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eBooks and reading the future

February 23, 2011

Increasingly, you can’t talk about books without talking about eReaders. Kindles, Nooks, iPads and what-have-you. If I’m an avid reader, I’m going to be asked my opinion of e-books. Or I’ll be sent an ebook to review, rather than a paper copy. (This just happened.)

E-readers make me feel cautious, a little perturbed. I see the usefulness, especially when I’m packing for a vacation, and caught between three books. But I also love the tactile sense of a book, of turning pages. I have yet to find an eReader interface I find as appealing as paper pages, the ridges of a book’s spine. Maybe some alchemy of the cost and interface will come together for me. Not holding my breath. (But if Amazon or Barnes and Noble or Sony want to send me one to test and blog about….? It’s worth a shot.)

I read words and sentences all day. I don’t read enough. Technology makes both things true. I work and think in various corners of the Internet, as a writer, a blogger, a social media professional. Facebook, Twitter, blog comments, articles, email. The conversation happens all day long, or whenever I’m near a computer or phone. “Words, words words, they’re all we’ve got to go on. ” (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead)

I don’t spend as much time curled up with a book as I used to. Which is a shame. Objectively, I like curling up with a book. I like the act of reading and turning pages, the feel of the pages and the feel of the mental experience. A good story is dreamlike, and a few hours with a good book refresh me more than a powernap.

But instead of curling up with a book, I curl up with my big, angular plastic laptop, prone to overheating. I read goofy websites, play an inordinate amount of Scrabble. I’m connecting to people, staying in touch, but also, in theory, having downtime. I’m not really having downtime. It’s “on” time, conversation time. Connected? Not the same way as it is in person. It’s analogous, the way blogging is to thinking out loud. Though- a real person sitting next to me might not have let me ramble on this long.

This post meant to be about the changing face of libraries. I still want them to be community spaces and browsing spaces, even in some nasty future where there are no paper books, and we’re all hunched over our e-Readers, downloading books in a whiz of data through the wireless air. I like bookshelves. With books on them. For tactile reasons. Even in the midst of my own technological distracted infidelities, I love books.

The other sobering thought- technology changes so fast and vastly. It sheds its skin, swallows itself whole. Try reading a disk formatted for a Mac Plus on any computer now. Zip drive? No luck. How many stories have been lost that way? It scares me. Of course, paper has been lost too. Time, and fires and even mundane things like house insulation. (How many first editions of Shakespeare or Bacon got stuffed in drafty cracks?) But- we have better access to the existing paper in a way that scares me less. Sometimes carefully with white gloves, but always with our eyes, hands and minds.

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