Earlier this week, I ordered a trade paperback book entitled Body Trauma: A writer’s guide to wounds and injuries by David W. Page, MD, FACS. It arrived yesterday in the mail. As I perused the chapters, jumping around, following the questions that popped into my head, I was also thinking that if I’d bought this book on a Kindle or other e-reader, my experience of it would be very different.
First of all, I’d be holding an electronic device with a monitor, not a book with paper pages and words in ink. To be fair here, I don’t own a Kindle or other e-reader. I’ve heard that with some models, it’s possible to make notes in the book’s margins. For me, I think it’s simpler to use a pen or pencil to write notes in the margins of a paper book, highlight words or sections, tag pages with neon flags. There’s something more immediate about a paper book that is lacking with an e-reader. There’s something essential about the feel of the book in my hands, what my eyes see, the texture of the paper, the new-book smell.
Second, e-readers save trees. No doubt about it. But what about disposing of an e-reader that has died? Is it hazardous waste in some way? Are e-readers biodegradable? Can they be recycled? There’s no doubt that books for e-readers are far easier to publish and cut costs for paper, printing, binding and distribution. But publishers will continue to have overhead, employee and marketing costs. In other words, e-books do not provide publishers (or authors) with a big profit bonanza.
Third, e-readers will be the death of the book, i.e. the paper book. I doubt it. People have been predicting the demise of the paper book for at least the last 50 years, and it hasn’t happened. The radio would make books obsolete. Then television and movies. Then audio books. Then the internet. And books continue to bring entertainment and pleasure to people young and old. Books are available in different formats: hardcover, mass market paperback, trade paperback, audio and now digital. We have just found new ways of disseminating the stories that we tell. For me, there’s nothing like holding a paper book in my hands while I lie in bed, reading. Perhaps someone who’s grown up with electronic devices would feel more comfortable with doing the same with an e-reader.
I bought Body Trauma to use as supplemental reference. I’ll store it on a bookshelf with the other books I use as reference for my writing. I will be able to see its spine, and that sight could trigger ideas, thoughts or questions, as other books’ spines have. That is not how I imagine it with an e-reader, which stores the books itself. The sight of the e-reader, to me, triggers nothing. No, maybe a thought about how much closer we are to the world of Star Trek. We already use communicators….