of picking up a book -especially a beautiful book - and flipping through the pages, touching the paper, feeling the weight in your hand, and closing it when you are finished.

Simple things, really. But then the best things in life are.


Ron Scheer said...

Nicely said and illustrated. A downside of electronic delivery of books is that it reduces them to "content". I use that word but have the same feeling about it that I used to have when I worked for a marcom agency, and writing was referred to as "copy."

The thing about books is that they are both substance and content. As a kid I bought books just to HAVE them; I'd often never read them. There's not the same pleasure to be had when something written by someone arrives on a screen as "content." Like you say, it's a big trade-off.

Deka Black said...

Changes are always hard! Or you fear what physical books become a real luxury?

Walker Martin said...

I've tried to keep my thoughts to myself concerning the E-book subject. I really do not understand how it can even begin to compare with the joy and pleasure of owning a physical copy of a book and having it in your library to look at and handle.

I can understand the convenience of a Kindle for people who travel alot or are on a long vacation. Then instead of packing a dozen books, you can use the E-reader. But that's it for me. I'd rather have the book to read and hold in my hands.

I often read for information on the internet but I do not find reading fiction enjoyable at all online. I've tried reading but find myself skimming ahead after a couple pages online or on an E-book. So sorry, all the E-book authors and sellers, I'll stick to my usual books, magazines, and newspapers. The book has been around for 500 years and I'll continue to read and collect *real* books, not E-reader information.

Barry Traylor said...

Posts like this are why I enjoy your blog so much. You have stated so many things about real books that I so love. The anticipation of waiting for the package to arrive, the excitement of seeing the book (or books) for the first time and if they are vintage books the delightful aroma when you open the book. For me there is something almost sensual about the aroma and feel of the book. Back in the day when I worked 2nd shift and a package of pulps arrived from the Wizard of Eden, NC (Rick Minter) I always put it aside and would not open it until after arriving home from work. Also, with many of my pulps I can pick one up and recall just where and when I found it, what sort of day it was and who I was with. So many memories that an E-Book could never match.

Richard R. said...

I loved A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT when I read it back when. I had a paperback (now posted on Paperback Book Swap) but it wasn't the book format but the writing. Sating that, you'd think I'd be fine with an e-book but no, I'm completely in agreement with Walker on this. I want to handle, physically turn the pages, smell the book, etc.

Plus no batteries. I suspect there will be a day when batteries in the landfill - though people are supposed to take them to a recycle center - will become a real pollution problem, and it seems darn near everything has batteries these days. Even rechargeable ones wear out eventually.

Give me ink-and-pape, lease.

I agee with yo, Laurie, about the fun of getting the book delivered and opening it. My first step, after it's opened and examined, is to catalog it, so that's also a part of the "receiving" for me.

Charles Gramlich said...

Yes indeed, there are some books you just have to hold physically in your hands. There'll never be a subsitute for that. For me.

Melissa Marsh said...

Oh my goodness. This right here is me completely:

"Here is the first thing I would miss if books were no longer available in "real" book format. Once I've ordered a book on amazon, I get real pleasure in the waiting for the book to come in the post. There's something about knowing that you're going to get a package in the mail that makes your work week go a little better. When that little package is a book, the anticipation becomes that much sweeter. You wouldn't get that when ordering the download of an electronic book."

I have yet to buy a Kindle or any other e-book reader. I stare at a computer screen all day at work. Why would I want to go home and do the same? I love my books. I have oodles and oodles of them. Sure, moving them is a pain, but when I stop and look at them on the shelves, run my fingers over the spines, I just feel a sense of complete contentment. I will never feel that with e-books.

Laurie Powers said...

Ron, I work in marcom now, and everything I write in my 8 hours is considered copy. It certainly makes me appreciate the spare time I have to write work closer to my heart.

I'm with everyone here who confesses to have books that have never been read. I'm the same way. It's comforting just to have them on a shelf - it makes a house a home.

Deka, I don't think physical books will ever become a luxury - I think that they will always be around. The dangerous part happens when publishers "think" we can do without them and stop printing them.

Walker, sometimes I think I'd want a Kindle, and may get one someday. But it will never completely replace real books in my mind.

Barry, I always feel a letdown once the package arrives. Maybe that's a sign of a shopaholic. Oh hell, I admit I have a problem and I'm powerless over the effects of book buying. So sue me.

Rick, ARRTI is running on cable right now, which nudged me towards buying the book again. Such a beautiful narration. I never get tired of watching it.

Charles and Mel: I do have to say that I think there's room for both in our world: real books and e-books. They can complement each other, but there can never be one or the other. Only both.

Oscar said...

Maybe when the Kindles and the Nooks and the Sonys and others start getting tossed into the junkpile I'll buy some of them and put them on my shelf so I can thumb through them and remember the details and the "books" they held at one time. I wonder if the feel will be same as the actual books on the shelf. The touch and feel of books CANNOT BE REPLACED! Who knows?