March 1, 2011

Closing the book

Even a die hard fan of paperbacks can learn to love e-readers

When was the last time you bought a non-school book? I consider myself a born and bred book nerd, a promiscuous reader known to devour The New York Times Best Sellers and just about anything that could be classified as the written word, but it has been months since I last surveyed a bookstore, wandering around in search of some literary distraction. Recently, I have been feeling the approach of the end of an era—the era of the traditional paperback book.

A couple of weeks ago I was traveling on the 171, and I passed a sign: Borders Closing, Only This Location, Everything Must Go! Having been inside the Borders on 53rd Street, I was not particularly surprised. Those exploring Hyde Park could easily find popular books, old classics, and trendy coffee beverages there, but the location and overall store environment easily foreshadowed its demise. I myself have always noticed that the atmosphere was too quiet—not the academic quiet of Harper Library, but the quiet one notices when a place has become ignored and obsolete. A few days later, I learned that the entire chain had filed for bankruptcy.

My local Borders in Washington DC was not similarly neglected. It sat on top of one of Washington DC’s most popular train stations. It celebrated almost every Harry Potter book, appeased the teenage girl population with midnight parties for the Twilight series, and had hosted some of the most famous authors in the country. How could it be closing? How many hours had I spent there over the years, buying everything from Dr. Seuss to the Official Guide For The SATs? How many times had I walked past it on my way from the movies, only to stop inside to get the book that had inspired the movie, or even the movie’s soundtrack? Answer: too many, but none lately. The birth of the e-reader had stolen my attention away from the local landmark and its lovely inhabitants.

I once swore I would never get an e-reader. “Nothing will ever replace a good old fashioned book,” I said; “Nothing will ever compare to flipping to the last page of a novel before reading the beginning,” I said. “Nothing.” So, when Christmas of 2009 came around, I was certain I would not be getting the dreaded e-reader. But to my shock and awe, on Christmas morning I found myself staring into the screen of a Kindle. I remember thinking, “Okay, this will be a back-up. I’ll buy duplicates of everything.” Needless to say I did not. I had an entire library at my fingertips, and some of my favorite books were available for free. As a book-lover, one could say I had sold my soul to the devil for hundreds of books contained in a one-quarter of an inch thick metal device.

It seems like the e-reader has allowed the world to forsake the common book for a more convenient and more cost-effective reading experience. But upon further reflection one can see the real benefits of carrying an entire library in a light, thin, book-sized instrument, especially for a college student. Imagine having Dracula, Pride and Prejudice, and other classic novels available for free. Imagine switching between reading your favorite book to examining a midterm paper with the click of a button; imagine doing that on a gadget that costs less than 150 dollars. Computers and iPads provide too many distractions to invoke the peaceful feeling of reading—a feeling one still gets with a Kindle. At this point, the paperback seems like a literary version of the analog watch. Sometimes you want the style of the analog watch, but other times efficiency just wins out.

Ultimately, I think one thing is clear. If one day in the future people consider paperback books obsolete, then the world will be a different place, but not a worse place. Books are evolving, but their true essence and the feelings they invoke will still always be there—just not necessarily in the form of a paperback.

Martia Bradley is a second-year in the College.