Monday, February 1, 2010

Icelanders, Marcelo, Freedom

Two more books of notes for my ongoing research: Sagas of Icelanders and the effervescent Marcelo in the Real World (Francisco X. Stork). Both of them very different books ... or are they? Each lets us join in characters' struggles with the divine.

Meanwhile, Amazon pitches a hissy and then un-hissies. Whether you think that Amazon delisting MacMillan books as a protest ("Look upon my works, ye mighty...") gives the online superstore a black eye (I do) and whether you believe the infernal e-Book pricing and rights model needs to be taken outside and given a firm talking to (I do) and whether you have expressed frustration that people just e-invent new e-words for new e-products is so much e-baloney (I do!) one thing has become startlingly, perfectly, beautifully clear:

Printed books have more freedom than e-books.

Printed books can be smuggled and read under the covers. They can be disguised inside math textbooks, left in barstools, wrapped in plastic and buried as treasure. Reading them can be an act of transgression. Subversion. They can be burned, yes; but also thrown over walls.

E-books, if I understand electricity and technology correctly, communicate with the store selling them. That's how you get them, after all. You can't give them away, or loan them, or receive them as gifts or graduation presents or heart-in-throat reminders of broken relationships. The store knows what you bought, what you browsed through, and -- potentially -- what you read, and how long it takes you. It can -- theoretically -- remove those books from your device.

Can you image if the manager of your local indie bookstore busted through your door and started taking your books from your shelves? Hold on, just let me get my two-by-four.

Look, I'm not nostalgic or short-sighted enough to close my eyes to e-books. Just because I prefer printed books doesn't mean that other people might not like e-books. After all, the priority is reading, and joining the author in spinning that magic that comes from reading a story.

In some sense, arguing about e-books vs print is like arguing about whether it's better to read while in bed or sitting in a chair. Shouldn't we be worried about sloppy storytelling instead?

At the same time, I very much like the fact that printed books, once released into the world, have so many possibilities that can never accrue to e-books. That is freedom.


Barbara said...

Here! Here! Three cheers for the traditional books; the smell of musty covers, the pages with smeared cookie crumbs on them and the favorite pages marked or turned down. Nothing can beat it!

EyeInHand said...

Totally with you on this one. We can all still read the Book of Kells, the Gutenberg Bible, cuneiform tablets, Egyptian hieroglyphs and the 16,000 year old cave paintings of Lascaux. But I can't read a 3 1/2" floppy disc from 8 years ago - and even if I could find a drive, the masterpiece is on it is gone for good, since it was written in WordPerfect. Yet, I can easily read the embarrassing but heartfelt scribblings I left in a paper notebook I had in high school thirty years ago.

eBooks do have some temporary convenience advantages, but time is kind to print in any form in ways it will never be to a business model that thrives on its own churning obsolescence. In the long run, the old technology is clearly superior to the new one.