Friday, June 10, 2011

In Which I Am Feeling a Bit Dystopian

There are times when I feel that I overreact to things that I hear on the news. I don't mean big stories, like wars or famine or murder. No, I mean the little stories. Well, stories that are "little" to other people but that to me are HUGE stories. Case in point, the fact that Amazon is reporting that e-books have outstripped physical books in sales. To some people that may not seem like a big deal; but, for me, that's some of the worst news I've heard in a long time.

This is as close to believing
in the anti-Christ as a
non-religious book lover will
ever get.

I know that a lot of you out there use e-readers like it's your job. That's your prerogative and I'm not here to bash you about that. Live and let live, I say. But to think that bookstores--real, honest-to-gods bookstores--are going under because people aren't buying paperbacks or hardcovers anymore is a tragedy.

I should have seen it coming, really. And, if I'm going to be honest, I sort of did. I mean, with the invention of the MP3 came the almost complete collapse in the CD business to the point where stores which made most of their money on sales of tangible DVDs and CDs (Media Play, FYE, etc.) closed their doors and gave up. Should we really be surprised that Borders and other bookstores are shutting down all over the country?

"Look, Daddy! It's a tyrannosaurs Rex!"
"No, sweetie, but it is extinct!"

Technology is really fascinating to me. As a sci-fi nerd, I love the idea of robots, space travel, colonies on other planets, holograms, the list goes on. I just never wanted technological advancements to eventually take away something that I love--the feel, smell, or sight of a new hardcover novel. Obviously physical books are still around. Bookstores and libraries haven't gone the way of the dinosaur (yet). Although many libraries are providing e-books for their patrons and businesses like Amazon are selling e-books like they're lifeboats off the Titanic, traditional books are still found all over the place. But so are CDs and they aren't selling like they used to either.

People are always looking for the next big thing, which is usually designed to make life easier. The washing machine made it so we no longer had to bang our underwear clean against some rocks. The car enabled humans to get places without getting blisters. Even the mobile phone has helped the world immensely by making sure that no matter where we are we can call for help...or, at least, a pizza.

Many inventions, however, have just made it so that we never have to leave our homes. Want some take-out? Order it on your computer. Not feeling like going to the video store (another dinosaur in its own right)? Watch a film on your iPod. Now we don't even have to step outside to buy a book. And, unlike ordering a physical book off of Amazon, e-books make it so we don't have to do something else that our entire species seems to hate--wait.

Well, most people don't like to wait. 

I'm not totally unaware that there are benefits to using e-readers. I mean, there is that whole save-the-trees thing. Books printed on actual paper probably kill more rain forests every year than the BP oil spilled killed fish. But there's just something wonderful about seeing shelves and shelves of books. I've had a dream since I was a little kid to have one of those huge libraries like the Beast has in Beauty and the Beast. Although, to be honest, with my height deficit and fear of ladders, I'd want my shelves a little closer to the ground. Regardless, I get no pleasure out of seeing e-books lined up on an e-shelf; it just doesn't have the same je ne sais quoi, you know?

I have absolutely no interest in buying an e-reader. If I was a big traveler, then maybe I would get one for long plane trips or something. But since I'm poorer than dirt and can barely afford gas let alone a plane ticket, there really isn't a reason for me to get one. In fact, I may never find it imperative to purchase one. The problem is that I worry that someday it won't really be an option. In perfect Orwellian style, I have this horrific vision of the future where books cease to be printed and any new novel that comes out will have to be purchased in an electronic format. I see myself as one day becoming an eccentric curio that gets interviewed for some show about nutters who haven't quite gotten with the program:

Interviewer: So you still own books? Like, real, actual books?
Me: Why, yes, I have a whole room full of them.
Interviewer: ...Have you considered that you might be a hoarder?
Me: (shocked look on my face) I think this interview's over, you fracking wanker.

I picture myself sitting in a big armchair surrounded by grandchildren who all think I'm crazy because I extol the virtues of libraries:

Me: Back in my day, we borrowed rectangular objects from big buildings full of rectangular objects. And they had pages, too. Not like you get these days, mind you. You don't get proper pages these days.
Grandchild: Grandpa, you're a weirdo, you know that?

