It's 2011. Can we please stop writing these kinds of anti-e-book pieces, now?
Books, while sometimes weirdly expensive, are a luxury. Their pages are perfectly aligned. They have a book smell. Thick ones tell the world that you’re intelligent and focused (or at least good at pretending to be) and thinner ones say that you’re a literary bandit. A Rumi or Kahlil Gibran volume on your nightstand assures your relationships that you are, indeed, a deep and romantic thinker. Conversations are started over books being read in coffee shops and on the subway. Books can be lent or borrowed. Books take up space. They’re real. Something to hold onto when you’re lonely or sitting on a park bench. Books are a nerdy kid’s best friend.
(Don't worry, she gets to the "you-can't-bathe-with-an-e-book" cliché a little later in the piece.) It feels like I've read a dozen pieces over the last few days about the smell of books. I agree: Unless they're moldy or they've been owned by a smoker, books smell good. I love the smell of books. But to read all these complaints about e-books, you'd think people wander the shelves of bookstores, savoring the smells of each individual volume and arguing about the qualities of their scents like sommeliers. And then, once they purchase the best-smelling volume, they immediately take them to the beach, where they get them wet, roll them up, and put them in their back pockets.
Look: We understand that e-books are not books. This is obvious. They are two different things. There are things you lose when you read an e-book. But there are things you gain, too. Let's stop playing the comparison game and focus instead on the possibilities of each medium. You love print books? Buy print books. Support publishers and bookstores that focus on print. Make beautiful books that can only work as print books. But stop trying to draw a line and start a war. There are e-books, and there are books. This is the world we live in. Let's stop these ridiculous lamentations and get on with making it better.
(If you're looking for a good example of positive writing about this subject matter, I'd like to direct you to Reif Larsen's "The Crying of Page 45" in this month's issue of The Believer. Larsen makes clear that he prefers print books, but he looks at the possibilities of a pageless page in a funny, intelligent, and curious way.)