Paperback Blues

Posted on September 6, 2011


I just can’t bring myself to do it. Give myself up to the cult of e-Readers, I mean.

The convenience of the gadget, the eco-friendliness of the investment – yes, yes I’ve heard the argument. The same debate I’ve lobbed back and forth enough times to generate enough electricity to power one of those darned things.

Up until very recently, I chose to shield my eyes from the news that there might actually be some truth in the rumours of the ailing paperbacks. That hard cover collectibles are penning their wills in preparation for retreat in the face of the advancing army of invincible technology.

But eventually I did have to remove those blinders. Taking a peek first, when I found the majority of the members of my book club reading off those un-aesthetic nuisances. Then forcibly separating bottom eyelid from upper, when all around me my favourite book stores started closing up shop.

Clearly, I’m bitter.

The Kindle/Nook/Sony Reader/iPad? They’re too easy.

Far be it for an e-Reader reader (?) to pore over physical shelves deciding what novel would best suit his/her commute. You can correct the font type and size to your pleasing, adjust the lighting to soothe those fatigued “baby blues,” and with just a couple of double-taps here, in under half-a-minute you’ve found out not just the meaning of that one word that had you grappling with the rest of the sentence – but 20 different synonyms sponsored by an online thesaurus to boot!

At the risk of sounding even more of a pensioner, I ask, where’s the challenge in that?

The onset of the e-age brings with it a glorified cushiness that negates the sentiment in achievement post-effort. The very phenomenon that has me worried my children will fall prey to, possibly never acquiring the life skills that come with owning an authentic, honest-to-goodness, 3-dimensional book.

Having to brave the entire novel despite that odd paper cut or two, serving as war wounds for the many leaves you’ve turned. The tactfulness one has to master in dealing with a close friend who’s just misplaced the title you lent him weeks ago. Learning to overcome the disappointment in being turned out of a store that stocks all the world and everything in it, except for the one title you’re after. The great discomfort in attempting to enjoy a book lent out by that finicky breed of collector – you know, the sort that replaces beautiful hard back cover sheets for newspaper, and pales at the sight of a single dog-eared page.  And of course, the downright disgust in being sorely letdown by a story that came highly recommended.

Sure, there’s that list of paperback pros being flaunted about in the faces of e-Reader devotees, that dedicate poetry to that musty’ish smell that comes with owning a non-battery operated variant of the same. The more comforting warmth of a late night read you’ve fallen asleep with, as opposed to the electronic heat of a gadget over-used. The empty satisfaction in being able to hoard 3000+ titles in one device, as opposed to the warm and fuzzy sense of achievement in a towering physical bookcase. And don’t even get me started on the aesthetic appeal of public libraries.

Call me a sadist, but having weighed out both the boons and banes of the now vintage mode of perusal; far more than the petals, I believe I’m going to miss the thorns. For it’s not just the joys of reading in its true form that appeals, it’s the many challenges that come with it that is to be truly missed.

I boldly confess to all of the above, knowing fair well that I myself am prone to caving any minute now. There are a few eBooks on my desktop I’ve accumulated over the years, but haven’t touched (virtually) for fear of tipping over the fence completely. Devious discounts on Kindles (and the titles they support) have me nearing the end of the plank, prodded on by the e-devil’s pitchfork.

Hypocritical, I know.

But I suppose we can rest assured in that, although what we’re witnessing here may be the looming expiration of the good ol’ paperback, it most definitely is not the complete demise of reading. For the very same reason that the quiet replacement of the classic fountain pen with a QWERTY keyboard never diluted the will to write.

Although some may argue that that the love for reading too, is leafing through pamphlets for old people’s homes, I’d like to take comfort in knowing that as long as we’re still churning out novels, newspapers and restaurant menus even (in whatever form they may be), this love affair -albeit taking a new course- has some spark in it yet.

So consider this a eulogy, a toast from a glass of non-alcoholic bubbly if you will.

Here’s to the Paperback. May your legacy live long, and the memories never falter.

Rest In Peace.