Well, I finally did it. I ordered my first e-book. And it was an agonizing decision. I’m sure I’m not the only person on this blog for “bookish, clever women” who has been faced with this same dilemma, so I thought I’d walk us all through the stages of grief together.
I’ve loved books since I was tiny. I’ve collected them lovingly over the years. Admittedly, I don’t keep as pristine care of them as some people ““ a broken spine to me is a sign of a well-read story ““ but they hold weight with me. The weight of stories, the weight of knowledge, the weight of fantastic adventures of the mind; the weight of holidays with my grandmother where the options were reading her collection of Virginia Andrews novels or bust, the weight of long summer afternoons lying on the swing on the veranda devouring the latest teen mystery. And, not insubstantially, they have weight. As a friend once told me, it’s not until you have to move a box of books that you remember they’re made from trees. They’re heavy. In my memories, my arms get tired. I struggle to keep the book open as I’m lying on my side as I’m lying on my grandmother’s spare bed. But the weight, metaphorical and physical, is an integral part of what, to me, makes a book a book.
Part of my love of books has been a long-cherished fantasy of one day having my own personal library. A room all of my own, with plush leather armchairs and dark wood panelling and wall to wall books. Maybe even one of those ladders on wheels. The smell of musty paper, that smell of learning and of endless possibilities, would be heavy in the air. I attributed some sense of value to the impressive number of books I would one day acquire.
And then came e-books.
I resisted for a long time, especially since I usually love to have my hands on the latest gadget. But I thought, if I just avoided buying, handling or even looking at an e-reader of any flavour, I would be safe. Then my boyfriend bought a Kindle and I was on the slippery slope to godless, heretic thoughts. At first I just had a casual play with it. It was so light! And the screen was so easy to read in the ambient light. I turned it this way and that, admiring the simplicity, the lines, the contrast. And then I put it down and backed away. Down this road, madness lie. But the Kindle called to me.
Soon I was borrowing it more and more. The battery life was so good as to be a non-issue ““ like a book! I could take a pile of books with me on a long plane flight ““ and add less than a pound to my carry-on. And then I reached the crossroad. One of my favourite authors published a new book. I could order the hardback, pay for the book and the shipping, wait a week for it to arrive, and after I was done, cram it onto the shelf bulging with unwieldy hardbacks by the same author (I do not have my room dedicated to books yet, so for now they must contain themselves to two bookcases). Or, I could pay less for the book, skip the shipping costs, wait as long as it took to download to the Kindle, and not deal with the space crunch that is two 20-somethings and a cat living in a one bedroom apartment.
It was a hard fight. But pragmatism won over romanticism. And part of me, the book-loving idealistic child, is heartbroken. Instead of browsing a library smelling of old paper, leather and wood polish, I’ll be browsing a screen. Instead of leafing through an old favourite, I’ll be clicking through it. Somehow, collecting different editions of a beloved classic won’t have the same appeal in e-books. And here I’ve just about convinced myself that I was wrong, wrong, wrong, and that paper books are the only option. But, e-books are just so convenient. And fast. And cheap. And compact. And light. And the stories themselves ““ they still have the same weight they always did.
Now, I’m interested to hear on what side of the argument our readers come down ““ are you still buying exclusively paper books? Exclusively e-books? Or some combination?