I have just had a print version of my book Five Lives One Day in Bahrain placed in the country’s popular bookstore Jashanmal’s. The response with friends going out and buying them has once again surprised me. Obviously there seems to still be a hankering for good old fashioned ‘paper’ books. So, I thought I’d release an old piece wherein I had thought that e-books were about to dethrone books of paper…
E-books vs P-books
There’s always that edge between the new and the old, more like a shoreline than a knife. A kind of gradual taking over of one way of doing things from another. An inexorable tide. And as anyone who’s played catch with an in-coming tide will tell you, if you stand pat the next wave could knock you off your feet.
The decision then, is yours whether to retreat, to hold onto the old ways and never leave these shores and therefore never discover a new world, or see the old one from a new perspective. The trouble with ‘the new wave’ is that it is only an incoming tide; it never recedes.
What is it about books, Paper books that we love? Some will tell you it’s holding it in your hands that makes a difference. The tactile connection between the written word and your senses. The feeling that because one touches it, there may be an osmotic transference of knowledge, a story, a thought. By touching the pages, flicking through them they enter the blood stream directly.
More, a p-book, if you’ll excuse the play on the letter, carries with it a smell. There are, I understand, a growing number of confessors to the subtle and swift act of sniffing a p-book. In fact, I believe, there’s been a study on what causes that unique, euphoric, some would say mind-expanding smell of a book. It’s caused by chemicals termed Volatile Organic Compounds or, in the case of old books a combination of “the gradual breakdown of cellulose and Lignin – in the paper – binding adhesive or glue and printing ink”. Interesting that what attracts us to the old paper books is decay. A prescient intimation that the form itself is telling us to move on.
More than a new wave, they represent a sea change and if we refuse to adapt and accustom ourselves to reading them then a time may come when all new information, thought, ways of expressing ourselves, will be lost to us. For those who have never been exposed to the form, sentences like: ‘d trbl w u is dat u unliked me, dat’s y m leaving’ could well be the e-book’s farewell to the p-book.
E-books offer us a myriad other options. Knowledge at our fingertips, no need for osmosis and retention in our hippocampus just Google it while you’re reading. No need to get up in search of a dictionary, some e-books have one embedded in them, easily accessible – right click and voila, it’s there.
From Gutenberg to a number of e-book inventors (including Bob Brown, Roberto Busa,Angela Ruiz Robies, Doug Engelbert and Andries van Dam and Michael S Hart) the motivation and holy grail has been the wider dissemination of knowledge. But, whether information and access to it equates to knowledge is another discussion altogether.
The other, less celebrated aim is convenience. And the e-book supplies that in spades. Increase the font, reduce or enhance the backlighting, adjust contrast, things you can’t do with a p-book. Agreed, the bookmarks aren’t as pretty.
In the end we are torn between nostalgia for yesterday and the thirst for the knowledge that tomorrow promises. Like Eve we reach out, pluck an e-book out of cyberspace and confess to downloading it. After the first time, like all sins, it becomes easier.
We find ourselves drawn away from paper, trees and roots. Anchor-less we float towards the stars and in free-fall we find that we can dance.
FOR MORE NEWS & VIEWS, Click Here and see what Paulo Coelho has to say on this subject.