Nostalgia of Paper & Comfort of eInk

“One technology doesn’t replace another, it complements. Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs by elevators.” – Stephen Fry

People who love books and reading cannot love eBooks, goes the adage. Penelope Lively calls them “some sort of bloodless nerd”. So much has been written and published by the authors and the public in general on their love for the specific forms of the books. Some people have had contrasting thoughts; talking about eBooks, Douglas Adams had famously said that one should “not confuse the plate for the food”. But he had also quipped that “we notice e-book readers, we don’t notice books”.

So, what is it, then? This issue features a few well-written essays that talk about the partisan debates around the different forms of the books, starting with their evolution over the years. I want to remain unbiased; I will try to be that. After all, I am just the guy serving the plates; it’s the food on those plates that matters.


The Evolution of the book

With a fascinating look at how books have evolved over the years from “the clay tablets to the e-book format,” SFBook Review presents a snapshot of the publishing history. “As books have now reached the 21st century with the creation of the increasingly popular e-book, we thought it would be a good idea to take a look back at the long and involved history of the humble book.” Here’s a snippet on the birth of the “cheap” novel.

With the continued spread of the written word, along with a growth in education and the continued reduction in print costs, the first mass-market paperbacks were born. In Britain there were two distinct markets these mass publications were aimed at, the juvenile market with the “story papers” and the working class adult which were known as a “penny dreadful”, “penny number” or a “penny blood” - due to the fact that they each cost a “penny”. Eventually these novels were exclusively aimed at the working class youth market and the term story paper became interchangeable with penny dreadful.

Equally insightful is the evolution of audiobooks. Did you know that the first audiobook was recorded in 1952?

Ebooks v paper

Undoubtedly, the individual preference of a form of the book matters the most. Nonetheless, the heartily debated topic, a cultural divide of sorts, is researched equally well, forcing us to rethink how we respond to the written word. Which form does our brains prefer? Financial Times has a detailed write-down of the physical effects of the increased screen times or connectivity associated with the eBooks; at the same time, it also presents more emotional or the psychological aspects associated with the inherent differences of the media forms.

As researchers examine the differences reading in different media make, they are also having to distinguish carefully between the different things that we do when we read. Take, for instance, the difference between “deep reading”, when you really get immersed in a text, and “active learning”, when you make notes in margins or put down the book to cross-reference with something else.

Listening to Books

In this love letter to audiobooks, Maggie Gram confesses her love, her liking for audiobooks and attempts to address the criticisms that this format of the books receives. Is reading the only true form of reading? Or “reading is only reading when it requires the constant assertion of will,” as many critics of the medium might say.  That’s the question, the disapproval that Maggie attempts to answer in this heartfelt essay.

Less dude-like people, people less invested in making fun of you, will just cock their heads to the side and ask you why you do it. As if liking books were not enough! As if it weren’t the best thing in the world to have someone read to you! As if you had something better to do! I thought about starting this essay by insisting that I listen to audio books for work, so that I could not be mistaken for that other kind of person, that kind of person who listens audio books because it brings her some kind of unsophisticated pleasure. I am not, I wanted you to know, your Aunt Paula. My kitchen is not decorated with rooster towel racks and rooster potholders and rooster trim. I am a very serious person.

As I read through the collection of short stories from Olivia Parkes, I knew what a brilliant writer she is. She leaves you spellbound by her inimitable narration of the short story “Schrödinger’s Cat, But for Marriage” about a failing marriage. With some brilliant analogies and flirty humour, she brings a smile to your face; makes you pause and read the passage again at various points. I couldn’t word the recommendation better than the Halimah Marcus. “Read this story to find out what the breakdown of social order in a marriage looks like. Read this story to find out whether the cat lives or dies. Read this story to take your arguments a little less seriously, and to cherish the paradoxical moments, as with Schrödinger’s cat, when you both get to be right.

A library is many things; it has adapted itself with changing times and is now a lot more. Going beyond the selection of paperbacks and hardcovers, many libraries also serve digital editions of the books in both text and audio form now. Libby is a perfect companion app for such public libraries. With your existing library card, you can borrow eBooks and audiobooks from the digital media collection of the library. So why spend money on buying digital books?

PS: Shouldn’t an app that’s an extension to a public library be featured in an issue all about the library? Well, it should. But what’s the fun in that.

One Final Inspiration

Postscript

Have any recommendations or feedback for me? I’d love to hear from you. Just hit reply, or you can even email me.

Thank you for reading and sharing.

-Amit

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