When I die, my family will be shocked to find that I don't own a single e-book, which means that I haven't read any new fiction in forty-five years. They'll also have a hard time figuring out what to do with my sizable library:

Daughter: Well, what do you think, Tommy?
Son: I say we burn 'em.
My Ghost: This is why I left everything to the dog, you Philistines!

All right, so I'm exaggerating a little, but I do find it to be insanely disappointing that people are preferring e-books to real books. Read them, by all means, but don't let the book die like the CD has. I'm just as guilty in the murder of the compact disc as any man, but I put my foot down when it comes to assassinating rectangular objects with pages in them. It's tragic enough what happened to this guy:



  1. :} This post made me smile. I agree. Which is why my library continues to grow almost every day. People I know will buy their books on an e-reader and then just give me their paper backs and such. Personally, I love the e-reader. They give me free books :]

  2. While it's scary to hear those stats...I don't think physical books are going anywhere. Mayhaps I believe this because I'm a traditionalist (still have records and just converted my was a sad day).

    But, I think that most avid readers are book purists. I love my bookshelves! I enjoy displaying my most beloved books to others and running my fingers across the spines looking for the perfect book for a friend. Whereas, I think my friends that are less inclined to read (which lets face it, is the majority of folks) are getting a kick out of e-readers and perhaps discovering a love for reading. So, for that reason...I'm pro-ereader. I think/hope it's expanding the reach of books to a broader audience :)

  3. Great post! I definitely share your same loathing of a futuristic dystopian e-reader world. Nooooo. I need to hold my traditional paper book. I refuse to let my own Beast-ish library dream die...

  4. My wife does own a Kindle yet I do not. I like that I can get the book in e format on her kindle, buy the paperback if I like it, and loan the e book out. For this reason alone I like the ereader. Keep your grimy fingers of my paperback/hard cover. I do not believe print books will die, slump in sales yes but not die completely. Come on there are many many purists out there and I am proudly one of them.

  5. I have a Nook, but I do not buy e-books. I use my e-reader exclusively for free content (whether that's ARCs, library books, or freebies from BN/Googlebooks).

    I also still buy CDs. In fact I bought my husband two for his birthday.

  6. I laughed so hard when I read this:

    Daughter: Well, what do you think, Tommy?
    Son: I say we burn 'em.
    My Ghost: This is why I left everything to the dog, you Philistines!

    I cannot comment beyond that because I'm still bent over laughing.

  7. I agree with what you said but I am currently in the throes of deciding whether to buy an e-reader or not. My decision is based purely on convenience, since I do plan to be travelling for most of 2012 it isn't really a possibility for me to lug around a suitcase full of books, or even buy/loan out new ones wherever I go. That said I completely, wholeheartedly adore my books and will never stop buying them or throw them out, I can't even get rid of the books I hated!

  8. Nonners: I apparently need to get friends who give away their books more often. I hadn't even thought of that being a benefit of an e-reader. Never stop being friends with these people. LOL

    Kat P: I agree about the purists and I don't think that books will disappear for good. Obviously there's a lot of books out there and not a lot of places to put them all. We'll still need libraries and personal collections, but I just get this feeling that someday in the future they'll start to be phased out to the point that in the end there's just a group of dedicated book readers who the rest of the world sees as being insane.

    Two Bibliomaniacs: Glad that I'm not the only one. :)

    Free Book Reviews: I'm also a proud purist. I can see the benefit of being able to get a book cheaper, quicker, and easier on an e-reader, but what I can't see is why they've outsold regular books already. Every time something new comes out (CD, DVD, mobile phone, etc), it seems to take less and less time for the new thing to overshadow the old thing. It just seems that things are moving kind of fast.

    karen!: I got the Kindle for PC app on my computer for the same reason--free books. Can't say that I've actually read any of them yet, but that's mostly because reading things on a computer screen for too long gives me a headache. I still buy CDs occasionally, but more often then not I just get my music from iTunes. I think the last physical CD I bought was Lady Gaga last year.

    MA: I'm just glad that you didn't choke. LOL

    Kayleigh: A friend of mine is going to be spending a year in Japan next year so she bought a Nook because she knew she'd want to read a ton while she was there. I think that would be the only reason I would buy one is if I was going abroad for a long period of time. Also, I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one who even keeps the books I don't like. I keep meaning to take some of them down to the Take a Book/Leave a Book shelf at the library I work at but I still haven't been able to bring myself to do it. LOL