I am undyingly faithful to my ratty, mildew-covered paperback novels. I have a deep affection for leather-bound, saddle-stitched hardcover books. And yet I find myself hopelessly in love with an e-reader.
I actually feel guilty, as though my lust for this high-tech device makes me a traitor in the world of bookish people who are supposed to wear cardigans covered in dandruff and attend rare-book fairs.
"You are having a tawdry affair with a plastic gadget just because it can store the equivalent of a garage full of novels," I imagine them saying, taking angry gulps from their tumblers of Scotch. They accuse me of abandoning the tactile warmth of paper books for a ruthlessly cold, blinking screen.
To these critics, I say, "Please supply me with painkillers to alleviate the muscle ache of lugging around books in my swelling briefcase. Otherwise, shut up."
But still, I am torn. After all, I do miss the sensual curve of paper as I turn the crisp, white pages of a new book. Thankfully, the marketing people behind my e-reader knew that I would be pining for that familiar gesture, so they came up with a digitally simulated version of page-flipping.
And while I have to say it's a pretty convincing imitation, I do have my moments of nostalgia for the way things used to be. I think of my mother in 1972, blissfully browsing her Reader's Digest in the living room and utterly convinced that our family's portable RCA colour television set was the technology of the future. My father would be hiding in the rec room with his Popular Mechanics, which served as a convenient coaster for his beer.
But let's not get too maudlin here and choose sides so quickly. To give e-reader proponents some well-deserved points, it's true that I am less likely to accidentally smear the pages of my electronic book with barbecue sauce. That's because this shiny tablet costs more than $100. If anybody goes near my e-reader with greasy fingers, I am inclined to attack the offender physically. My paper books, on the other hand, are invariably stained with coffee and chocolate, and I couldn't care less.
Apparently, e-reader owners can rest easy anyway because these devices are practically indestructible. I recently saw a four-year-old girl dump a bowl of unset Jell-O on the screen of her mother's reader. In a state of panic, she quickly wiped up her daughter's mess with a damp towel and watched in awe as the Jell-O effortlessly beaded off. It was a miracle, I tell you. That same bowl of sugary jelly would have caused any paperback a certain death. The soggy book would have been left to dry in the basement, its pages stiffening with rigor mortis.
So you can see why I'm having trouble picking sides here. Some people may think that because electronic books are cheaper than their paper counterparts, writers will lose out in the bargain and be paid less. However, publishers are claiming that these same writers will sell more books.
Since most writers I know live on carefully rationed potatoes, they certainly won't care if their income is derived from a computer-generated book or one found on a dusty bookshelf. They'll just be hysterically happy that their books are selling to people other than their relatives.
Then, of course, there's the argument that buying paper books gives me an excuse to visit my favourite bookstore. And let's face it: Is there anything more enticing to a book lover than those tidy rows and rows of alphabetically arranged books? The crackling fluorescent lights, smothering crowds and endless lineups at the cash register don't bother me because I am in the Church of Books. I worship the quirky people who work there. I could spend hours in a bookstore and I admittedly have, deftly avoiding other unnecessary tasks such as socializing.
But now that I think of it, that time-wasting behaviour does reward some points to the e-reader fans. Downloading books can free up many hours to do other useful things like Googling celebrity names and watching TV.
Space is another key factor to consider in the electronic v. paper war. Every time I move my belongings to a new home, my apartment seems to shrink in size because I can no longer afford all that space. I simply don't have room for a decade's worth of Roget's Thesaurus. The e-reader, however, allows me to maniacally archive hundreds of books and to make them vanish with one determined click. Getting rid of my hardcovers is not so easy, and even dangerous for house guests, since I use boxed sets of Jane Austen to prop up wobbly living-room furniture.
Given the indisputable evidence that both sides here have their strong points, I think it's time to call a truce. I will continue to embrace the world of mouldy books and printer's ink, but I will equally relish the convenience and sheer fun of cyber-reading. I will attempt to sit comfortably on that proverbial fence, curled up with a good book, whatever form it takes.
End of story.
Ross Rogers lives in Montreal
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