There is no holding back the eBook.
When I walk onto a plane, go to a café, look out at my college students before a lecture, they are there to greet me: everyone has an eReader, and is tucking in to a good book.
Authors may be queasy about the loss of the paper book, which was the form that caused them to love story and storymaking, but for publishers, eBooks are a giant positive and higher profits will ensue: much expense is suddenly removed from the physical production, storage, and distribution of bulky pallets of books.
Scheduling of release of novels is prompter (without the vicissitudes of a printer to encounter), delivery is instant, no inventories are needed to keep track of, and at no time will vast unbought overstocks simply have to be wastefully pulped (especially of former US Presidents’ memoirs).
Bookstores will use up much less physical space, if any, and forests be saved.
For those who are my young daughters’ ages, physical books are as left behind as Puff the Magic Dragon anyhow. Gentle Puff, you’ll remember, was good for when Jackie Paper was young, but the little boy’s moved on to manhood, and now Puff’s dead from neglect, along with the boy’s memories of the kings, princes, and pirates. And Dear Reader, is any corpse deader than a deceased dragon, vast in body and laggard to decay with all that occult dragonblood in the veins? So it goes for the printed book.
Hang on for a time they will, and then they will mostly live in museums, university libraries, private collections, and our attics.
Because people so love the ease of e-books, they will cause paper books, as in the song about a once beloved and necessary dragon of painted wings, to sadly slip into a cave.
I am holding a paperback copy of Greylands now. I open it: it is warmly inscribed. It usually stands on my shelf. It can be shared, unlike many e-books. It takes up a little space in my humble house, and makes it richer with wonder. Someone visiting might see it and ask about who wrote it and what her visions were. I pass it by on my way to the kitchen, to eat, to live a little. I may take it to a coffeehouse, and people will ask me about it, or to the beach, when I have it open and they can see its dramatic cover from some sandy feet away (and who’s to ever see your eBook cover as you read on your beach blanket?). It reminds me of the dream-nourished woman who wrote it, who made libraries her sanctuary as a little girl, who is out of a fairy tale herself – a dark-haired imaginer who gently smiles, eases into your heart, and gives rescue to more readers than I may count.
None of this is what an eBook can do.
Though we forget it, the reading of fiction is an art. It is not an app. It is not a matter of convenience or time saving or getting you someplace fast. It is an escape from all that. In its effort-filled uselessness is the preservation of my sanity.
Another wrinkle: many of my favorite books are on art, film, photography, psychology, and music. They are lavished illustrated. Oddly, as millions of readers move to eReaders, my wayward self looks for more massive tomes with reproductions of art and photos, where a e-screen under ten inches (no matter its silky glow) diminishes all.
A few such marvel-books come to mind that I will be enjoying this summer …
- Through the Eyes of the Condor: An Aerial Vision of Latin America;
- Black, White & Blues;
- Black Star: 60 Years of Photojournalism;
- Dramas from the Depths: the Illustrated Short Stories of Reggie Oliver;
- Knowing Darkness: Artists Inspired by Stephen King;
- Gahan Wilson: 50 Years of Playboy Cartoons (3 vols.);
- Evolution: the Story of Life;
- Hokusai: One Hundred Poets;
- Lost Cities of the Mayas;
- Call of the Desert;
- Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals;
- & Carl Jung’s haunted and shocking dream journals, long suppressed by heirs in a Swiss vault, The Red Book.
These are all absurdly oversized books. My kids would groan under their weight; they would howl. But their huge images are as magic to me. Try to enjoy any of these grand books on a puny eReader: it would be like hearing Beethoven as a dial ring. Great convenience makes for great limits.
Can you think of any book you have read that will not translate into app or eBook? Let’s make a list…
Will books like these big-scale enchantments no longer be created by publishers thrilled by eBook sales? I challenge publishers to keep making volumes that may not satisfy in an electronic format, but that people still need to hold in their hands.