Saturday, August 13, 2011

You Can't Inherit an E-book

I watched this new kindle commercial the other day. The e-book ad tactics are now edging for a different corner of the market: paper book "hold outs" like me. Die hard book readers (even those, like me, who don't pick up a book as often as she should) who love the heft of the spine, the flutter of the pages, the dusty, musty, sweet breath of a book. We're fighting the good fight, trying to keep publishing and book arts alive. Even without the kindle the publishing world is struggling. Newspapers are barely breathing, let alone poetry chapbooks.

I was struck with the way in which the girl in the commercial was so easily swayed by the sheen of the screen. She seemed like such a push over. But I'll admit, I might consider an e-book. They're easy and little and, I have to admit, shiny in a new toy kind of way. And I could deal with not dog-earing pages. I could manage without the wrist strain from reading War and Peace or Goblet of Fire in bed. There are aesthetics of books that, though I'd be sad to lose, I wouldn't DIE without.

But, there is one convincing argument I haven't been hearing amongst the hold-outs: you can't inherit a e-book. In 20 years who, besides the same geeks who keep a drawer full of floppy disks for prosperity's sake, is going to pick up a 2011 kindle at an antique store? Electronics don't have staying power. They upgrade every month, constantly changing and improving on the last version. An old ipod is just landfill fodder, but my record collection is something I can pass on.

E-readers ruin the community experience of a book. Used to be, the natural course of reading went something like this. A person would:

1) read a book,
2) feel moved or especially entertained by it and either
3a) add it to their library as a trophy or to revisit at another date, or
3b) pass it on to someone else who they were reminded of while reading the book.

All you can pass on to a friend after reading an e-book is a recommendation or a gift card for a free upload. You can't pass on the underlined sections, the tear-stained page, and you can't write a note inside the cover. You won't bequeath a first edition e-book in a will. What charm is there in inheriting a library of books you can't hold in your hands? No list of names on an old checkout card. No makeshift bookmarks that fall out of the pages like secrets: a polaroid, a grocery list, a fiction-pressed flower.

I'll stick to the real thing for now, even if it does mean packing one less pair of shoes in my vacation luggage. It's worth it in the end.

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