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.