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Books: Real and Imagined

Today, I traversed the rows of an enormous field of used books, and I reaped hard. A local library held its annual book sale. For $15, you can fit as many books as possible in a medium-sized shopping bag. As the librarian who took my money pointed out, I had a little bit of room left in mine. Oh well.

It was fun not to know what I might find and to end up with so many books I’ve wanted. Like most people who love books (and really–isn’t this cohort as unique as lovers of major holidays or chocolate?), the enjoyment comes from the sensations: the heft of the book in my hands, the way it smells, the sound of the pages as I turn them.

The tactile pleasures of books-as-objects don’t mean so much to me that I would resist using e-texts. I’m still holding out for an option I can afford and would feel comfortable using. Using new formats takes patience and practice. Since I’m not the best reader of paper-based books, I’m open to new possibilities.

My biggest concern is that it won’t be possible to share virtual books. I must emphasize the verb “share.” In computer terms, I’m making a distinction here between moving book files and simply copying them. The former is a way to share books, whereas the latter is how you give them away, which is problematic when the book is yours but the rights are not.

As a reader, I like sharing books; as a writer (so far barely published but aspiring to more), I think writers should get reimbursed for their work. If readers can easily copy a book and give it away, there’s no incentive for someone to invest in a borrowed book. The borrower can read the copied file at her/his convenience, with no pressure to return the book. And at the risk of getting all touchy-feely, passing along copied files is a transaction so simple that it discourages discussion about the shared book. If you don’t have to give it back, you might not talk about it. Consumption should not be the only result of reading.

In addition to interacting with other readers, I want for virtual books to allow me to interact with the text. I like to write in my books, and if I’m reading for research purposes, I must. A friend of mine who is a librarian is horrified that I dare to write in books, but if it’s my book, I can do what I want. As far as I know, the comment features in e-text readers are not any better than those in word processors, so it’ll be a while before I delve into the world of electronic books.

But I don’t expect new technology to be used to simulate old technology. Of course things will change. As word processing has changed the way we write, web-based texts require us to read differently. Capable of gathering more varied information online, we need to be able to skim and search texts.

So in the future, things will be different–better in some ways, worse in others. Who hasn’t figured that out by now? The library is raising money to meet future needs that involve digital technologies. It’s not as if they’re saving up for a new card catalog.

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One Response

  1. This may come as a shock but I for one, cannot stand e-books. Yes, it’s a great idea to save paper but I cannot read a book without having the feel of the paper in my hands. I know I’m a rarity in that sense but that’s nothing new.
    As an IT/IS person, I would like to make another comment; one of the many reasons we create new technology is to replace and simulate the old technology. The ideas in the old technology are great but the technology itself fails to work in today’s world.

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