Virtual Bookshelves

I had been waiting for so long.

Originally, this shiny, sleek new toy had been promised as a potential Christmas gift. I had dutily performed my research and selected this particular device instead of its competitor. I knew that I really wanted one. And, though Karen didn’t really understand why, she loves giving me things. Because she’s cool like that.

Finances being what they sometimes are, the Christmas gift was pushed to January as a birthday gift (yes, I have a January birthday…I clean up at the beginning of the year!). I waited. I hinted. I drooled. I whined. I hoarded gift cards from Christmas to assist in off-setting the expense. Finally, I was given permission, and I whisked away to purchase my long-awaited gift at once.

Two weeks later, I received great news! My gift was shipping almost two weeks ahead of schedule! I would have it by that Friday… a glimmer of brightness in an otherwise dreary week.

That Friday, however, as I frequently checked package tracking updates, I discovered, much to my frustration, that a snowstorm had forced UPS to delay delivery for the weekend, and I would receive my gift Monday. I voiced rather harshly my frustration that the South has no idea what to do with snow, and that it shouldn’t paralyze life. Then I got over it. My weekend went on.

My gift arrived last Monday (that poor UPS guy was working late!), and I’ve had a week to play with it. I won’t keep you in suspense any longer: my new toy is the nook from Barnes and Noble.

Now, I suppose I have to say that I purchased the nook for personal use, that I’m not giving a product endorsement, that I’ve received no special offers from and made no special offers to Barnes and Noble, and that I’m not being compensated by anyone for writing this post…I think that should be enough to make the government happy.  Besides, I’m not writing a product review here, so if you’re wondering why I chose the nook instead of the Kindle, or what I think of its technical performance, sorry…not the point of this post.

The reason Karen and other of my friends draw back at the idea of having all of your books electronically on a single device is because they love the feel of books. They love the smell of them. They want to hold books and to have a tactile experience as they turn pages. One friend insists that books should be treated with the same respect and regard as human beings.  I tend to agree with this, and I imagine that he would have a difficult time with the concept of an e-book.

I’m typically an early adopter. I immediately made the change from purchasing CD’s to purchasing my music by MP3 download with the purchase of my first iPod. I didn’t miss CD’s. The music is what is important, and the fact that I can obtain it instantly is so much more attractive. I really feel the same about books. The words are what are important. I want to be able to pull the book that I want to read out of the air, and have them all on one device that is easy to carry with me. Assuming I’m accepted into a PhD program, I’m in earnest hopes that textbooks migrate to e-book format soon, because that takes a lot of weight off of a student…literally.

As I’ve had a week to play with my new toy, though, spending about half of my reading time still with paper books in hand because e-book selections aren’t quite where they should be yet, I’ve come to some realizations. Perhaps, I’ve even come to appreciate Karen’s and other friends’ points of view. You see, I sat reading this weekend, and looked through our apartment, the back wall of which is lined with books. I sat upstairs, surrounded by more books. There are more books in our bedroom. Karen and I love books. And, while the physical presence of the book isn’t a necessity for me, the inescapable drive to be well-read and immersed in story is. I remember my bookshelf of science fiction novels in my bedroom as a teenager. Isaac Asimov and Robert Henlein proudly decorated my wall with the spines of their books. I like the look of a well-organized bookshelf, and having to go to a certain shelf in a certain room to find a certain book on a certain topic (because we’re slightly obsessive-compulsive in our organization). At the same time, I like being able to simply browse a menu and access any book from the device in my hand. That device, however, cannot substitute for the fact that one of my most prized possessions is a leather-bound collection of Sherlock Holmes adventures.

Reading a book is reading a book, regardless of whether we are reading it as typeset on a page or “e-ink” on a screen. I don’t know what I would do, though, without our rows and rows of books that line our walls. This is part of our identity, even remarked on by friends that visit. Does this make me a literary snob? Am I needlessly nostalgic for something to symbolize my self-perception as being well-read? Am I viewing full bookshelves as a status symbol? If so, then shame on me. If not, I’m wondering if, for all the good that having great literary works available easily and to more people brings, that perhaps we stand to lose something culturally if we lose our paper and leather books…something that was not lost as CD’s became extinct (and as DVD’s follow).

Am I concerned for nothing? Or do you see the potential for loss here, as well?

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1 Comment

  1. I hope that paper and leather-bound books housed in mahogany bookcases are something that never becomes a “thing of the past.”

    It’s a sexy little machine! Congratulations on your new arrival! 🙂

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