Electronic books (eBooks? ebooks? e-books? Has anyone decided yet?) have their place and their convenience. I don’t have a Kindle but do download and read Kindle books to my computer every now and then. There’s one thing they’re missing, and it’s what many people bring up when discussing our old way of reading to the new: the human element. The heft of the book, the smell of the pages, the texture of the paper itself. These tactile sensations that one doesn’t quite get from holding and staring at a screen and the type that one swipes and swipes across it. Beyond just our animal senses and what we are used to, there’s the sense of a discovery when one acquires an old used copy of a book. You see the highlights, underlines, and marginalia of someone else that was there, someone else that was thinking about the book. My latest thought about a shortcoming in ebooks concerns that of the inscription.
With an ebook, you can’t write an inscription to someone when you pass it along for someone else to later read and think about when getting the used copy. The story of the inscription, the people involved, and why this book has ended up in my hands, is a story on top of the story within the book and, in my mind, gives the idea of the book a more human face. It’s not only words of ink laid out on wood pulp but was at a time passed from one hand to another for a specific purpose, with a specific feeling or idea behind it. Maybe the idea is a bit romantic but there’s very little romance that comes with plastic screens and batteries.
This post is the result of a note left before the title page of an old paperback copy of Wiliam Dalrymple’s “In Xanadu” I acquired:
This book is about the sort of travelling that I like to do or that I constantly aspire to.
I was worried that 2 years in the US would be a long, lonely experience.
Just the fact that I met you has made it worthwhile in itself.
I will always remember you.