(Ray Bradbury, in response to the question: what do you think of e-books and Amazon’s Kindle?) Those aren’t books. You can’t hold a computer in your hand like you can a book. A computer does not smell. There are two perfumes to a book. If a book is new, it smells great. If a book is old, it smells even better. It smells like ancient Egypt. A book has got to smell. You have to hold it in your hands and pray to it. You put it in your pocket and you walk with it. And it stays with you forever. But the computer doesn’t do that for you. I’m sorry.
(via feellng, on Tumblr)
I hate to disagree with someone of Bradbury’s stature, but I think he’s confusing the content with the media. Don’t get me wrong — I love print books. I love new ones and old ones. I love the way they look, they way they smell, their weight and the way they feel in the hand. But those are the physical attributes of the medium, not the content. I could get get all of that from a blank journal — the feel, the smell, the lovely cover, the thing I can hold in my hand. But it is not a book, because there’s no content.
The book is the content, the ideas, the story, the characters. . . the words. The book is a book whether it’s hand-copied on parchment and bound in ancient leather, or printed on acidic paper with a cheap, ugly cover, or delivered wirelessly to your e-reader or smart-phone. And hopefully, it’s the book — the content — that stays with you forever, no matter what format you read it in.
Print books have their advantages. They don’t require batteries, so they don’t disappear when your device runs out of power. They can be extraordinarily durable and long-lived, as long as they’re printed with acid-free inks on high-quality, acid-free paper. They look great on bookshelves.
Print books also have disadvantages. Water damages them; so does fire. They can be stained, warped, nibbled by bugs or mice, turned into art (OK, that one might be an advantage.) They take up space that many people don’t have. Taking a pile of books on vacation means leaving out half your clothes.
Ebooks have their advantages, too. You can hold a whole library in the palm of your hand. You can look up the definition of a word without leaving the book. You can highlight and make notes without guilt, and erase them without leaving a mark. You can read in the dark and not disturb your sleeping partner. You can read without announcing to the world what you’re reading. And the pages stay open while your hands are doing something else.
And of course ebooks have their disadvantages. You have to keep your e-reader device charged, and stop reading when you run out of power. Because they’re merely data, the ebook file can become corrupted (not unlike bugs eating the physical pages of a print book – except that with an ebook, you can have a backup file.) You can’t display them on shelves, or smell them, or revel in the soft sound of turning pages.
But let’s all stop kidding ourselves that print books are books and ebooks just — aren’t. Or that ebooks are somehow less, and print books are morally superior. That those who read ebooks read fluff or trash, while those who read print books read real literature. None of those things is true.
Take away the words — take away the content — and whether print book or ebook, all you’re left with is blank pages. And that’s not a book.
So does the medium really matter all that much? Isn’t the whole point of either medium to present the content?
Shouldn’t we just be happy that there are so many ways to read a good book?
(published first on my Tumblr, without the photos)