My Sony PRS-505 ebook reader continues to delight me. I have chewed my way through a couple of books and several short stories, all without the bother of braving the mall to reach Borders or the traffic to reach the library. As I have finished these books, I simply let them evaporate into the ether, smug in the knowledge that I have neither filled the recycle bin with nascent packing materials nor killed trees and burned petrol to just to sooth my addiction to reading. There is still a problem: sometimes, I come across a book that I would like to keep and I still have not figured out a satisfying way to keep ebooks.
The underlying problem is that I like being surrounded by bookshelves filled with dead trees. I like the colors and the patterns. Even more, I like the warm memories that surface whenever I look at the books. I have books which have followed me around since childhood; I don’t read them any more but my soul remembers reading them the first time and delights in the presence of these old friends. Someday, my children will wonder what the heck these old things are doing here and, with luck, they will guess the answer to the riddle.
I try to imagine a way to surround myself with ebooks with the same satisfaction and I fail miserably. I imagine my house with every bookshelf gone, replaced by a shared folder on a computer in the basement. Anyone in the house can easily open
\\Library\ebooks\fiction (or, for the Linux users amongst us,
ssh://Library/ebooks/fiction), browse by genre or author, pick a book, and read it. The ebooks are accessible by everyone at once, so there is no need to wait your turn for the new releases. Since the ebooks can be freely copied, the worry about losing a book is gone forever.
Those are all wonderful advantages but they do not make up for the fact that my life would be poorer without bookshelves. Many books simply cannot be satisfactorily read on a 6″ diagonal screen in black and white. Some need large paper and color. Some need indexes. Some need to be savored by three of us at a time.
Ebooks can serve another purpose, however, as a trial license for the paper book. Several authors and publishers are experimenting with releasing a free ebook in conjunction with a traditional, for-fee physical book and are finding that the ebook certainly does not hurt, and may even boost, sales. James Boyle discussed this in more depth in Text is free, we make our money on volume(s) at the Financial Times’ web site. This makes a lot of sense to me: I can download the ebook and browse it to my heart’s content in the comfort of my easy chair. If I like it, I then buy the paper, thoroughly enjoy everything it has to offer, and finally add it to my wonderfully crammed bookshelf.
Perhaps I have been trying to make ebooks into more than they will ever be, at least for me. I think that, along side the ebooks, there will always be a place for real books in my life.