“Print vs pixel: on books and e-readers” by Hitesh Nair (Open Page, April 6, 2014) made interesting reading, especially for me, a voracious reader and a writer.
Buying an e-reader took a bit of time. For one, I was conscious of the fact that there’s no real substitute for paper. For another, how such a device would seem when it came to the crux of the matter – the actual reading – appeared to dent the initial enthusiasm and fortify suspicions of what it could or could not do. On the other hand, the online store had, and still has, an incredible catalogue of books that had been on various reading lists of mine throughout the years. These were books of varying genres unavailable in paperback in India.
A childhood adoration for reading eventually overrode the imagined drawbacks. An order was placed, and the device arrived in a neat package. Since then, there’s been no looking back. The Kindle opened the door to a world of books hitherto inaccessible. Suddenly, there were hundreds of thousands of titles to choose from in genres ranging from fantasy to poetry to cookbooks. Books that I had once only dreamed of owning.
Without a shadow of doubt, an e-reader is a technological marvel. It does not feel like paper, nor can one flip through physical pages to skim the entire book. Virtual pages are another matter altogether, and they do a fine job. The e-reader does not feel like a paperback. It cannot, nor does it claim to. It does not exude the crisp, divine scent of paper. It cannot do that either. It’s a device, a computerised one that feels more akin to a tablet, without the eye-strain or the glitzy colours on the screen.
Besides, the e-reader took care of a crucial problem – that of space. Unfortunately, the printed book takes up a lot of space. In addition to the overloaded bookshelves, I have books on my table, on the printer, on my CPU. There’s no question of giving the precious tomes away, for re-reading is always a joyful experience. And of course, not buying fresh books is inconceivable – how then could the writerly instinct be ignited, and how could one keep abreast of new reads?
The e-reader holds hundreds of books. Cloud storage gives room for even more. It, in essence, holds a library in a tote. There isn’t much difference between reading on the device and reading on paper – frankly, the e-reader mimics paper pretty well. To expect scents from it would be a little over the top.
And of course, the books themselves are as wholesome, as complete, and most important, as enjoyable as their paperback counterparts. They’re also, mostly, cheaper. A book is a book, whether electronic or printed. Neither is more or less real than the other, neither is superior or inferior to the other.
Technological advances like the e-reader will remain, and continue to grow, and reach out to a wide audience. That does not diminish the relevance of a paperback, nor will it go out of vogue in the foreseeable future. The e-reader only adds to a reading experience, there’s no reason why it should usurp the place of what is already there. After all, it was on paper that it all began.