[Not my shortest post, but very close to my heart.]
Today, I wanted to choose an ebook over a paper copy of the same novel.
With paper books, I have always been loathe to highlight text or comment on a passage because I didn’t want to sully the pages and I am firm believer of always having a “new book” experience. I love knowing that when someone in my circle of booklovers will pick up the book, they will have the joy of reading a book unhindered by my personal opinions. I don’t like any interruptions when I’m reading and a note in the margins is akin to a person poking you, while you read, to discuss how they felt about this line. If I can’t stand a human interrupting my reading, I certainly don’t want someone’s thoughts interrupting me either. And sometimes, if I’m reading the book a long time after the first read, I come very close to the experience of reading a story for the first time. A re-read which feels like a new read is priceless. It’s like meeting up with an old friend after years of no contact and realizing that the relationship is every bit as good as your memory serves you. And so, I keep my paper-books in a pristine condition. I will read a book any number of times but the spine will never be broken nor the pages stained or dog-eared. The only acceptable writing in a book is a personal message to me by the person gifting me the book or an author-signed copy. The possible exception to this is if someone hands me their copy of a book which might be spine-broken. I still don’t like any highlights or marginalia.
I want to keep my books well-preserved for my way-in-the-future children. Books essentially, are my legacy to them. They are a guided tour through the nooks of my mind and a detailed description of the phases of my life and how I transitioned from one to another. Sometime’s I’ll write short letters for each book and how it affected my life and hide the scrap of paper amongst the words which spurred those thoughts. And when I come across these thoughts later, I smile at my memories and the development of my thought process. I reacquaint myself with the person I used to be.
My books have been passed down from my bibliophile family and I have felt no shame in stealing my aunt’s battered copy of illustrated bedtime stories when she was getting married. I believe my first words to her were “yay! all your books are mine now.” I was barely a teenager but I knew I wanted that book for my children. I wanted them to connect with the little girl I used to be who oooh-ed and aah-ed at every one of those stories.
My love for literature in it’s paper form is well established. I will always read the book before I watch the movie (unless I find out that it was based on a book after I’ve seen it). I rarely find the movie better than the book and if you want to woo me, just find me a forgotten, under-tasted work of fiction. Poetry, written on a scroll and tied with a string is such timeless beauty. A collage of your favourite literary quotes, on a beautiful backdrop is just reassuring. A shelf [or a few] of books around you can be calming.
And now that you know how utterly dependent I am on books and more specifically, paper-books you’ll probably understand when I say that a cavernous pit opened up in my stomach when I stopped reading today and thought “I need an e-copy to highlight that and preserve it.” I felt almost as if I’d lied to and cheated on the one person who had loved me unconditionally. I felt like the worst kind of betrayer. I felt like I’d strung paperbooks along while I flirted with ebooks.
There are a few plausible explanations. The most obvious ones being – I’ve evolved as a reader, I’ve just been reading a lot more ebooks or even that because of a MOOC I took at Coursera where I had to quote from the text to support my analyses, I’ve begun enjoying the crutches of highlighting instead of relying on my memory to guide me back to a specific page. Or maybe I no longer see the point in meticulously writing down every quote that made me think when I can highlight them on the book and have all of them transferred to a word document, with little effort, to be preserved for posterity. It’s true that I will probably lose the document in the unending labyrinth of computer backups and information dump that is a computer; whereas having one big notebook with treasured quotes is like Dumbledore’s pensieve which can be visited with far more ease.
But none of these explanations, on themselves or as a whole provide me with the assurance that I haven’t outgrown the comfort of a paper-book.
I thought of myself as a paper-book lover who enjoyed the freedom and mobility of an e-reader alongwith the availability of a more varied buffet of literature. But today, I’m choosing to read an e-book over a paper copy and it doesn’t sit well in my heart. It feels like I’m giving up a good, solid, loving relationship for a temporary, toxic and possibly damaging relationship.
E-books aren’t books. They are stories told over an electronic medium. They are convenient and a joyous way of story-telling. They might try to substitute for a book but they fall short just like an audiobook – another brilliant form of story-telling – cannot recreate the joy of grandma’s storytime. E-books aren’t the comfort of a book or the thrill of touching a perfect quote and letting the ink darken the fingers. They can’t fill your nostrils with the scent of a story lingering in the air as every page is turned and breathes. They can’t replicate the granular feel of paper or the sharp edges of the pages we turn. A paper-book is an experience like a full bodied wine with nuances and layers while an e-book feels much like a cool glass of fizzy cola on a hot summer day.
I love both – the wine and the cola. I’m bothered by how I came close to chosing to read a literary piece without the absorption of a paper copy. But I guess, if I’m to continue enjoying fine wine, then I need to do it like wine. I can’t expect to get the experience of wine with the sugar-high of cola. They are both great for satisfying different thirsts and until I accept that, I will not be able to move forward.