If there is one thing we can agree on, in the discussion surrounding digital books, it is that the issue is not “if ebooks ever take off” but “how ebooks will assimilate”. To my mind, too much energy is wasted on the idea that digital books are not the same as physical books. Focusing on the tactile, the kinesthetic, the heft of books and comparing that experience to a digital book makes no sense.
Of course they’re different, just like cars, boats, and airplanes are different. Trains are different. All are forms of transportation, all have their strengths and weaknesses. We choose one type of transport over the other for a host of reasons: speed, convenience, experience. Why not so with books?
So when I see a product positioning itself to recreate the “smell of books” on your ereader, I just want to scream. Stop. The. Madness. Now.
Our intern, Bernadette noted, in her one moment of sagacity, that it seemed that too many people focus on the physicalness of books, to the point that they forget what’s really important (that would be the words contained in said book). She concludes:
Your letter briefly caused me to imagine what my book club might be like if we were all so enamored the physical artifact. As I imagine it, we would sit around discussing the binding and the quality of the paper. At some point, someone might bring up ink, and then we would all talk about glue for a while.
I agree. This does not mean that Bernadette will be getting a raise, of course. I just think it’s time to move beyond the worries about recreating one medium as we explore another. Do we really need our ebooks to smell like crunchy bacon?
Let digital books be different from physical books. Both serve a place in our culture, and one will be increasingly important to readers. That doesn’t mean physical books will go away, and it doesn’t mean one type of book is better than another. What it means is sometimes one format suits, while other times, another is preferable. Apples. Oranges. Trains. Planes.
Though as I write this, all I can think is that if more books smelled like crunchy bacon, I might become a breakfast person.