The first time I read Jane Eyre was through Project Gutenberg, on my laptop. My friends all asked how I could read for that long on a computer screen; I replied that it did not bother me, that I was used to it because I prefer to read for class on my screen rather than printing. In the past I had also opted to read Shakespeare online instead of buying the complete collections. It just seemed like a logical, easy way to save money.
According to Techcrunch.com, Amazon reported last summer that e-books sales had passed combined hardcover and paperback sales. Not just hardcovers and not just paperbacks. Print books have officially been outstripped by megabyte books. And my friends who pondered at my reading from a screen are now among those consuming e-books.
There are many advantages that Nooks, Kindles, iPads, and other e-readers have over print books. The free classics are obviously economic miracles. They are physically easier to handle and to store. A world of literature lies at your fingertips. Any book you can dream of, just a few keys away rather than a car ride. An entire library fits in your hand. In theory, I take absolutely no issue with them.
However, just a few weeks after Amazon’s milestone, I was introduced to the Penguin Clothbound Classics series. There, on a table in the middle of an American Eagle in Times Square (of all the stores in all the world…) was a newly released, beautiful copy of Jane Eyre. Reason and impulse raged at each other in my head: I really wanted it, but I had already read it for free, and could read it over and over if I wanted to, for free—did I really need it in book form? The answer was no, that day. When I saw it again a few months later, I could not resist.
My Jane Eyre experience is not an isolated incident. I buy the books I love. I get excited when I walk into a bookstore. Reading a book on a screen is just not the same for me. And this is not a new argument, books versus e-books. But this is my contribution: you cannot fully appreciate a book if you do not physically have it.
I like to look at books. I like to flip through them and search for my favorite parts. I want to turn the pages, not live with the pseudo-action of it.
I cannot fathom anyone getting giddy by flicking through an online catalogue. I cannot understand the concept of previewing publisher-selected pages. I want to flip through the entire book. I want to examine the cover art; I want to read the jacket; I want to feel the books depth and weight; I want to hear the spine crackle as I open it for the first time.
E-books make good sense. Perfect sense.
It’s just that you lose the use of all your senses when you choose e-books over print.
Wherever I live later in life, I want a room full of beautiful books. Or maybe I just want a few Wal-Mart bookshelves. Or maybe I’ll just stack them on the floor so they tower over my head. Yes, I am guilty of reading free e-books. But I do not think I could ever buy an e-reader. If I buy a book, I will actually have a book, and I will show it off for all the attention it deserves.