Not long after I posted it, a thread had developed about book ownership. One person agreed wholeheartedly with me. Another pointed out that, ultimately, owning too many books can become like an addiction. He posted that when it got to the point in his house that he had to clear paths to his bedroom, his bathroom, and his kitchen because of stacks of books, he realized that he’d hit terminal mass. I’d never quite thought of it in that way. But my online friend is right, in a sense. Unless you live in a palatial estate, you must at some point become super-saturated with books.
In my house, I have four book shelves, two seven footers (with five shelves) and two three footers (with three shelves). In my office at work, I have two shelves, a six footer with three shelves and a long six-foot one with three shelves. All of these are packed with books. I haven’t even mentioned the various literary magazines that litter my house or the unpacked boxes of books crammed into closets at home and at work. I’ve not hit terminal mass, yet. But I fear I may be close.
But here’s thing: I love books. I love how they feel in my hand. I love how they smell. I love the artistry of design behind book making. I love looking at a new hardback and exploring it: has the publisher opted for a rough cut to the page? What font does the book use? How do the pages themselves feel? Glossy? Rough like old skin? Smooth? I know that I shouldn’t, but I can’t help purchasing more books.
So, it’s understandable, then, that I’ve been ambivalent about ebooks since their introduction. For me, reading is more than mental; it’s visceral. Reading is physical. Reading is intimate. Though I’ve read numerous ebooks on my Kindle, I never feel as though I actually own them. I own the digital copy of the words, but I don’t own a book (I guess that assertion reveals something about the way I define book).
This week, Amazon announced a Kindle lending library. Amazon Prime members can lend and borrow form other Kindle owners. I’m intrigued by the idea. I love to lend books to others, particularly my students. Inviting a person into a book is rewarding and exciting. But in lending a book, I am lending something real and tangible, not a digital copy of text. Plus, I don’t purchase enough books from Amazon to justify the nearly $80.00 a year fee that members of Amazon Prime pay. In addition, my local library (like so many others) lends digital books for free.
I’ll freely admit that, in some ways, I’m not only acting a bit like a Luddite, but I’m also being hypocritical. I love my Kindle, particularly the way that a newspaper appears on it each morning. I like browsing the online Kindle bookstore. And I’ve found that on long trips, my Kindle in indispensible. I can’t tell you how many crossword puzzles I’ve worked on my Kindle. I’ve also taken chances of different kinds of literature by reading it on my Kindle. I’d probably not know about such wonderful noir and sci-fi writers like Anthony Neil Smith and D.B. Grady and Derek J. Canyon without my Kindle. So, in my reading life, I find plenty of room for an ebook reader. I’m even seriously considering purchasing a Kindle Fire.
Where does this leave me, then? I love physical books, and I like ebooks a lot. The future of publishing probably lies with ebooks, particularly educational publishing (have you seen The Wasteland App? Amazing.). Ebooks are here to stay. I can’t imagine hitting terminal mass on ebooks, either. If my ebook reader gets full, I can always archive the book for later. Does that fact mean that print books will disappear? I hope not. However, to survive, traditional publishers are going to have to do what the newspaper industry did: adapt or die out. Meanwhile, I’ll continue my book collection, both digital and mortar board. At least with my ebooks, I won’t have to purchase a new bookshelf. But I’m not so sure that’s a good thing.