Simple pleasures, or Why I’m no ereader

There are many reasons why I haven’t joined the digital revolution and gone the ebook route, but the primary ones are sensory-based and so I thought I’d take a few moments to reflect on them here on a late winter’s day.

It should be remembered that the modern codex book isn’t all that old, and had I been born a few centuries before I was I may well be waxing on about the pleasures of reading from a scroll, or even from wax tablets. But then of course I’d be waxing about wax and posting via a praeco and not a blog.

I like the feel of a book. I like its weight in my hands and I enjoy the touch of paper when I turn a page. I like the little pause my mind is forced to undergo when it hits a sentence break at the bottom of the current page and before it’s turned. Standing or sitting with a book in my hands involves me in different ways than standing or sitting with a tablet computer or an ereading device does, and the same can certainly be said for smartphones. It’s a process that keeps me in the world even while it whisks my mind away from it.

Then there’s the smell. Whenever I’m in an English-speaking country one of my favorite things to do is to go into one of those great used book stores that can still be found here and there. The pages are yellowed and a bit worse for the wear, but the musty scent that greets me when I gingerly fold one of those copies open is a rare pleasure, even if it isn’t the best for allergies or asthma. There’s a certain aura of mystery — or reverence perhaps — that seems to envelop me when I enter the world of one those historied, worn, yet dignified volumes.

I spend far too much time staring at a screen, and although most of my fellow train commuters have their faces in their iPhones or iPads, I can’t imagine following suit. I know, I know, some ereaders are very easy on one’s eyes, especially the kinds that aren’t backlit. But they’re still screens! They may be sleek, stylish, and individualizable in a thousand different ways with a thousand different accessories available from my local retailer, but they’ll never beat a faded copy of a book that comes complete with its own specific memories of a specific time and place, something that has stopped being just a thing and really wound its way into my life. I remember waiting all night in a Chicago airport for the first flight out and spending it on a bench with an old copy of this book. An ereader with dozens of titles stuffed into it couldn’t come close to generating a memory like that.

By now I’m sure that I sound like a crotchety old man, and maybe I am. But as long as hardcovers and paperbacks are still being printed out there, you’ll find my head angled down, bald spot shining, and a grin in my eyes as they dance across the page.

Next week, Paul j Rogers on the galoshes that failed to save his soles.

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  1. Paul j Rogers
    Posted February 3, 2013 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Great post, mate. A huge bloody guffaw as I clicked the link that took me to Existentialism, Religion, and Death. Marvellous. I don’t own an ereader and, as my shining bald spot is almost certainly bigger than yours, I can say, with absolute certainty, I never will. As a denizen of the world’s second biggest city (the first being your adopted home) I can report that from where I pound the streets that virtually nobody reads on the subway anymore; screens palpitating with celebrities, or bears fighting, or share prices fluctuating, seem, alas, to be much easier on the brain (although so much harder on the soul). A book is an artefact. An LP is an artefact. A CD, a friggin’ download, well, they’re just space-junk. As you so eloquently surmised: digital products don’t seem to make us feel human.

  2. Andrew Oberg
    Posted February 3, 2013 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    Thanks very much. :) And you likewise summed it all up quite nicely with: to be much easier on the brain (although so much harder on the soul).

    We’re doing ourselves a great disservice with all this ‘space-junk’, aren’t we?

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