Saturday, 20 August 2011

Actually, books don't always smell nice

Monday's Guardian had a thoughtful and fairly objective article by Sam Leith about the relative virtues of books and electronic books. Most comment on this topic is special pleading of one kind or another: Ebook Sceptic, for example, is written by a bookseller (Tom Campbell) and unsurprisingly presents few arguments in favour of reading off an electronic device; Kindle-Schmindle describes Campbell's piece as "collating scientific research which adds rational support to his - our - instinctual [sic: he means instinctive] rejection of this new technology", but in fact it is cherry-picking: proper research should not merely set out to justify views already held.

I could set out the many advantages of reading devices (such as the fact that some books - and all thick paperbacks - have to be held open with both hands, which is uncomfortable) but this would be special pleading; I am biased because I love reading but a combination of arthritis and sensorimotor axonal polyneuropathy made it difficult until I discovered the iPad; now it is once again a joy.


Minerva said...

The Ipad? No, surely not. The Ipad is, I admit, made for many things, but reading? Doesn't the back light tire your eyes? The vibrant colours annoy you? The needless swipe across the page to turn it without the crackle of paper? Have you every had to lick the ends of your fingers to turn a page on the Ipad? No? There - my point is made albeit in a very rambling way.
Thank you for the post on my blog - it's lovely to be back and to have you there too!


Tony said...

Glad to see that you have lost none of your argumentativeness or your fragile grip on logic.

No, the back light does not tire my eyes; there are no vibrant colours when you're reading a book; pages of books do not crackle, and a swipe is much more elegant and satisfying than fingerlicking, and...oh, never mind.

Froog said...

Nice of you to give me a mention, Tony - albeit with a schoolmasterly tutting.

I chose that use of 'instinctual' as a calculated provocation to pedants like you. Glad to see that I got a rise. I think it is arguably the more appropriate word: the distaste many people feel for e-reading devices is not itself a product of instinct, but is related to or arises from a number of instinctive preferences, such as relishing the sensory engagement of feeling the texture of paper under the fingertips.

I am happy that the new technology is prolonging your ability to enjoy a good read. However, as I said in the comments to the post you linked to, "Convenience is not the only virtue." Of course, e-readers have a lot to be said for them. I happen to think that books have much more to be said for them. In an ideal world, it wouldn't be a deathmatch between the two media; but in ours, alas, it is.

Tony said...

If you chose 'instinctual' to irritate me then your assertion that it was the right word was unnecessary; it was also unconvincing.

Those who get any substantial sensual pleasure from handling paper must be leading lives sadly lacking sources of sensory arousal; the same might be said of those who really enjoy the smell of books. Bunch of perverts, if you ask me.

'Deathmatch' is a bit of an exaggeration, isn't it?

And another thing...oh, never mind.

Froog said...

I fear 'deathmatch' is not an exaggeration.

My worry is that the faddish enthusiasm for e-readers is accelerating the pace of digitization to the extent where physical libraries and conventional publishing may be driven to extinction within a few decades. My feeling is that if we dig in our toes against the trend - not to thwart it utterly, just to slow it down a bit - we'll allow more time for people to realise the shortcomings of digital storage and reading on screens, and to establish a better working balance between traditional books and digital books.

I shall be very sorry to see a world without books - lovely, sniffable books! - at all; but I fear that day is rapidly approaching.

Tony said...

If enthusiasm for e-books is a fad then you don't have to worry, do you?

Anyway, I think you'll be able to keep your nose in a book for a long time to come.