I consider myself an avid reader, if not a shamefully pretentious one. I’m very choosy about what authors I read in my down time and which books by those authors I ultimately end up committing to. This also means that the mode by which I choose to read the stories I do is, in a sense, as important as the stories themselves, which is why I was so shocked to have recently found myself reading from a Nook, Barnes & Noble’s e-reader tablet. As a traditionalist of sorts — if reading books can even warrant such a title — the thought of sitting down without the physical pages, but instead a piece of hardware, always seemed like a distant impossibility. But at least now my dislike for e-readers is justifiable. I can fairly say: “Yes, I tried it, and I don’t like it.”
I didn’t go out and buy an e-reader — I wasn’t that curious. My mother bought a new computer and I guess Barnes & Noble was trying to dump off some of the soon-to-be-obsolete models on people naïve enough to invest in an HP laptop, so it was just lying around the house. It was break, I needed to read a book for extra credit (which I really did need) and I didn’t have an actual copy of it at my disposal. I didn’t feel like driving to the library, and I didn’t want to buy it either. But as my mother informed me, a copy of it came free on the Nook, which she had registered and installed but had never actually used. Sure, why not?
To be honest, it makes reading a book a lot easier, but only in the laziest possible sense. Instead of adjusting your position as the weight of the book shifts from the front of the book’s binding to the back with each turn of the page, you’ve just got one unchanging piece of square tablet, so once you’ve found a comfortable position, you really don’t have to move until the book is finished. This seems like the smallest, most detailed and nit-picky complaint about the state of the book that one can think of, but it changes the reading experience considerably. I was a more comfortable — and faster — reader because of it.
On the other hand, when I had finished the book, I felt sort of … incomplete. I couldn’t put the book back on the shelf (a shelf I have been expanding for years, and which I pride myself on greatly), and I needed that closure. Instead, the text fell into an obsolete, virtual nothingness: It became a file on my computer, not a physical emblem of the knowledge I had culminated from being with and owning it. Is it going too far to say that I missed that temporary relationship that develops between the outer contours of a book’s binding and my hands? The texture of the pages as I turn them? The smell of the book while I progress through it? I say no; and these little details seem to carry a greater weight than I initially anticipated. Who would’ve thought that there were so many physical factors at play in such an interior, mental activity?
There are environmental factors that come into play, too, which are potentially worth considering in light of one’s own intimate reading preferences. The carbon footprint left from the production of one e-reader or tablet is equivalent to that of 100 books. But if you use a Nook, Kindle or iPad for an extended length of time as is intended, they easily become the cleaner option. The conversation almost becomes moot; there are other, more impactful pieces of technology whose environmental impact is more relevant and pressing to its expansion and development — tablets might not be one of them.
I don’t know whether e-readers are a fad or the way of the future. There’s talk that Amazon wants to put, somehow, the Kindle in your car; Barnes & Noble Inc. has landed new content-licensing partnership deals with Viacom and Paramount, among others, in an attempt to expand their Nook Video library. But these developments point less toward an enhanced reading experience and more toward a consolidated technology, something that functions more like a computer or a smartphone than as a true e-reader.
Even if e-readers remain prominent as their own entity, and continue to get more glamorous, user-friendly and portable, I don’t see the physical book ever falling into total obsolescence. My books may get dusty over time, but they’ll never go out of style.