by Chelsea Hansen, Colorado Review Editorial Assistant
Every time I move I’m amazed by the amount of books I own; more than half of my boxes will be full of books. They recently graduated, after my last move, from orderly piles on the floor to a second bookshelf, which has room for approximately four more books before I’m going have to start thinking about where a third bookshelf is going to fit in my apartment.
Every time I move someone will look at my books, look at the pile of boxes, look at me, and say, “Why don’t you get a Kindle?”
The funny thing is I do have a Kindle. It was a gift from my mother when I was an undergrad, her intention being that I use it for school books, which I did, and it saved my back a lot of trouble. Nowadays I use it mostly as a tool to play mindless games as a method of procrastination. It’s been a while since my Kindle has been graced with a new, shiny, digital PDF of a book. If I do get one, it’s always an extremely popular novel, one I know the author is being paid quite well for and isn’t struggling just to buy milk.
I’ve been lectured many times on the infinite joys of E-readers: They aren’t heavy. E-books are far cheaper. When my digital shelf in my digital reader gets too full, I can just delete some of those old digital imitations of books to make room for new ones! Isn’t it great? Come on, I need to get with the times. Print books are dead.
When e-readers first debuted, the literary world went into a panic. Everyone from experts in the publishing industry to your next door neighbor was talking about the imminent failure of print books. E-readers were the way to go; like everything being changed and twisted to fit the molds of technology demands, books had a digital screen now. Your book, just like everything else in your life, needed to be plugged in at night. When independent booksellers and bookstores alike, such as Borders, started closing their doors and declaring bankruptcy, the world agreed that was it. If you wanted to read, you had to turn to a new piece of technology. Eventually, kids won’t even know what pages feel like between their fingers.
But that wasn’t the end. I quickly discovered many others like me, who couldn’t just let print books go. True, they’re more expensive and heavy and take up more room than my furniture, but there’s a certain aesthetic to books that e-readers just can’t replicate. According to an article published in the New York Times, “The Plot Twist: E-Book Sales Slip, and Print Is Far from Dead,” the “digital apocalypse” was slated to have officially taken over by 2015. But last year, print sales rose and digital sales represented only 20 percent of the market. Simon & Schuster and Penguin Random House reported expansions of their warehouses. The number of members registered with the American Booksellers Association increased.
Certainly print books are not going extinct. E-readers probably won’t either. Perhaps the two mediums have created a coexistence. Still, I’m frequently questioned on my decision to haul around so many printed pages when they could exist—virtually—in one weightless space instead. An easy answer to this is that print books give me something do to each day that doesn’t involve another screen. So much of my day is spent looking at a cellphone, laptop, or television. Everyone needs a break from technology and books are a great way to get it.
But there’s more to it than that, and it’s not always so easy to explain. Junot Díaz put it best in a video called If the Novel Is Dead, So Are We All, posted to a website called Big Think:
…a relationship with literature produces extraordinary effects in that it brings the reader not only in contact with other times and other places, but it brings the reader in contact with themselves.
We can explore ourselves and other places on e-readers, too. But there’s a particular magic, a certain feeling of holding a physical book. Here, in this space, exists a story, an entire world. And here, in this other book, this separate entity, exists another story all on its own.
I get more joy and a sense of accomplishment looking at my real (and probably overly full) bookcases than I do scrolling down a digital impersonation of shelves. When you get a brand new book, the pages are straight and flush, a story living inside them. When you’ve finished it, the pages are loose and creased on the corners and the covers are curling back a little. All signs of a book well read, a story fully lived. On an e-reader, it looks the same as when you started: a digital imprint, the pages unable to really be touched. They cannot curl, or wave, or show an impression that you once experienced them.
Plus, I like being able to keep my copy of Lord of the Flies on a shelf separate from my massive collection of Deadpool comics. They are, after all, different worlds that don’t look quite right sitting next to each other.