Thursday, January 06, 2011

When Books Do Things E-Books Can't

I've watched dedicated "book holders" slowly gravitate toward e-readers this year. Something about color, instant download, and price have made converts of readers who vowed never to stray from paper. I know. My son is shopping as we speak, and one of my good friends got one for Christmas - both avid book readers. I know one person who bought a different one, for the experience. Yes, we are adapting.

But then I had this thought . . . will hardback books become a novelty down the road?

Paperbacks are common and cheap to produce as far as books go. They'll be around a while. We don't worry about messing them up or bending the pages. Hardbacks, however, are expensive. We fear scratching the cover, ripping the jacket. and wouldn't dream of dog-earing a page or writing in the margin.

Once up a time, book making was an art. Gilded pages, stitched insides, cloth covers. They were heavy, which made us feel honored to hold them, read them, become wiser spending time with them. What's to stop people from developing very special editions with remarkable quality - for a high premium? I'm not talking book sets in cardboard boxes. I'm talking something that takes us back in time, a product that makes for a remarkable investment, a book that makes us stop and think what we're holding in our hands before we read it. We used to feel that way about books. Today they are a dime a dozen. I can see all hardback books heading in this direction.

In the LA Times article "Making books do things e-books can't — and vice versa," Jonathan Karp, the publisher of Simon & Schuster, says in this piece that the challenge for his industry is to find ways to serve customers for both printed and digital editions. I'm not sure publishers are serving two masters, as they say. All we hear about is ebook sales going through the roof. I just hope the pendulum doesn't sway too far the other direction, away from print, must like our politics tends to do from one administration to the other.

The article goes on about the diversity of publishing these days. Type runs off the page for impact. Daggers are inserted into text for effect. In e-books, visual is fast becoming almost 3-D, and animation has brought, literally, new life to children's books. I expect to see advertisements jumping out and grabbing you, offering you a sample of whatever they are selling. Just like the i-Pad isn't necessarily a reading tool for the average buyer, e-reading will become more of an experience than an appreciation for writing. I mean, how do you focus on and absorb the words when the page is moving around?

Ever held an old book? I have a Rural Sociology book, salvaged when someone was cleaning out his office - dated in the 19-teens - almost a hundred years ago. You gingerly pick it up. You read it more thoroughly. An old book, classic or not, takes us back, slows us down. Some people specialize in these books for that rich experience.

So, I predict that one day, the old-fashioned, hand-crafted, hardback book will be a treasure. A collector's item. A gift that everyone says "wow" over when the wrapping falls away. A book that we sit down and reverently weigh in our laps, hand brushing over the page as we turn it.

I just hope we can sit still longer enough to take the time to read it.


Bookie said...

Great post, Hope. Loved your thoughts on the old book you have. I have a few too. One is a textbook I found in a flea market in Arkansas that was a well used copy of one I used to see in my Kansas grade school.It was old even then. When I opened the ragged cover and turned the fiberous pages, I "felt" the old one piece desk, saw girls in saddle shoes, smelled the jar paste and contruction paper...well,you get the idea.

Sylvia Ney said...

I must admit, I'm one of the die-hard readers you mention. My husband just bought me an e-reader for Christmas (something I told him repeatedly I did NOT want) and now I'm a bit hooked. It's the instant gratification of downloading and reading a book. I no longer have to drive to the store and wait in line for the new read. However, I'm also still reading paperbacks around the house. As for hardbacks, I will continue to purchase some by authors I know I like.

BTW, I'm offering a contest for writer's on my blog:

widdershins said...

I like your last sentence there.... a sign of the times eh?

Sioux Roslawski said...

I have a couple of really old books, and you do wonder what other people read it, treasured it, over the past decades.

I admit, I swore I would never get an e-book reader, and although I got one for a gift last year and thought I might never enjoy it, it IS nice to go on a vacation and not have to lug around a huge bag of books. However, most of the time, it's still the "real thing" for me...from the library, from a friend, from a bookstore or garage sale or resale shop.

Moira Allen said...

The older I get, the more fascinated I become with those lovely, OLD books - the ones with crumbling leather covers and gilt print and pages that smell so evocatively of BOOK. I find myself browsing flea markets and antique shop for "affordable" treasures, convinced that long-forgotten gems lie between those covers that haven't been opened for so long. So much of life and history is bound up in physical books -- and it makes one wonder, how much of our lives and our history will be "treasured" by future generations when so much of it can be deleted at the touch of a button! (And thanks, Hope, for the great review of MY new tome...)

Caethes Faron said...

I love old books! They do have a certain gravitas that ebooks will never have.

While I love ebooks, there are certain books that I just want that hardcover copy of. If a book has had a profound impact of my life, I want a tangible copy of it. The books you have make a statement about you and I will always want a bookcase full of books that I deemed worthy to own a hard copy of.