To the object of my deepest loathing, the eBook.
I am doubtful that there is anyone who despises you as much as I. You incense me. Exasperate me. Launch me into juvenile fits of outrage. Call me a Luddite if you wish. I simply cannot fathom how one could ever prefer you to the glory, the splendor, the elegance of the print book. Yes, you contain the same words, the same title, as well as the same beginning and ending. But that is where the similarities end and the vexations begin.
To save myself a great deal of annoyance, eBook, I generally try to avoid you. But sometimes I am not so lucky. Last month was one of those times. I was on a train to New York. I had just settled into my seat, print book in hand, when I noticed something: Seated across the aisle from me were three college-aged students, and they were all reading. For fun! I was shocked, eBook. I hardly see people read nowadays. It was a perfect image…or, at least, it would have been. The beauty of this scene was marred by you, eBook. While two of the strangers cradled gorgeous print books in their open palms, in the third’s hand was a Kindle.
There’s something you must understand about me, eBook. I have been devoted to the print book for over 15 years. I am not the least bit sorry to say that, in my heart, you never stood a chance.
The print book and I share an intimate relationship. An indestructible one—one deeply rooted in community and personal connection. Don’t believe me?
Let me tell you a story.
When I was a small child, my favorite place to visit (yes, even more than Disneyland) was the library. It baffled me that I was allowed to enter this wonderful, massive building filled with books, take whichever books I wanted home with me, and return the next week for more. I remember being awestruck when my mom told me that the books were free—that anyone could have a library card. Books—those enchanting tomes brimming with life and emotion and so much information—were meant to be shared.
In elementary school, the exchange of print books led to the blossoming of a beautiful friendship between myself and the school librarian. Every week, I would come to her, recently finished book in hand. We would discuss what I had just read. Then she would take the finished book from me and disappear into the shelves, reemerging with a new book—one that she promised I would enjoy just as much as the last.
Today, my personal collection functions as a pseudo-library for my friends. My friend Christian and I pass books back and forth, leaving doodles and annotations for each other in the margins. For Christmas last year, I gifted my best friend, Ireland, an annotated book of poetry.
But you, eBook… If the print book fosters community, then you are the death of it. The very fact that one must own a piece of technology to read you speaks to how limited you are, how limiting you are. You have created a layer of exclusivity. A print book has no such barriers. It shares freely and demands nothing. eBook, you are the commercialization of what should remain sacred. Companies compete to provide you; devices are sold to carry you. You cannot be passed back and forth between friends or annotated and gifted to a loved one at Christmas. A book’s potential is not meant to be reduced in this way. A book is not meant to be defined by the confines of a market. And yet, in you, literature has become shackled to notions of profit.
Now, eBook, I don’t want you to think that I am speaking from a place of ignorance, or that I say these things having never actually tried you. Because I have. Several times. And, much like that girl on the train, I too was guilty of using a Kindle. But the experience was positively vile, eBook, and I’m not just saying that to be mean.
With every swipe of my finger across that passionless tempered glass screen, I grew more and more disenchanted. Reading a print book is a sensory experience. Each book varies in height, in weight, in word size, in scent, in page texture, thickness, and color. You are too streamlined, eBook. You are too predictable—too stark, too bright, too white, too uniform. Your obsession with convenience and ease has stripped you of any individuality, any personality. Looking at you, I am filled with apathy, with a sense of detachment.
On the train, I could instantly tell what type of people the print book readers were. By some cosmic coincidence (or perhaps because I consume books as rapidly as a football player does Morse dinner), I had already read both of the books that they were reading. Just from scrutinizing the colorful volumes in their hands, I knew that—given the chance to get to know the two individuals—I would like them. I also knew that they had good taste (in books, at least). But the girl in the center, the kindle-user, the eBook reader…about her, I could decipher nothing. The black rectangle in her hands gave me no hints about her personality, no glimpse into her psyche, no clue as to whether I was sitting across from a kindred spirit or potential best friend.
You see, eBook, you deprive me of the opportunity to learn about my fellow humans. A book, more than anything, is meant to be a conduit for human connection. Beyond their words, the very pages of a print book carry emotion and history. They tell a story about the reader. Scrawls or doodles in the margins offer a glance into the reader’s imagination. Dog-eared pages tell you where they paused. Pea-sized tear stains reveal which passages pulled at their heartstrings. But you, eBook…you tell me nothing. You do not wear or tear. You hold no memories, no life.
Even worse, eBook, you prevent me from fully surrendering myself to the dominion of the story. I know you are probably trying to be helpful when you keep track of how many pages I have left in a chapter or what percentage of you I have already read. But all you succeed in doing is distracting me. There is no getting lost in your words, eBook. My eyes are pulled to those little numbers—those horrible little numbers—those representations of time and progress and technology and efficiency. Can reading not just be reading, eBook?
I truly do not understand how that girl on the train could stand to look at you, eBook. I wonder if she was bothered by your clinical appearance, your lack of personality, your lifeless pages (if one can even call them “pages”). I wonder if she was distracted by your annoying numbers or if she was able to ignore them entirely—something I have never been able to do. Most of all, I wonder how she could ignore the facts that, to me, are so apparent: reading did not need to be renovated or technologized or made more efficient. You, eBook, have commodified something that was only ever meant to be enjoyed freely, widely, and communally. I wonder if she has realized all of this and chosen to forgive you. I certainly haven’t.