For the first time, E-books have out-sold paperback and hardcover editions. According to the Association of American Publishers, in February E-book sales totaled $90.3 million. This beat out all other forms of traditional publication. What does this mean for the publishing world and book retailers alike? Probably a complete shift from manufacturing and selling real books to manufacturing and selling just the essence of them (The English-Lit side in me is chomping at the bit to make symbolic comparisons to society as a whole wanting intangible over tangible, ephemeral over permanence, fake over real…but I’ll keep it to a minimum).
To me, I can’t help but feel a little sadness over the fact that real books are being pushed by the wayside for electronic versions. There’s a pleasure you get from manually turning pages, feeling the texture of paper between your fingers, and owning a library of individual works of art. Yes, literature is art…although some works are WAY better than others. Think Nabokov a subdued Salvador Dali during his post-surrealist period; Stephenie Meyer a high school “art-class-as-an-elective” freshman (I think we all can admit the Twilight books are not well written, whether you like the movies for “personal reasons” or not). The point is, it’s sometimes more enjoyable to do things the traditional way, rather than the more convenient(?) and modern way.
I’ll be the first to admit the stylish, sleek, and futuristic look of a crowded bus or subway car filled with people reading portable lit-up tablets does make me want to go out and get one. If we can’t have flying cars and hover-boards, at least we can have this, right? And if it wasn’t for the motion-sickness I get by reading in moving vehicles, I probably would seriously consider it. Besides, think of all the paper and trees we would be saving if we did switch to a world of all-electronic publishing.
E-books definitely have their merits. You can store multiple books on one device, they are smaller and slimmer than most novels, you can read Twilight and not have to worry about anyone knowing, as mentioned before it saves paper, and purchasing new novels to read is usually a lot cheaper. This can also be the new platform for unpublished writers to get their work out to the world and gain the attention of major publishers; the same way independent musicians have used the internet to gain new fans and the attention of major music labels. Most importantly, there are studies that show more adults and children alike are reading. With the ever-expanding reach of the internet all over the world, perhaps even the smallest and poorest of countries will soon be able to experience every piece of literature that we do. Knowledge is power, and availability and ease of knowledge is the first step to making the world a better place as a whole.
However, I still feel that there is nothing more personal and engrossing than reading an actual book. Writing notes in the margins, folding over a page’s corner, carrying around your copy with the cover art majestically displayed…It’s a very personal experience. Much like wearing in a new pair of jeans to make them your own, you wear in a book for whatever length of time you are reading it. Then you set it on your shelf as a requiem to that time period. I still remember what park bench I was sitting on when reading the part in “Dandelion Wine” by Bradbury when the protagonist gets lost in a fevered dream. It’s part of what makes reading an experience. Something I feel is inherit in the dog-eared copy and cracked spine of your personal book, and not in the permanent, generically-blank veneer of an e-book.
Even though I am a traditionalist when it comes to the arts, even I have to accept the truth. Art in mass production does not have to remain faithful in form to its inception. Not everyone can have a painted canvas of Picasso’s Guernica on their wall, just as they cannot have a full piece orchestra performing Beethoven’s 9th symphony in their living room. We are satisfied with having digital images or cheaply made posters to display, and we are more than happy with digitized sound to represent the music. Despite the ease of being able to provide the literary art-form in its incepted format of pages, covers and spine, perhaps we just have to get used to the idea that it is not necessary. Literary value lies in the meaning of the words; within the essence, intangibility, and ephemeral nature of the writing itself. And in fact, I can’t think of anything more poetic than that.