A case of the ebook blues

Ebooks are too convenient for us to ever go back to the physical bookstore era, and if this means living with an eternal guilt trip, then so be it.

Something gained, something lost.
(Credit: James Martin/CNET)

Nick Bilton wrote a terrific piece in The New York Times, recounting his state of mind after frequenting a clutch of bookstores during a trip to Manhattan. It also left me feeling low, nodding in agreement as he recounted the bittersweet price that the Kindle (and other digital) converts are paying, perhaps without realising the cost.

So I went inside, pushing open the large wooden door, which creaked like a prop borrowed from a horror-movie set. As I closed it behind me, a bell on the top dinged. A girl behind the counter looked up, smiled and went back to reading her book. A few customers quietly milled about.

There were, of course, books stacked everywhere. Thick ones. Thin ones. Large and small. I immediately felt a sense of nostalgia that I haven't felt in a long time. The scent of physical books — the paper, the ink, the glue — can conjure up memories of a summer day spent reading on a beach, a fall afternoon in a coffee shop or an overstuffed chair by a fireplace as rain patters on a windowsill.

iPads and Kindles, in comparison, don't necessarily smell like anything.

Those of a certain age can relate. Like others, my regular weekend routine as a Manhattanite was once filled with aimless bookstore browsing — uptown, downtown, east side and west — exploring hushed corners of the big city. This was uniquely delish. There was something about fellow readers bound in a shared pursuit of new authors and new ideas at this neighbourhood tabernacle that was a bookstore. And, as Bilton reminds us, that experience is fast disappearing, leaving in its stead a replacement that's equally antiseptic as it is efficient:

The ebook shopping experience, while immediate and painless, is about as sentimental as a trip to the family doctor. There are no creaking doors, or bells that announce your arrival so someone can smile at you as you walk inside. There isn't even anything distinctive in the size, shape or feel of the book you're buying.

It's hard to believe that online book shopping will ever inspire nostalgia. Still, more and more of us are making their peace with the trade-off. If the price is a permanent guilt trip, so be it. Big, hardcover books eat up too much space; they gather dust; and they are a hassle to move. Give me a few minutes, and I'll come up with a few more.

I'm not going back, but I'm not especially proud about sacrificing tradition for convenience. I'll feel guilty about that decision for the rest of my life.


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JacksonG posted a comment   

I liked my kindle until the screen just died and Amazon won't fix it, I'm not going to pay over $100 for a new reader every 1.2 years so I'm back to paper again.


HannahS posted a comment   

As a book publicist for many indie author imprints, I completely understand your sentiment - and your guilt. There's nothing quite like the smell and feel - and just overall experience - of a printed book. But as someone who doubles as a publicist for a free DIY e-publisher (Booktango), though, it's such a different world. I truly hope print books never go out of existence, but it's only logical to be able to access books like we access everything else - right this second, wherever we are. Interested to see where things go...


ShariP posted a comment   

I think that's silly to feel guilty. Do you feel guilty about vacuuming the carpet instead of sweeping it? Using the dishwasher instead of washing by hand? Using a washing machine instead of handwashing your clothes? Using electric lights instead of candles? Cars instead of horses? Shall I go on? Technological progress is inevitable, one simply has to grasp it and greet it with open arms and not look back. I'm sure there was lots of guilt when all those horses went to the knackeries to be made into dog food, but at least we are not slaughtering our old paper book store owners! They also need to grasp technology and step into the future. Paper books are out, electronic ones are in, they need to find something else to sell.

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