My first downloads on my new Sony Reader (back in the dawn of e-civilization) were the freebies: Hamlet, the US Constitution, Pride and Prejudice, Huckleberry Finn, Leaves of Grass. Then I felt guilty about slighting the entire non-English-speaking world, so I added a big, fat Dostoyevsky: the Brothers or C & P; I forget which. There was no wireless then, so I ran the cable from my computer to the Reader and watched the progress of the counterclockwise-racing icon. Wow! Just like that. The Sony library at the time wasn’t exactly bursting with choices, but the first book I bought was one of Lee Child’s Reacher books.
(I read on my iPad now. Loved getting rid of that umbilicus between book and computer.)
I delight in e-books when I’m on the road. Not in the mood for biography? Jump to an espionage novel. Waiting on line at an airport? A canto or two of Leaves of Grass takes you to a better place. I like the backlight, the ability to change the size of the font, the instant definitions, the highlighting. Looking up the first occurrence of a character’s name when reading a giant work of fiction like Wolf Hall to remind me, “Who is this guy again?” I love getting instant access to an academic monograph on Egyptian Jews I needed for my research and not having to wait a month or more for it to get to my local library.
This is what I don’t like. Not being able to see what people on a bus or a beach are reading. The lovely, sour smell of a library book. The imperfections of paper and the very feel of it. Knowing that my local indie bookstore owner now has to sell more toys and fancy tea sachets to remain in business, and that people cruise her store, then have the chutzpah to download a book she’s displayed onto their Kindle right there.
A generation from now. Fewer paper books, more e’s. The generation after that? Sad, but at least we’ll still be reading. E-books came at a time when the magnetism of technology was pulling readers away from the flat world of paper. We needed to interact: click, resize, add color. And now that we have it, we can get back to finding out what Walt Whitman had to say about…us.