A few words on the future of the printed book.

Mid-way through The Marriage Plot, and I have something to say.

As an avid reader for the past fifteen years, books have been and always will be important to me. Their past, present, and future all included. I was raised by relatively bookish parents who encouraged me to read and get involved with my library as a child. I even wrote a “novel” in a one subject notebook when I was twelve. This interest in the written word carried over into high school and college, leading me to a degree in English. I leaned toward the literature of the past, taking multiple British literature courses focusing on everything from the medieval to the Romantic to the contemporary. Because of this interest, I accidentally minored in History. And every single book I pored over, studied, and worshipped was in print. Each semester, I read selections from hefty hard back anthologies that could be used as door stops. I flipped through their pages, adding my own handwritten commentary at points. I wrote papers surrounded by open books, marked with post its and highlighters.

Needless to say, 99.9% of the books I’ve read have been printed on actual paper sandwiched between two actual flaps of an actual cover. It wasn’t until the summer of 2011 that I opened my mind to the e-book, got an iPad, and read a digital edition of The Marriage Plot. It was the first digital book I’d read, and I loved it. The book became an instant favorite due to its amazing literary qualities that I will list later in my review. However, I also liked the easy, seamless quality of reading on an electronic screen, of swiping my finger to turn a “page,” of searching for a term and getting results in less than a second. I read other books in the same manner (including Steve Martin’s An Object of Beauty – don’t waste your time on that one). For a brief period, I thought this was revolutionary for readers. Then the guilt settled in. I felt like I was betraying a close friend or a lover; I desired something against all of my firmly held bookish morals.

Having loved The Marriage Plot after first reading, I also acquired a print copy. This is what I picked up last week to read, thinking it merited another go. And, it does. I could probably read it over and over continuously with no complaint. Regardless, reading it in print was an entirely different experience than reading it digitally. It seemed I had missed some things, or maybe I wasn’t paying attention the first time around.

I can explain this with only one thing: distraction. Reading a book digitally allows you all of the benefits of modern technology, but it also opens the door to an infinite number of time wasters. Yes, I read the book closely, but at the same time, I was probably checking my e-mail, surfing Facebook and Twitter, or shopping for other books on Amazon. Reading a book in print doesn’t guarantee undisturbed attention, I know, but I am much more focused, honing in on specific words or phrases, reading them more than once to enjoy it all over again.

This leads me to my final conclusion in the print vs. digital argument:

Printed books will always be my default. One of the earliest things I remember about reading was the sensory experience – the smell of the ink, paper, and glue, the solidity of the book in my hand, the ability to turn down or mark an important page, and most of all, seeing the words on the page, following them with my fingernail if I wanted. These things became special to me, almost like a ritual. And it seems that they still are. There is a certain specialness that simply cannot be replicated by technology. A book is a book.

In reality, every reader is different. Some people may find they enjoy the digital experience much more. Books are meant to speak to the reader, whether that be in a negative or positive manner. They are meant to serve as windows, sometimes distracting or providing solace, other times opening our eyes to things we might not have seen. In the end, it doesn’t make much of difference how we read it, only that we did.

So, what does the future of the book hold? Will there cease to be printed books in the next twenty years? There is no way for us to know, but I will continue to buy and read printed books. I will continue to encourage the existence of print publishers. It’s up to the readers; we shape the future of the book. If our fascination-bordering-on-addiction to intangible technology eventually outweighs our need for the physical representation of all that is beautiful and artistic, things will surely change for the book.

Now, back to The Marriage Plot. E.T.A. of review is Friday. Happy Monday, everyone.

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2 thoughts on “A few words on the future of the printed book.

  1. I love my Kindle, mostly for the fact that I don’t have to figure out where to put all of these books that I buy. And it’s very light. When I fall asleep reading, it doesn’t whack me in the head like a heavy book.
    I’m enjoying the blog. Keep it up.

    Love you!

  2. When I read a book on my Nook and end up loving it, I usually buy a printed copy. I want that book in my hands. It seems like books last forever when they’re in printed format. On my Nook, I don’t have a lot of apps because I know I’ll end up checking my email and everything else. I’m looking forward to reading your review of The Marriage Plot.

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