Posted by: Sarah | June 15, 2009

I’m A Finger-To-The-Page Junkie: The e-Book Debate

Earlier, I stopped by my favorite local bookstore with a particular title in mind. More often than not, I go with no pre-decided selection and hunt for the perfect novel to suit my mood. A book safari of sorts. I find that much more fun, but that’s an entirely different tale to tell. Today, I had a mission. So I set forth at the beginning: the ‘A’ aisle.

Oh, beautiful bookshelves

Despite learning my ABC’s as a toddler and knowing exactly where I need to go to find my author’s name, I always begin at the beginning and weave my way through the stacks until I reach my destination. It’s a self-imposed bookstore rule, and I follow it faithfully. Jump right into the middle—say, at the letter ‘L’, and I’m totally unnerved. Yes, some in the medical field (a.k.a. my husband) may classify this as OCD, but I prefer the expression ‘creature of habit’.

As they say on Sesame Street, the letter of the day was ‘K’, but still I ambled along running my fingers over Berg, Bohjalian and Brooks, Hemingway and Hoffman, Jacobs, James and Joyce, revisiting old friends and smiling down at new ones—patrons cozied up on the floor—stopping here and there to check out a title I read about somewhere or a chapter from an old favorite that still makes my heart flutter. The bookstore is a religious experience.  I love everything about the place. It stems from my childhood devotion to the library, which shares an equal place in my heart. Aw, the glory of books, shelves and shelves of them, fat and slim, beautiful all.

By the way, did I mention I own a Sony Reader? I do. So then why, in our high-priced gas society, would I drive fifteen minutes down the road to get a book, you may ask. Because I want to.

A dear friend of mine is a reading Speedy Gonzales. She has a Kindle and at the click of a button, downloads and consumes handfuls of books a week. It’s impressive. Being digital reader owner, I see the benefits. No heavy loads to carry around. No spine that won’t stay open to the page. No need to dog-ear. Forget going to the bookstore or library. This gives instant gratification, and we all know instant gratification reigns supreme today. You want a book, you got it. Badda-bing, it’s yours!

For the first few months of my digital reader-dom, I was a kid in a candy store, downloading books from the unlimited supply of online books and gleefully reading away the hours. But then one day, I decided to return to a memorable scene in an e-book I’d recently finished. Hmm… problem number one: My battery was low. Okay, I let it charge. Patience is a virtue, I reminded myself. A lesson the instantaneous e-book makes you forget.

Once fully juiced, however, I encountered problem number two: How did I find the scene? In a traditional book, I’d have flipped through the pages, remembering it was after this part and before that. But on the e-book, I only had two options: A) randomly type in a page number and see where it got me or B) start at the beginning and repetitively push the forward button. I tried A for ten minutes and deemed it completely worthless. Then I tried B. Half hour of forward-buttoning later, I nearly threw the darn thing against the wall. Frustration!

Old books

So what did I do? I got in my car and drove to the bookstore. Yes, after already reading and owning the e-book, I opted for paper-in-glue and easily found what I was looking for within.

Call me old-fashioned, but I love the papery feel, the charming crack of the binding, that woody-inky smell. I love that I can write my name on the inside cover and in a hundred years when I’m dead and buried, somebody might pick it up,  read it, and imagine my fingers grazing those same pages. It’s a tangible connection between the past, present and future.

I don’t believe the digital book will eclipse the hard copy. I believe they’ll work in tandem, championing the literary kingdom page by page. I can’t imagine a world where bookstores are nonexistent. It would be the equivalent of losing an entire culture: the vanishing of bibliophiles! And I don’t see that apocalypse happening anytime soon.

The digital reader may make it possible for some to tear down wall shelves and hang slick plasma TVs but personally, I admire homes with floor-to-ceiling books, neatly aligned and chaotically stacked. You can tell a lot about a person from the books they read. You can tell a lot about yourself, too.

Sony Reader

Each printed spine is a mile marker, reminding me of all the wondrous journeys I’ve taken through years. My 1985 copy of Anne of Green Gables is inscribed with my mother’s handwriting, a birthday gift when I was young. Romeo & Juliet was an English text I forgot to return, forever imprinted with our school mascot. Atonement is earmarked and tea-stained from repeated readings. Madame Bovary is a paperback the size of my palm, small and powerful. 100 Years of Solitude is canary yellow and so large it almost doesn’t fit on the shelf. Like old friends, they stand behind me at my writing desk.

And so, after spending an hour in the aisles, I picked up my book of choice and returned home. It’s sitting now on my desk, the dreamy blue cover in the corner of my eye, the title big and block-lettered, waiting for me to open it, crack the binding, and leave my fingerprints on every page.

Yours truly, Sarah

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