I agreed with him. And I was only half joking.
When I read, I read physical books. I hold onto them for long periods of time. I just purchased a new bookshelf solely for my "to be read" pile. Once in a while, I go through the process of deciding which books to donate, but usually the idea of parting with a book feels like giving away a part of my soul.
Even in my millennial generation, it seems I'm in the majority in my love of physical books. Earlier this month, a study by American University linguistics professor Naomi Baron revealed that 92% of students prefer reading books for serious reading rather than using electronic alternatives.
For bibliophiles, this was unequivocally good news. The youths have enthusiastically endorsed a centuries-old analog technology. (Take that, Snapchat!) For technophiles, the study was puzzling at best and antithetical to human advancement at worst.
"Ebooks, whether on an e-reader, an iPad or a smartphone, are a vastly more convenient experience than physical books and are most certainly the way of the future," Mashable's chief correspondent and tech guru Lance Ulanoff wrote in response to the news.
Respectfully, though very passionately, I disagree. Here's why, point by point:
Yes, people are still buying physical books.One of the first things e-reader advocates point to is the fact that book sales are dropping. Compounded with the closure of book chains like Borders, it's fair to wonder whether the glue-and-paper business model has a future.
In short: yes. According to a Publisher's Weekly report, bookstore sales actually grew in 2015. Last year saw $11.17 billion in total sales, up from 2014's $10.89 billion.
Indeed, it may well be e-readers that should be concerned for their future. In 2014, as Slate noted, Forrester Research projected that e-reader sales would fall to 7 million per year by 2017, a steep drop from the 25 million units sold in 2012. Last fall, the New York Times corroborated that projection, reporting that e-reader sales fell 10% in the first few months of 2015. "The digital apocalypse never arrived, or at least not on schedule," wrote the Times. Plot twist, e-readers!
Only time will tell whether 2015 was an anomaly or marks a significant shift in the way readers are thinking about books. But it's clear the reports of real books' death are greatly exaggerated.
The form factor isn't just a romantic throwback.One of my favorite gripes against book collectors is the notion that we're being swept up in the romance of antiquity. Sure, there are irrational things I love about books — yes, including that wonderful old book smell. But the value added to literature by physical books are more than just sentimental. A book's shape, size, cover design, page texture, line spacing, even its font selection: all these things all convey information about the story, genre, history of publication and intended audience.
Before I even start reading, that book is telling me something about itself — the kind of rich analog information a 2D e-reader cannot convey, at least not in once glance. But by all means, continue to describe that as "romance."
"Everything a book can do, an e-reader can do better"Since Amazon debuted the Kindle in 2007, the e-reader has evolved tremendously. You can get small e-readers, waterproof e-readers, e-readers with touch screens, e-ink e-readers, all designed to make carrying a story as easy as possible.
But there is one thing they can't yet contain, something near to many a book lover's heart: Marginalia. I write in almost every book that I have. Most often it's something as simple as underlining a quote. Sometimes it's a simple "hahaha" scrawled in the margin. But occasionally I ask questions about what I've just read, I scribble down related reading, I star pages that reveal hidden themes of the book. And I never turn down an opportunity to get a book signed, which of course is something you can't do with an e-reader. I feel ambivalent about book signatures themselves — it's complicated, and I will save you the dissertation about the value and authority required and bestowed by the signing of a name — book lovers will tell you that any notes an author scribbles down when they sign can be just as meaningful as the book itself.
For me, marginalia is about creating a deeper connection with the story at hand. When I write in a book, I am making a statement. That this book affected me. This book moved me so much that I want my reaction to be preserved for as long as this copy exists.
In this way, a book transforms from a vessel for an author to tell a story into a time capsule for the reader. That's what makes sharing
books with friends so intimate.
Quite simply, to write in a book is to perform act of bravery.
Quite simply, to write in a book is to perform act of bravery. When you loan a book, you are making yourself vulnerable by sharing a part of you — your thoughts, your feelings, a brief moment of your life preserved. The permanence of marginalia is far more powerful and far more meaningful than any note made on an e-reader.And don't just take my word for it. In 2014 graphic designer Erik Schmitt started The Pages Project a digital effort to celebrate and preserve the marginalia scrawled along the side of books. Did I mention he helped build the original Amazon Kindle?
"I embrace digital technology wholeheartedly and I love it," Schmitt said. "[The Pages Project] is not an effort to say books are good and now what we are doing is bad. It's the realization that something is truly unique about this ancient, centuries-old technology."
The Bottom LineI'm no literary luddite. I bought an iPad with my first paycheck from my first full time job after I graduated college. But after two years of reading sporadically on the device, I gave it away to my brother. It just wasn't the right reading experience for me. Technophiles choose e-readers over books because e-readers are more convenient. They're right. It is objectively easier to carry an 7oz. tablet with thousands and thousands of books at your finger tips than it is to lug five books in your bag (which is exactly what I did on vacation).
But I don't read for convenience. I read to learn more about the world and myself. I have made friends by seeing a book cover in a cafe and noticing that it was the same title that I was reading. I can trace my life by the books that have been my companions during difficult times.
When I open an old book and come across my previously scribbled notes — shaky ones when I've been reading on the subway, covered in sand if I read it at the beach, next to a train ticket if I was traveling — I am able to add an extra level of personal depth and experience to the story I am about to re-read. Simply consuming the story, which is what e-readers are great for, just isn't enough.
Physical books may not be the most efficient medium, but they are the most meaningful. So keep your Kindle, by all means. But I'll be happy hoarding with my library.