The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

E-Books Can’t Burn


Author Tim Parks has an interesting post on the virtues of e-books on the NYRB blog:

The e-book, by eliminating all variations in the appearance and weight of the material object we hold in our hand and by discouraging anything but our focus on where we are in the sequence of words (the page once read disappears, the page to come has yet to appear) would seem to bring us closer than the paper book to the essence of the literary experience. Certainly it offers a more austere, direct engagement with the words appearing before us and disappearing behind us than the traditional paper book offers, giving no fetishistic gratification as we cover our walls with famous names. It is as if one had been freed from everything extraneous and distracting surrounding the text to focus on the pleasure of the words themselves…Add to that the e-book’s ease of transport, its international vocation (could the Iron Curtain have kept out e-books?), its indestructibility (you can’t burn e-books), its promise that all books will be able to remain forever in print and what is more available at reasonable prices, and it becomes harder and harder to see why the literati are not giving the phenomenon a more generous welcome.

It is encouraging to see a writer at the venerable NYRB enthusing about e-books, but two things immediately spring to mind. First, that reading on the screen might present more, not fewer, distractions than reading an unconnected book. And, second, the idea that e-books — which can not only be monitored but endlessly rewritten and immediately deleted across an entire network without a reader’s permission — are some how less vulnerable than paper-ones seems, to put it politely, naive.

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  1. First, that reading on the screen might present more, not fewer, distractions than reading an unconnected book. Not necessarily. If I’m at home I’m connected to the internet, and you better believe my laptop is open to Tweetdeck (which self-refreshes) while I have that print book in my hand. I’m glancing at it constantly, and engaging with it often. So. This is a personal thing, either way.

  2. The number of people who actually believe ebooks can’t be “burned” astounds me, especially in this era of hacking, government shutdowns, and unresolved copyright issues. Naive, indeed.

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