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When Gutenberg invented the printing press, I imagine that someone objected, saying the machine would put scribes out of work. When voices first traveled on radio waves, someone probably cried out that it would render the telegraph operator useless. Now, tablets stand poised to change the way we digest information. I’m not afraid of change; I welcome new technologies, but I fear for the future of the book.
E-readers like Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes and Noble’s Nook and Apple’s iPad promise to revolutionize the way we read. These devices can store hundreds of books, saving their owners the pain of lugging around a little red wagon full of heavy hardcover tomes. But this revolution comes at a cost. E-books may be cheap and light, but they are cold and impersonal. Embracing them means embracing convenience over beauty. An e-book will never replicate the feel of paper under your fingers, the luster of gilded pages or the timeless elegance of a leather-bound spine. It won’t turn yellow with age or develop that warm, musty odor that permeates the dusty air in old bookstores. You can’t write heartfelt notes on the title page; you can’t share them with a friend or pass them down as heirlooms.
A physical book is much more than paper and thread and glue. A book is a portal into another place and time. It’s an escape hatch, it’s a life preserver and it’s occasionally a pillow or a coaster. There is something visceral and powerful about holding one in your hands, because it is so much more than the sum of its parts.
I’m not suggesting we ban e-readers. They have their place, but we shouldn’t allow them to drive the humble paperback novel to extinction.
When I was young, I remember the thrill of opening a new book, cracking the spine and diving into the adventure inked on its pages. For all of our technological progress, I can’t imagine pixels on a screen ever replacing that feeling or ever replacing a good, old fashioned book on the special shelf in my heart.
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It’s not a book, but my Twitter feed is the next best thing to diving into the dog-eared pages of a sci-fi western whodunit supernatural romance: @jonnyeberle.