When I had the books all pulled out and sitting in random piles on the floor, I thumbed through a few of them and took an unexpected and nostalgic trip. There were phone numbers of old friends scribbled on inside covers. There were birthday messages written on title pages. There were even some stains that reminded me of drinks and food I’d consumed while I read them. And I couldn’t get over some of the things that had been used as bookmarks — boarding passes from trips I took years ago, napkins from restaurants that have long since shuttered their doors, and even a grocery list of items that, since it was folded into long-closed pages, I can only assume I never bought.
It got me thinking about electronic book readers, like the Kindle, the iPad, and the Nook. The appeal of these devices is obvious — you can download hundreds of books into them, they’re lightweight and easy to transport, they’re environmentally friendly, and they don’t require a bookcase. As a fan of cool new gadgets, and a fan of anything that promotes literacy, I think they’re great. But as they become more common and their use more widespread, I think something is indelibly lost. You’ll never find any of the things I found today in an e-reader. It’ll never have dog-eared pages or highlighted passages indicating a well-loved and well-read story. To me it makes great literature disposable, and that’s something great literature (and hell, even crappy literature) should never be.
I suppose it’s the way the world is trending. In the home of the future (and in some of the present) you won’t have media cabinets filled with CDs or DVDs. You won’t have a separate TV and computer. And you won’t have bookshelves loaded with pages and pages of the written word.
My original ending was to ask how one would bring an e-reader to an author’s book signing. But I suppose in the future, we won’t have book signings either.
By Steve Boudreault