02 January 2012

To E-read or Not to E-read

I wasn't planning on writing this...the thoughts responsible for this post came to me a few hours after blowing $3 on a bag of books from those crooks over at our public library. Can you imagine? A whole $3 for a BAG of books? A dirty shame. And when you see what I got, well, let's just say I got ripped off: nothing current, nothing trendy! I'm still grumpy.

(If only there was a sarcasm font...).

The tables were covered with old, smelly books. I quickly ran my eyes over Reader's Digest condensed editions, trashy romance novels, and, after tracking down my son in the autobiography section - eureka! a falling-apart biography of Edgar Allen Poe.


I don't usually catch our library sales at their best. However, I was spurred on by my first find, and the next 10-15 minutes reaped these:



The Complete Poetical Works of Robert Browning, which includes notes of the original owner who happened to attend the local college; the note on the inside reads, "G- H- Summer Session 1928."


Tanglewood Tales, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. This one is small and so well-used there aren't any front pages, and it came complete with burn marks.

August 1914, by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Printed in 1972, this one makes my mouth water (if you've already read the A bit about me page, you know why).

Around the World in Eighty Days, by Jules Verne. I couldn't find a publication date for this one either, but according to the Date Due card, it was first checked out on October 19th, 1952. Sadly, the last time it was read was February of '74.

(Special thanks to my wife for not only allowing me to add to my slam-packed shelves, but also for finding a couple of the books above. She must really love me!)

Leafing through their yellowed pages, I was struck by a couple things: first, I noticed the small print; second, I realized the absence of subtitles. Now, before I go on, I should clarify why subtitles came to mind at all: I am required to teach my 7th graders text features, and one of the 13 I teach is subtitles.

Take a look at the pictures below:







This last picture shows the contrast between a book I'm reading now, published in 2010, and the Browning book, published in 1927. For the City, the one printed in 2010 and a good book in its own right, is a mere 180 pages long and includes many subtitles - not to mention larger print.

Comparing old and new books leads me to believe our collective ability to digest large amounts of reading has declined. Maybe I'm off, but why would books be printed in larger print, with many of the nonfiction books chopped up with subtitles unless this is what buyers/readers want or can handle?

I'm probably much influenced by Ray Bradbury, he had this figured out in the '60s. If you haven't read Fahrenheit 451, you gotta. With the help of Facebook, Twitter, and texting, we're living the realization of Bradbury's dystopia where bite-sized information is all we can swallow. Of course, the exception I see on a daily basis is tome after tome of YA fiction - but that's for another day...

Not only does this idea sadden me, this idea of the "lightening" of books, but I'm also saddened by the loss of history if we go completely to e-reading. No electronic book will ever hold notes from almost a century ago. Nor will they quite hold my personal memories as I pass them on to my children and friends.

There will be no more inscriptions, no more notes in the margins (at least not in some interesting hand writing anyway), and no more old book smell or crinkle of turned pages.

I guess you can easily tell I'm not sold on the e-readers yet, huh? What do you think? What do you see as the benefits of e-readers? Do you see the same drawbacks as I do? Others?

4 comments:

Lost_without_a_Map said...

Okay, first (*giggle*), I would so use the sarcasm font. =D Secondly, the thing I have begun to notice about today's books are the thick pages - thick book, but few real pages...just thick paper. I have not purchased an E-reader, yet; but, there's one major (or two) benefit I see to them. The big one for me would be the ability to enlarge the font. The second one would be space - a virtual shelf kind of thing. I am always forced to return books to the library that I have not gotten around to reading. An e-reader would allow me to 'store' them forever.

Man O' Clay said...

I know large font would be helpful, so I agree with you there. I'm scared of a virtual shelf though. I have a hard enough time staying focused on one book when I know I have a whole ton more on my real shelves. If I had all my books in my hand all at once, I'm not sure I would finish any of them!

Jesse said...

I agree with you whole-heartedly. I found in our local library a book of Emersons's Essays published around 1900. This is by far the best smelling book I have ever held in my hand. But the incomparable aroma isn't even precisely what sold me on the book. Rather, it was the penciled-in notes throughout each chapter with a signature at the end dated July 28th, 1908. I am not sure Gigabytes will ever satiate my soul the way an old book can.

Rena J. Traxel said...

I recently wrote a post on 12 reasons why I don't use an e-reader. I love books! I love old books.

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