Friday, May 29, 2009

Paper versus electronic

This has been working on me in the back of my mind for a long time - the idea of electronic media (Kindle, on-line books, audio-books) versus Old Fashioned Books made of paper.
Since certain human beings in my realm of experience have consistently proselytized the Kindle and audiobook to me (like the big, goofy words there?), I have had to consciously consider this proposition and for some reason, questions like this, ie. on aesthetic choice, continue to reverberate in the canyons and chasms of my perpetually perturbed mind. This is what clams up my brain cells on a day to day basis, so here are some poorly-formed ruminations on this proposition.

Here's the case for electronic media:

1. Environmental: For downloads, no trees killed. (The machinery needed to read - computers, kindles, etc. would pretty much exist anyway in some form, so this is perhaps not an additional environmental factor.) So, electronic wins in the environment department.

2. Immediacy: No wait for mail or trip to Borders/B&N/Local Bookstore. Bam! You got it.

3. Variety: You can get everything in great variety - the books, podcasts, newspapers from all time - or soon will be able to get all of this, a lot of it in free downloads.

I'm not sure of other benefits, but I would think (I don't know) that you could manipulate the text - put it in a larger font, a different font etc. to make it more readable.

For audio books:

1. For blind people, this is good.

2. For travellers and auto commuters, this is good.

3. Generally excellent readers are employed so you get extra points in the performance of the book. Better understanding of the material, ease of translation into your own head. This all enhances the book, I think.

4. Very good for poetry and books written to be read. Nothing better than spoken word spoken well.

The negatives to me for electronic media:

1. I don't want to mess with all this stuff - CDs, downloads, devices

2. This stuff is hard to read on a computer or reader. I have to really concentrate to read this stuff. Like this blog for instance - its hard to blaze through all this crap, so it makes sense to keep it short, which I usually don't.

The case for Real, Old Fashioned Paper Books

1. The feel of the book in your hands (animal pleasure in gripping, feeling, etc.)

2. The overall artistic experience of the book, outside the appreciation of content. The look, the art, the paper used, the jacket design, the illustrations, the binding, the size of the book - the whole craft of publishing that has brought the book to your hand. This stuff is important to me and is all part of the overall communication of a book.

3. These books become old friends. I have books that I've owned since 1966! They have grooves in my head fer chrissake. I couldn't possible throw away the first serious book I ever bought with my own money, "Poems 1923-1954 e.e. cummings"

This book has outlasted everything else in my life except my mother, my sister and my brothers. I still go back to it and when I read it, I'm reading it all the times I've ever read it, not only this time. It's got a real vibe going on as a physical object with a history.

Also, I can't picture the extreme typography and the look of cumming's poetry in e-book format. A good deal of his appeal is the way the words lie on the page. And its hard to get a poem to look as intended on a computer.

4. Whatever this is: I went to the Rare Books Room at the British Library in London and saw books like "Alice in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll, written and illustrated in his own hand, hand-written lyrics of Beatles songs, the Magna Carta, original Bibles and so on. This "artifact" nature of the book is unavailable in original e-publication format. There's no "Gee, this is the original electronic text in the author's own keyboard strokes!" to e-books.

5. I can't imagine lingering over an e-book, postponing its end. Often when I'm reading a book that really gets to me, I forestall the end, draw out my reading time, re-read chapters, hold the book and use it as a token to think about it. I can't see doing any of that with an e-book. Then, when its back on my shelf, I go back to it and its there as a reminder to me of the book. The book is a continuum of experience, not just a momentary experience.
6. Here's one for Patty - you can't really read your kindle or PC in the bathtub, right?

I guess most of my appreciation of books is beyond the ordinary "read it, get it, get over it" - I'm more of a "reader for artistic virtue and subtlety" for whatever that's worth. As for the environmental impact, maybe people could be charged a tax for paper consumption when they buy a book and be encouraged to use libraries more - the tax could go directly to universal library funding and book preservation- then us paper book nuts could still have access to books without storing them.

eh, whatever
PS: Here's something else and something else else:
1. My 4 or 5 bookshelf collection of poetry. How exactly would the convert to e-book? This has been amassed over more than 40 years in varieties of forms - anthologies, collections, single books, Poetry magazine editions (30 or so). I have gradually put this together and have very close connections with some of the books, from college courses and otherwise. I can sit in my upstairs room, selecting books, reading them, selecting others, etc for hours. I'm searching in my mind for the electronic equivalent: would it be an index of online books and magazines bookmarked and with cover art to scan through like i-pod does with album covers? But, would I remember junk like, "Yeah, I remember that bookstore in Milwaukee / Kansas City / New Hope where I picked this up." "Yeah, I remember the download I did on this one." Not quite the same.
2. Variant editions - thinking of "Leaves of Grass" and "On The Road" here. There are greatly varying editions of books such as these. Is this somewhat lost in electronic land?
3. Art books - okay, these just don't translate to electronics at all. I have big crazy paperback art books on posters and whatever. Kindles don't come in 24 x 16 size yet, I don't believe.

1 comment:

  1. sorry, i cant think of anything more terrible than an ebook. i like to look at how far i have gone by looking at where my bookmark is, and holding the actual book. id go with audio, or buying an old edition if it is trees you are woriied about. i cant even believe paper is made from trees. where does it all come from, im pretty sure every tree in the world would be dead by now. i think it is a hoax like the man on the moon.