|Some of my favorites|
I may not be a Luddite, but I've also never been one to embrace technology quickly or blindly. I didn't get a cell phone until 2005, and I didn't get a smart phone until 2012. Since I'm neither a computer nor a child, I harbor a curmudgeonly dislike of hash tags, text speak, and emojis. I prefer to get directions off a map before I leave rather than using GPS audio directions. Most tragically for my earning potential as a nerd, I've never had any interest in computer programming.
The increasing availability of books in non-paper formats has arisen in the context of my mixed feelings about technology. Note that I'm NOT telling other people how to read. If audio books or e-books help you to enjoy books, then I am in full support of reading in whatever manner you choose. Books are awesome. Reading is a huge part of my career as well as my favorite hobby. But for me, paper books are superior.
How do I praise paper books? Let me count some of the ways.
1. The aesthetic experience.
Holding a stack of bound paper in your hands is a fundamentally different aesthetic experience than listening to an audio book or reading on a digital device (I shudder to contemplate reading a book on a phone). I have used books, like my copy of Russell's Mysticism and Logic, published 70 years ago that smell of pipe tobacco and the sweet must of finely aged books (see this article on the science of the smell of old books). New books smell of pulp and ink with a hint of glue - that "new book smell" if you will. The lightness of a short book signals to your hands that your experience will be short and sweet or mercifully short depending on the book. The heft of a big book tells you to settle in for a longer journey. While one shouldn't judge a book by its cover, the experience of seeing a book design in paper is unique. For instance, the American Orbit editions of Iain M. Banks's books are just so cool looking, and this experience doesn't transfer to an e-reader screen. My friend, author Adam J. Nicolai, published initially in e-book form, but he also made some paper books available for bibliophiles like me (Check out Adam's website! His stuff is really good).
|Iain M. Banks, Adam J. Nicolai, George R. R. Martin, and more|
2. Paper books take up space. And that's a good thing.
E-reader fans always say, "I love that I don't have to carry books around and that they don't take up space on my shelves! Why do you keep getting those old dusty things?" After I extoll the virtues of the aesthetic experience of the books as individual items (#1 above), I point out that a room with books is a room worth being in. A home without books is not a home to me. If you invite me to your house, I will linger near your bookshelves (hopefully not in a creepy way). Would anyone take me seriously as a humanities professor without my academic books lining the walls of my office?
|Library and non-library books|
3. Paper books are better for concentration, comprehension, and learning.
Numerous studies have suggested that paper books are better for comprehension and learning (see this article from Scientific American for discussion of some examples). A lot of this probably has to do with tactile and visual cues. I often remember an important passage based on how far into the book I was, whether it was on the left or right page, and where on the page I read it.
If I want to understand difficult material, like philosophy, I read with a pen to underline, mark important passages, and to write notes that form a dialogue with the text. Yes, you can annotate on some e-readers, but it's not the same. If you're reading on a device with internet access, forget anything like immersive concentration: I wonder if I got an email...? How about Facebook... Did I pay those bills...? These questions, which are just a click away from answering, detract from the immersion into stories and ideas that makes reading books so rewarding in the first place. Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I think digital multi-tasking is overrated and, as some scientists claim, it's actually inefficient.
4. Paper books last, and they always work.
There are books that are hundreds of years old, some of which are copies of books that are thousands of years old. You can still read them today. A paper book (or a papyrus or palm leaf manuscript) is a piece of history in your hands, whether it's a 300 year old book in a library's special collections or a mass market paperback published the year you were born that you found in a used book store with a cat. Will anyone be able to read your .pdf of The Da Vinci Code in 100 years? 50 years? Of course, nobody will want to read Dan Brown in the future (I hope).
|No Kindles here (Twilight Zone, "Time Enough at Last")|
Call it pointless nostalgia, bibliophilia, or even bibliomania if you will, but I sincerely hope that paper books will be around in the future. Star Trek: The Next Generation may have imagined the iPad, but remember that Jean-Luc Picard still reads paper books. If Captain Picard can read paper books in the 24th century, I hope that a few of us can persist in reading them in the 21st.
|Captain Picard on vacation|