by Aaron Smale
If you read any of my columns from last semester, you have probably picked up the idea that I’m an avid reader. I spend a good deal of my free time with my nose buried in a book, and part of that time is spent using a Kindle. There are arguments to be made on both sides as to what e-readers mean for the future of books, with their own pitfalls and virtues regarding their literary merit.
When I first bought my Kindle, it wasn’t a purchase I made lightly — weeks of research, comparison and cost analysis went into checking out my slim little e-reader. The ability to pick up almost any book at any time, as well as access to magazines, newspapers and other periodicals is intriguing in its convenience at first, and over time, the money one can save purchasing digital books does add up. Being able to have a whole library that weighs little more than a pound is also pretty neat — not to mention quick. For people who read more intently than others, e-readers offer options to highlight sections, inscribe notes for future reference, and link to other texts that your book might bring up. All of these options can have their fonts resized, pages can be referenced with a swipe of a fingertip and you can even check out e-books from your county library. In some cases, high school and college students can save strain on their backs, wallets and time spent in line by replacing their textbooks with e-book versions.
For all the convenience that an e-reader presents, it has its drawbacks: e-books aren’t as “personal” as a regular book, some of the books you absolutely want or need simply aren’t available in digital editions and fans of periodicals need dependable access to the internet in order to keep up with their favorite news sources. Some of the annotation processes work a lot better in theory than they do in practice, and good luck trying to share your references and highlights if your e-book copy doesn’t have “true” pagination — page numbers equivalent to the physical copy of the same text.
So, e-readers seem like a double-edged sword, but maybe we should start looking at the bigger conversation we’re having when we talk about e-readers: how we, as consumers and readers, feel about literature, books and reading. It’s tempting to have easy access to a large library, but what about the book in your library loaded with dog-eared pages, annotations, and that is worn at the spine? What about all the highlights and Post-it notes in our most useful and referenced textbooks? There is nothing to say that e-books will replace regular books, or that e-books are just a passing fad. The medium isn’t so important as the message — what we learn from what we read, how we are entertained or challenged by what entertains us. For some, convenience supersedes their desire to have a respectable library, while others prefer to interact with their favorite ideas on the printed page. This is all to say that as long as you’re reading — and enjoying reading — then the medium isn’t entirely crucial. Now, if we want to talk about people not reading anymore in general, then that’s another complex and essential conversation we should start thinking about.
Aaron Smale studies English. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.