A Novel Turn-on


As promised in the previous post, I want to explore my mixed feelings related to eBooks. First, some personal history.

As a kid I was not into gadgets and had no affinity for science nor technology. Later, as a young writer, I stubbornly stuck to my Olivetti while my peers all moved to Macs. When friends explained how easy it was to edit text on a computer, I defiantly said I preferred pounding the keys. I was convinced I couldn’t write without the tactile sensation of ripping a page from the carriage, crumpling it up and tossing it across the room.

I can’t calculate the amount of time and paper wasted, but it’s safe to say others finished novels while I edited a single short story.

In the late 1980s a girlfriend gave me a laptop her father had given her for Christmas. She was afraid to take it out of the box.

For some reason I accepted the gift and struggled to learn how to use it.  The pre-installed word processing program seemed designed to make me feel stupid. (Back then software was far from intuitive.) But I somehow stuck with it and soon became hooked. I dove head-first into desktop publishing, and taught myself computer graphics. I was even hired to write a monthly humor column for PC Laptop Magazine about the perils of tech. A few years later I founded Dingbat: The Monthly Review of Cool Tools. As a technology journalist I became an evangelist of sorts for computer animation.

This mysterious transformation placed me on the ground floor when digital cameras were first introduced to the consumer market. I had no reticence when it came to switching from 35mm to a DSLR, even though it was years before digital surpassed the quality of film.

So why the  “mixed feelings” about eBooks—the Kindle, Nook, and iPad?

I think they’re cool, convenient, and a compliment to actual books—but not a replacement for print.

As someone who has collected and worshipped books his entire life, a virtual book is the mere ghost of a full-bodied tome with ink running through its veins.

Yes, I read newspapers online as well as on a Kindle, but I still like reading the real thing, coffee stains and all. I like to feel and fold it. It’s nearly an erotic sensation and it’s hard to explain to anyone who wasn’t raised to love the printed word.

It’s the kids today that worry me. They were born texting… weaned on touch screens and LCDs. They’ve never stepped foot in a library, unless it was to go online or take out a DVD. They’ve never smelled printer’s ink, sniffed a book’s binding, donned a dust jacket, or caressed a spine.

If you’ve never known the aesthetic pleasure of the book as an object of beauty…as a container of dreams, then why would you buy one or miss it when its gone?

That’s my fear.

One part of me says “books will never die” and the other part imagines them existing only in antique shops.

I hear a future parent telling a child at bedtime…

“Time to turn off the book and go to sleep.”