I’ll never stop buying books.
For the purpose of this column, let’s define “books” as books, paper things with spines and pages.
(Real books have parts, they have heft, they exist.E-books simply are. E-books are practically ideas. Like those wisps of energy that Professor Dumbledore sucks from his brain with the tip of his wand.)
I know that an e-book is the same as a book in the abstract. In truth. And that reading is reading is reading.
But I’m not talking about truth right now. I’m talking about touch.
For the purpose of this column, “books” means books. And I’m never going to stop buying them.
Because when I love a book, I want to own it. I want to make it a part of my life. A part of my house. I want to be able to pull it off the shelf and show it to someone, or start re-reading it in the middle of the night.
And I don’t care what Apple or Amazon say, a digital library is not a library. You don’t really own those songs and books.
Routine software updates, for example, have wiped out my iTunes library; those music files are something I can carry and access only at Apple’s convenience. If I don’t keep buying new iProducts and updating and backing up, those songs will be lost to me.
I’m not willing to lose my favorite books the same way, to cloud storage. I don’t want to have to consult Google because I can’t get Watership Down to open — or because The Poisonwood Bible keeps timing out.
I love e-books. I love how light they are. How accessible. I love indulging my brain with the book it wants right this minute. But I’m still buying books; I’ll always buy books. What I won’t buy anymore are ugly books.
This is how e-books have actually changed my life (and how I think they’ll change the world):
I’ve started judging books by their covers.
Oh, I’ll still read exactly what I want to read. But if I’m going to buy a book, an actual book — if I’m going to bring it into my house and make space for it — it better be beautiful. It better justify its visual existence.
By freeing the book from its binding, e-readers have drawn attention to how physical books are.
They’re objects. (They take up a lot of space, they collect dust, they’re hard to move. Your husband keeps sneaking boxes of them up to the attic.) They’re just another thing, and your house is already too full of things — why bring a book home unless it’s going to add something?
Science fiction movies and TV shows always portray the home of the future as sleek and clutter-free.
The thinking seems to be, if you could store everything on a handheld device — books, music, your family photos, games, bills, clocks, calendars, notes, love letters — why would you ever need shelving?
But I think these predictions were wrong. (You were wrong, Gene Roddenberry!)
I think that as everything we need becomes digital, practically invisible, the things we bring into our home will be more about want.
More about beauty, more about choice.
A few weeks ago, I couldn’t find my copy of S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. (It’s probably in a box up in the attic.) It’s still in print, but the current cover looks like it’s for a straight-to-video movie — and not even one starring Ralph Macchio.
So instead of buying it, I went on eBay and found a nice-looking hardback from the ’70s.
I still have room in my life for The Outsiders. I still have room for books. But now I expect the packaging to live up to its contents.
If you’re going to make something, a real something, why wouldn’t you make it beautiful?
This piece was originally printed in The Omaha World-Herald on January 15, 2012.