Once upon a time, not too long ago, there existed a great and mighty weapon against the scourge of boredom. Its name was known far and wide across the land, and its reputation grew to heights unknown by any such weapon before.
It was known simply as a book.
For hundreds of years, from the advent of the printing press until perhaps the mid-1900s, the book reigned supreme as the top source of idle entertainment in the land. Books were cheap, enjoyable, and informative. Books could be enjoyed almost anywhere and at any time as long as there was a decent amount of light.
Now, however, the landscape looks a bit different. The Internet has taken over, TV and videogames are incredibly prevalent, and the book appears to be headed off to oblivion.
People still like to read, of course. But they do their reading on their Kindles and their iPads now. The printed, physical book is dying a slow and painful death. And I think that’s sad.
With Borders having gone extinct as of October 2011, Barnes & Noble stands as the only real refuge for those of us who love print books. No disrespect intended to all of the independent book stores out there, you’re doing a great job, but the fact is that without a Barnes & Noble-type entity, it’s hard to imagine publishing companies making any real commitment to the print format.
I get it. It can be hard to acquire print books, especially as a college student. And with Barnes & Noble having disappeared from the streets of East Lansing, it’s now even harder. E-books can seem like a much simpler alternative.
But there are independent bookstores around. The East Lansing library isn’t exactly next door, but MSU students can get a library card for free there. It may not be as easy as it is to download a book on your Kindle or iPad, but you can do it. And I think you should.
I love books. I love reading. So it’s safe to say that I’m slightly biased in this regard. But I can’t help but think that there’s something fundamentally lacking in an e-book. It just doesn’t feel the same.
There are some more practical advantages to books as well. Unless you’re buying very old, rare hardcover books in bulk, physical books are probably cheaper than the overall cost of a tablet. Especially when you factor in the peripheral costs associated with owning a tablet, such as paying for data and Internet. I assembled an almost complete set of my favorite book series — The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher — and the total cost was perhaps $40-$50 for twelve books. And I can read them as much as I want without paying anything more for the right to do so.
Another factor is maintenance. First off, books don’t run out of battery. Second, if you drop a tablet once, you’re probably in trouble. Unless you drop a book off of a cliff or into a band saw, you can drop them quite a bit before they start to show any signs of wear and tear. And once they do start to show signs, they’re pretty easily fixed with some tape and maybe a few staples. Or glue. Good luck fixing your tablet with any of those things alone.
Side note: I’ve seen a number of commercials that push the idea of using your tablet at the beach, and I have to ask: What happens if your tablet gets sand in it? If you get sand in a book, you can shake it a few times and move on with your life. With a tablet? Have fun with that.
To me, books and bookstores are worth fighting for. Both of them have done so much good for so many. How can we simply turn our back on them now in their time of need?
I think Stephen King summed it up best when he said, “Books are a uniquely portable magic.”