The Printing Press is Mightier than the Internet

“In a good bookroom you feel in some mysterious way that you are absorbing the wisdom contained in all the books through your skin, without even opening them.”

Mark Twain

Or, The English Student’s Views on E-Books.

(This is going to be a rant, not a review. You have been warned.)

So Slow News Day has sort of extended into Slow News Week on the L-space front. There’s nothing I want to watch, let alone write about, on telly; I’m three and a half chapters away from the end of The Fellowship of the Ring (the next book in the Tolkien Reading Marathon); and I haven’t seen or done anything interestingly literary. I am, therefore, taking this opportunity to explain why exactly I will never own a Kindle.

I have, of course, used e-books before, because, however organised you are, there will always be evenings when the library’s shut and you desperately need something (anything) you can quote to make your essay sound less rubbish. Also you can search e-books, which does not, alas, work with real books.

Having said that, I do try to avoid e-books, especially novels. There are several reasons for this, and not all of them are entirely rational. Firstly – and most importantly – I’ve always felt that there’s much more to a book than just the sound those black marks make in your head. The cover, the typeface, the weight and feel of the paper, the smell of the pages: they are all part and parcel of the adventure that is reading a book. Why else is it easier to read a Dickens novel in a modern edition than an older one where the printing is tiny and the pages tissue-paper thin?

Second – books can tell stories that are not their own. You never know what you might find between the pages of a book: an old photograph, a leaf from a long-dead tree, pencilled annotations in the margins. Can an e-book do that, I ask you?

And, of course, when you’ve paid for something it’s always nice actually to feel you own it. A book has a solidity and a reality that the Internet just doesn’t. Most people don’t really know where the Internet is, or even if it is anywhere (I certainly don’t), whereas, you know, a book is definitively somewhere. It exists. You can hold it and everything.

Well, it’s 2am, and I’m mostly writing drivel now, so I’ll try and sum up with a neat Concluding Thought:

A book is a symbol, a collection of histories, a thing that is unique. An e-book is just a data file. When was the last time you heard of protest groups burning laptops and Kindles?


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