I have often written about my love for books. The importance of books was impressed on me at an early age. I guess that is what happens when you come from two families of teachers and librarians. I grew up with a healthy respect and love for the written word but also the physical thing that is a book. I am talking about the cover, the pages, and all of the dead tree stuff that forms the cornerstone of our civilization. Damage to a book was looked upon with scorn in my house and I learned to treat books with a sort of reverence that wasn’t applied to other possessions. Print was so important to me that I did not one but TWO different school projects on Gutenberg’s press!
Ok, maybe the second time had more to do with a certain bit of laziness but there is not reason to throw stones at the moment right?
As I got older and started making some money, acquiring books become somewhat of a hobby. I quit going to the library and started buying anything I wanted to read. While this started with cheap paperbacks, it quickly evolved into purchasing hardbacks. Understand I was not then and am not now a collector. I just bought books I wanted to read and bought them in hardback form. I eventually even took a job at a bookstore which fed into my need to own what I read. So books, as a medium of holding information, really have played an important part of my life. Over time I built what I feel is a respectable collection. Again I point out that it isn’t full of classics or rare first editions but covers the things I like to read. Coffee table books on special effects, various popular fiction titles by writers like Arthur C. Clarke, Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Heinlein, Chuck Palahniuk, and Robert Jordan, non-fiction biographies, histories, and textbooks, the nearly complete works of Stephen King, and a whole host of other titles grace my shelves. The collection is probably small and trite by bibliophile standards but compared to Average Joe American my shelves are quite full. I have long had a dream to one day have a house big enough to have my own library. Think Lex Luthor’s office in Superman The Movie. That is kind of my vision.
Something about having the books and being able to see them in front of me makes me happy. Or…at least it did. Lately things have changed. Financial pressures have all but stopped my book buying. First run hardbacks are $30-$40 depending on discounts and vendor and that really can hit the budget. The books I buy these days are almost invariably in the trade paperback form which I much prefer over mass market paperbacks. They still look good on the shelf but are missing the weighty quality of the hardbacks. Aside from the cost, the space issue is starting to rear its ugly head. I live in a small house. My books take up a not insignificant amount of space. Each new hardback crowds everything else on the shelves. I still have room, of course, but these days it has to be shared. I have a family you know and can’t hog all the space. After all of those concerns and a few others, filling my house with my books is starting to seem a bit silly.
Enter the digital revolution.
Digital books are intriguing. You can own thousands and keep them all on a card the size of your fingernail. Through the use of any number of devices you can have them all available to read any time, anywhere. They don’t deteriorate. The don’t get sun bleached. Your wife and daughter can’t spill liquids on them (yes, the reader is another story but we will get to that). The price per book is competitive and, of course, digital books save the precious trees. Digital books seem to have quite a bit of advantages. As of yet, however, I am completely not interested.
Reading a book on a screen just doesn’t interest me. Even though I am a “technology professional”, I hate reading a lot on a screen. It hurts my eyes. I have an iPad and I have looked at the Nook reader and they just don’t compare to having a real book in my hands. Let’s not forget that a digital reader has to be recharged regularly and can be damaged quite easily. Do you want to take your iPad to the pool? At least a cheap paperback can get wet and still be useful. How will any of those great conversations that randomly start when one person notices someone reading that amazing book they finished last week when all anyone sees is the back of a screen? How can I build my dream library out of digital books? I think there is something special about having a book in your hands. I may be one of the last people to say that. The generations behind me don’t seem to have the same attachments to books in the physical form.
There is one caveat to this story. Recently a warehouse sized used book store opened in town. 2nd and Charles is owned by Books-A-Million, but is a completely different kind of store. It is filled to will used books. After my first trip to the store I think I realized that this would be my bookstore of choice for some time to come. I can find books I want to read in just about any format I want at unbelievable prices. I can also sell the books at home I don’t want for store credit. I can thus make space for new books while keeping my expenses down. Win-Win right? The first book I bought was Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon. I got it for less than half the cover price and was quite happy. I can feed my book habit at a much lower cost as long as someone else keeps selling their books. So I guess this means my transition to digital will be even longer.
Digital books may be the future but I am going to cling to the past until they pry it from my cold, dead fingers.
Now, get the hell off of my lawn!