The e-book publishers would have us believe that paper books are being rounded up to cries of “Bring out yer dead” and dumped by the cartload into burning plague pits.
Don’t sound the death knell just yet.
|Old books in a Czech castle. (Maurizio Abbate/Creative Commons License)|
While printed book sales figures are down (like everything else), the industry still generates billions of dollars per year while e-books are still in the high millions, not to mention the fact that folks are still willing to plonk down $75 for a coffee table art book.
Just check the comments section of any article predicting doom for paper books and you’ll find a near-rabid gang of defenders who say you’ll have to pry their ARDs (Ancient Reading Devices) out of their cold, dead hands.
Why do some of us prefer books made of trees? The easy answer is that you either get it or you don’t, but for those who don’t, here are 25 reasons some of us --even those of us who own Kindles on the side-- will always love our pulp.
1. Reading in the bathtub.
Or by the pool. Or in a light drizzle. E-readers don’t take kindly to getting wet, and the warranty often doesn’t cover damage. A cheap paperback, though, is made all the more sentimental once the two of you have had a bubble bath or two together. (And you won’t have to frantically stick it in a bag of rice afterward.)
|Don't try this with a Kindle. (goldsardine/Creative Commons License)|
Once you buy a print copy of a book, it’s yours. You can sell or trade it at the used bookstore for more books, auction it off on eBay, make some extra nickels at your next garage sale or swap it for magic beans.
Books still make lovely gifts (which is why they sell like the dickens at Christmas time), and downloads are hell to try to wrap.
Passing on books is one way that readers maintain bonds with their friends and family. Sure, you can still read the same books on your e-readers --and simultaneously-- but the sharing and passing around of the book itself is almost sacred. (Yet another “You get it or you don’t” example.)
Some people merely read books, others read and collect. The curating of a book collection is as satisfying to some as collecting art, antiques or glass menageries is to others.
6. Book signings.
There’s no way around this one. If you’re an avid fan of a particular writer, the sine quo non of your collection is a copy signed by the author herself. No author wants to inscribe “Never forget the bloaters” across your Nook with a metallic Sharpie. Book signings require books.
7. Reading on airplanes.
You can open a paperback anytime you want, without the flight attendant’s say-so. What’s more, you can ditch a cheap book at the hotel when you’re done with it, freeing it for someone else to read, and lightening your luggage at the same time.
Sure, the web makes it easy to browse books, even to peek inside a little. Shopping for print books allows you to read as much as you like, though, and see a book’s size and scope, as well as who else is reading what. Shopping for books doesn’t just mean hitting Barnes & Noble, but also digging through the bargain bins at the warehouses, searching for gems at the antique book shops, or finding boxes of forgotten ephemera at estate sales.
|Browsing for books is part of being a reader. (_SiD_/Creative Commons License)|
9. Showing off.
It’s something few people want to admit, but sometimes some of us want people to admire our books, and admire us for the books we choose. Displaying a book collection is part of it, but also showing the world what we’re reading when we read in public, revealing our intellect, our beliefs, our romantic nature, etc. as the case may be. Taking an unusual title with you to the coffee shop is also a sure way to spark a conversation if you need company.
10. Hiding things.
If books go completely digital, where will anyone stow away a secret stash? In a de-gutted Kindle? That hollowed-out copy of Alice in Wonderland will be pretty easy for thieves or cops to spot if it’s the only print book in the house.
11. Pop ups and fuzzy parts.
Yes, the technology for interactive e-book displays is amazing, but they still can’t duplicate the surprise of having a pop-up literally leap out of the book. And what about Pat the Bunny? (Yes, there’s an app.) Will the next generation of children think rabbit fur feels like glass?
|Classic lit that literally pops off the page. Try this, Nook! (abrinsky/Creative Commons License)|
The financial kind. Downloads have pretty much no value once you buy them, except in personal reward. Many books, though, can increase in value over time. First editions, limited editions and specialized titles just may see you through your retirement if you choose wisely.
With out-of-print books becoming available and digital self-publishing made easy, it would seem as if more books are available than ever. That’s only partly true. Plenty of obscure books will never be digitized. Titles are lost any time there’s an upgrade in technology. Just as some silent film reels were never converted to VHS and many VHS titles were never converted to DVD, publishers make choices about what’s worth converting. Some things don’t make the cut.
Don’t hate books because they’re beautiful. And boy, are they. There are few other consumable items that people want to decorate their homes with. Book-lined walls are gorgeous, as swoon-worthy as The Marriage Plot claims to be.
And, not just as collections, books can also be real stunners as individual specimens. Leather bindings and gilt edges can’t be reproduced digitally. They just can’t. Popular paperbacks count, too. Those ultra-cool pulp covers from the fifties didn’t seem like anything special when they were new. Even today’s mass market paperbacks may be tomorrow’s collectible objets d’art.
|Old book as objet d'art. (jsbanks42/Creative Commons License)|
The book itself can evoke memories in a way a download can’t. No one stores old PDFs in a hope chest, inscribes them to a child, or returns one in anger to an erstwhile lover. If print books disappear, a lot of flowers will go unpressed.
Bequeathing a well-curated collection of books to a library or university is a way of passing on one’s love for a subject from beyond the grave. You don’t have to be a rich collector, either. Passing down books to a family member who will love them can be appreciated just as much even if the books are romance novels or comics.
Technology can fail. So can companies. Because the technology is so new, your e-reader probably won’t even be compatible with digital books in the future. (Can you play 8 tracks on your CD player? Or Atari games on your X-Box? So long, e-books you already bought.) Your print books, though, will always be readable, come mergers or apocalypse.
No one will mug you for a copy of The Hours. And if someone does steal your backpack with your book in it, you won’t lose your entire collection.
Not that any of us would participate in such a thing, but in a society that allows free speech, the burning of books is a powerful political statement that has no substitute. (The small upside to organized book burnings is that people often purchase the books solely to destroy in public, thereby supporting the very thing they decry.)
Having a stack of unread books by the nightstand is a hard-to-ignore reminder that you need to catch up on your reading. With e-readers, there’s no physical difference no matter how many books you buy.
When doing academic research, the ability to have more than one book open and glance back and forth between them is crucial. (Even Thomas Jefferson invented a bookstand to do just that.) While tabbing back and forth is useful, it’s no substitute for seeing multiple pages at once.
Books don’t need it. Just the energy in your index finger, which is infinitely renewable.
You knew it was coming. If there’s one thing that separates the old-school book people from the technophiles it’s this. There’s no faking it, and there’s no explaining what old book smell does and means.
|Don't you wish you could scratch and sniff to smell the magic? (Moyann_Brenn/Creative Commons License)|
Opening a book is a powerful action. If you don’t believe it, you’ve never been young and/or you’re not reading the right things. It’s a signifier. It embodies possibility in a way that pushing a button can’t. It’s like the difference between coolly clicking a remote to unlock your car and slowly turning an old skeleton key in a big wooden door. What happens next?
25. Having your books and reading them too.
Owning an e-reader doesn’t mean giving up on books, and plenty of readers --especially the lifelong book addicts-- have both. There’s even evidence that e-readers may ultimately be a boost to the print book industry, as readers try new authors, then want to own hard copies (for the various reasons outlined above.)
Why do you love print books? Maybe there could be 26 reasons. Weigh in, and Book Dirt will update to add any new answers.