Rohit's Realm - February 2012

// / archive / 2012 / 02

February 01, 2012

Handwringing on the Subject of E-Books

Having committed most spare moments of the past month to making progress in Leo Tolstoy's massive 1869 tome, War and Peace, it seems only fitting to pause as I pass the approximate halfway point (end of Volume II, page 600 of 1224) and consider the vexing question of book format that has tormented me since the start of the e-ink revolution in late 2007. Although I bought a second generation Kindle shortly after its release in April 2009, and have since then occasionally used the thing to read books (as opposed to law articles), it has never replaced the physical format for me (as it has for many fellow techies I know). Indeed, both of my last two ill-advised book-buying binges have involved brick and mortar bookstores, and my version of War and Peace is the 2008 Vintage translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (easily my favorite Russian translators, incidentally).

As with most things in my sorry excuse for an existence, the question of why bothers me. Why haven't I abandoned the physical format yet (as I long did in music, TV, and movies)? E-books mean less clutter and less expense—what's not to love? Perhaps nothing. But I can think of at least three possible explanations as to why I—and many of my fellow bibliophiles—might not have made the leap to e-ink wholeheartedly: (1) books are intrinsically different than other media such that (a) format matters and (b) the physical format can be superior; (2) the utility people derive from pretension (i.e., others seeing your library) exceeds the cost of the clutter; or (3) we are relics of a soon to be bygone era on our way to waxing nostalgic about bookstores and paperback books much the way our parents' generation goes on about record stores and LPs.1 Bear with me as I tackle each of these thoughts in turn. Or don't: it wouldn't be the first time I (or this third-rate site) have been abandoned, and it certainly won't be the last.