Books vs Ebooks

“The information we’re given is much to scant to draw too many conclusions. So the best we can do is to draw on our own experiences, preferences and the imperfect understanding we have of the world. And, for some of us, a long memory of what it was like to be a young adult.

Books are never more important to us than when we are coming into adulthood. We may like and appreciate them more when we are older but they will never do for us what they did then. They were an escape from the world, from friends, family and strangers, whether we feared or loved them. They were a doorway into the world, too, the way in which we made sense of it, challenged it and even achieved victory over it, at least in our minds.

Each book was a new challenge, each book was different, even for those who never tested themselves beyond one familiar genre. And for all that to happen, the physicalness of the books was important. They need a presence to forge that bond. As they piled up beside the bed or on the desk or bookcase, even when we had finished with them, they were there when we walked past. We saw the spines and the covers and they reminded us of the experience we shared with them.

At that age, a book is like Aladdin’s lamp. You touch it, you open it and the genie inside comes out. An ebook is like the kitchen light switch in comparison. Useful enough but hardly magical.

It is nice and comforting to have a picture of a loved one but even when the face, caught in extraordinary expression in the right light or air-brushed into perfection, is more beautiful than the real one, it is never more true or never more powerful than the one that looks at you from the chair across the room. And so it is with ebooks. The words are all there, the ideas and thoughts are frozen in them just as if they were on the page, but they cannot reproduce the vividness of the book that waits and watches from the bookcase.

There is, for me, a difference in what I want to read in an ebook and what I want to read in a real book. I have a Kindle and an iPad that is used more for reading than any other task. But they tend to be filled with dross or books of little consequence or enduring pleasure. They are books that I probably enjoyed at the time but whose acquaintance I was pleased to make in passing. Those that I want as friends I prefer to have in both body and mind so I go and buy the lasting version.

I have a library, not just a collection of books I’ve read. Oh, it looks like a pile of books but its haphazardness hides its purpose. They form part of the character of the room, part of the warmth of the house, part of what I offer everyone who comes in. They, the visitors, can stand and browse the shelves. It is a special thing to watch someone come into your house and make their way across the ranks of spines, pulling one out, flicking the pages, pausing a moment before replacing that book and then stumbling upon another that beckons. And there are times when a book I’ve already read catches my eye and I take it from the shelf and read a few pages, remembering and still discovering, then put it back in its place.

Those who herald the end of the printed book have let their excitement at what might be ride roughshod over their appreciation of what is. I’m sure ebooks are here to stay but it won’t be as conquerors.”

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