E-books are to printed books what photographs of recipes in magazines are to plates of beautifully prepared, delicious and satisfying meals. They look good but don't have much texture or scent, never mind taste. They leave you hungry for real food, for a real meal, for a real experience. They also can't help decorate living rooms, or show off cultural bona fides by casually, carefully exposed covers left on coffee tables. "Oh you're reading that? I've heard it's amazing."
E-books, of course, are at the same time functional and handy, and appeal to our culture's child-like avidity for each and every new technology toy. They're being "sold" hard right now, and seem likely to become a permanent fixture on the cultural industry landscape. That said - and my own disinterest in them aside, I'm happy that they appear to be wooing new readers, especially to older, canonical works - printed books need not fear being trampled. Lovers of quality paper, of stitched bindings, of cloth covers; lovers of elegant, durable, exchangeable objects - of inexpensive, accessible works of art, really - will not lose their ardour, or their appetite.
How could they? For many of us - for humans as a species, for the past 500 years or so - printed books haven't been products to be upgraded or even rendered obsolete once the market is exhausted, or bored. They've been our collective memory, our repository of knowledge and wisdom, our storytellers. And they've always been physical, as well as intellectual, spiritual, even moral, properties: They have those scents, tastes and so on. They "exist" as surely as sculptures or paintings exist, and will never be satisfactorily replicated on pallid white screens.
Charles Foran is the author of Mordecai: The Life and Times .
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