Books Qua Books?

Terry Teachout has some interesting musings on the future form of books. He quotes a email from a reader who loves to read on his PDA but still loves his actual physical books too. This prompts TT to muse:

I’ve never collected books qua books, precisely because I feared acquiring an expensive addiction, but I do love a handsome volume, and I’ve always been fussy about the design of my own books . . . At the same time, I’m not at all sure that I wouldn’t be perfectly content to ditch the text-only books in my library and replace them with e-books. Naturally we’re not talking about art books, and I imagine I’d also want to hang on to my uniform edition of Henry James…but maybe not. As I said in the posting to which my reader is referring, I’m interested in essences, not their embodiments, and even though I’m a hopeless typeface junkie, there’s never been any doubt in my mind that it’s the words that matter . . . Perhaps the bottom line is that I’m open, at least in theory, to the possibility of abandoning the book-as-art-object, just as I’ve already taken the first step toward abandoning the album-as-art-object.

I can’t say that I am on the same wavelength as Terry. Although I do read a lot online, I prefer reading paper. I do in fact print out longish articles and even blog posts. I also often need to print out my own prose in order to edit it.

But when it comes to books there is no contest. The physical characteristics are a crucial part of buying books. I love the way books are packaged and am often attracted to books simply by their cover. I could not imagine turning in my library for an electronic version or reading books via an electronic reader. The pleasure of reading a book would be diminished without the physical and visual component. Perhaps this explains my book buying problem! I would love to know what other readers think. Could you exchange your library for a CD and a electronic reader?

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

1 Comment

  1. Never. I love the beauty of a stocked bookshelf, the uneaven rows and varying colors of the covers. OF course, the smell of a bookstore, that mixture of paper and varish, and nowadays coffee as well as the sounds of it also hold a special place in my soul.

    I can see e-books being useful though, especially for things like textbooks. Hauling a e-reader and a couple of cards around is a great deal nicer than hauling a three-course calc book, a japanese book and an econ book around all day.

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