I love the advent of newer, more advanced technology and I even look forward to the wide-spread use of tablet PC’s and eBooks, but not only do I not want eBooks to replace paper books, I don’t think they ever will. While there are many advantages to having books stored electronically, who wants to take their tablet PC into the tub or on a walk on a drizzly day? Who wants to read an eBook in bed only to have it slip out of your hands and break when you fall asleep? I can’t imagine getting a warning message that I must switch my battery or change to outlet power before my copy of The Iliad shuts down. I can mark my place with an old receipt (perhaps my most common method), or, in a pinch, an index card with study notes on it. Sometimes I don’t even have to mark a place at all; my Sherlock Holmes will always fall open to “The Speckled Band” and my Faulkner’s Short Stories to “A Rose for Emily.” I never have to boot up my copy of the Odyssey, I never have to search through a myriad of folders to find my copy of Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, although I may have to search through quite a few books, but that’s not really a bad thing, and my copy of Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy will never fail to work because of a virus. Not only that, if I have a power outage while reading Arthur C. Clarke, it only lasts until I can find my flashlight, camp lantern, or book-light.
While you can highlight and annotate some eBooks, they still don’t become the possessions that paper books are. Bound books get stains that remind you of where you were and what you were doing when you read them. You can mark the margin and then line it out and remember later how you grew in your thought and understanding by looking back at what you crossed out.
Besides that, some of the best hours, even days, of my life have been spent in old bookstores (I don’t think you can buy eBooks in a bookstore) and I love the smell of an old musty bookstore or library. I remember snatching up The Pelican Shakespeare from a used bookstore in Atlanta at a price so low I almost felt guilty afterward. How could I ever forget going to Beaton’s Book and Vitamin Shop in Callahan to buy books for Mrs. Proctor’s English class. That was where I got my first copy of A Separate Peace (which I later lost), the old, abused copy of Poe’s poems and stories which I still have but can’t read for fear it will fall apart, and that wonderful little copy of Dante’s Inferno which kept me up nights. And I can’t leave out the Chamblin Bookmine, where I bought my first book by Kierkegard, The Basic Works of Aristotle, and my tiny little, slip-covered copy of Pepys’ Diary that still tags along with me in my car so that I can visit with my old friend whenever I miss him.
Even now I enjoy just sitting in my own study and looking at all the books on the shelves. I can remember my life as I look at them and sometimes I can pick up a book and remember where I was when I bought it, what I was doing, what was going on in my life. I remember as a teenager saving my own money to buy Calvin’s Institutes (still a worthwhile investment at any price). I remember reading Moby Dick in the car under a shade tree in Pensacola, Florida at my brother-in-law’s graduation. I had lost my job the week before and had no prospects, just a severance check in the bank, but I kept company with Ishmael while Queequeg was out trying to sell his head. I remember reading Stephen King’s The Stand one night when I missed work because I thought I would have to take my sick wife to the hospital and I’ll never forget that I was reading King’s “The Body” when the Challenger blew up. And I will always remember, and cherish, buying that old, beat-up copy of The Complete Sherlock Holmes in the sixth grade which I bought in discard from the Callahan Junior High School library; it got me through many a tough hour when things weren’t great at home or school.
These books are my friends and the people in them are my friends and I don’t think I would have made the same connection had I scrolled down the page rather than turning them. I feel like I’ve solved the cases right alongside Holmes and Watson, journeyed to the heart of Africa with Allen Quartermain, stacked the bricks alongside Montresor, and plodded through the South Carolina sand with Jim. Of course, Kierkegaard’s heartbreak still sits with me, Pepys’ problems still bother me, and I’m still sad about Phineas, even though two are long since dead and one never even existed. They’re still my friends. I got to know them by turning the pages of a book that was often bent, dinged-up, and dog-eared from my pocket or my bookbag. I got to know them while sitting up late, riding in the car or on the bus, sneaking a few paragraphs in class, and yes, I must confess, even during church, but only occasionally and then only when my mom wasn’t watching. So as great as a tablet PC or even a Palm Pilot is, it’s just not the same and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I think there enough people out there who feel the same way that I do about a bound book to ensure that the computer will have hard time overtaking it.