Sales of e-books are surging, and the voices of those moaning at the bar (cf. Tennyson) are getting louder too. You’d think the Kindle police were going to knock on our doors and confiscate all the printed bits of paper we own. Sometimes the laments are more nuanced and playful: witness Dolen Perkins-Valdez’ puckish yet poignant essay at the Wall Street Journal–online, of course. Moreover (I’ve always wanted to use that word in a blog post), I saw the link in a news feed update from Dolen on Facebook, an update that soon trailed several comments pleading with Dolen not to give in to her newfound affection for the Kindle she received for her birthday. (The layers of irony here are large enough not to need pointing out, I trust.) It’s not enough to swear one’s allegiance to what “book” has meant since roughly the sixteenth century–or, if one’s talking about paperbacks, for the last sixty or so years. One must be vigilant to warn one’s friends away from their unwitting complicity in the destruction of this most loved of all media: the book.
That’s overstating it a bit, but not much. And speaking of irony, just two days ago I saw enough abandoned books in the Half-Price Books store to make a bibliophile weep.
I have a hard time rejecting any communication technology. When it comes to reading, I want it all. You can’t have my books, and you can’t have my Kindle, and you can’t have my PC screen, and you can’t have my iPhone. The first time I registered for college classes, back when one went to a large room and stood in line to register (a custom that had some interesting social mediation that’s been temporarily lost with online automation), I was advised to bring a book with me because I was likely to wait awhile. I’d never done that before, but once I did, I was hooked. Since then, I’ve tried never to leave for any appointment without some reading material with me just in case waiting’s involved. So you can see how I’d be especially excited by the idea of books on my telephone, if the book suits and the screen is nice.
Perhaps one day we’ll think about publishing media the way we think about cups, mugs, and stemware today: it all depends on the occasion, and some vessels are more apt for some libations than others.