Reading in the New Millennium: Forward to the Past?
By Ron Cole
“I’m a bibliophile of the first water. I have spent what seems half my life in bookstores all over the world. Some readers praise the creamy texture of a well-bound volume published on good paper. But it is less noted that old books smell—of the places they’ve been, of dust, molds and fungi, of the hand sweat of former owners. Opening one is sort of like lifting the lid on a tantalizing curry still being cooked. But I am making the switch to e-books even so, and they are changing the way I read and even what I read. …”
[Full article at TruthDig.]
This article is a must read: it develops several points about the evolution of reading but one point really grabbed me because I too have noticed this interesting effect of electronic readers and eBooks. First I should say that I have read eBooks back in the days when it was still called a Palm Pilot; the screen was small, lacked color and there were eBooks available for it and the reader program (apps hadn’t been invented then) added some nice features such as font size and automatic scrolling. Through the years my Pilot got a bigger screen and the software also ran on my Mac so I could read at home or on the go. I started collecting eBooks. Eventually I moved up to an iPod Touch and now to an iPad 2, furthermore, so many of the proprietary readers like the Kindle and the Nook were kind enough to offer free software for my Mac and my iPad so I could read even more books, especially those I purchased on their website.
But the truth is, I have only paid good money for two novels: the first one was a trial of the feature and the second was a fast and cheap way to get a newly published novel I knew I wanted to read but didn’t feel like carrying around a thousand page tome in my book bag. Even so, I have hundreds, if not thousands, of books in some electronic form that could keep me reading longer than life as we know it continues to thrive. Looking over my folders of eBooks I notice a couple of divisions that are interesting. First, there are hundreds of genre books, many in rather long series’ like The Man of Bronze or Tarzan. I figure these would be fun to read but so far, the more literary eBooks are higher on the list. Sites such as Project Gutenberg have really gone all out to offer their once touted “plain vanilla texts” in just about any electronic format you might need (mine is EPUB) so I don’t even need to do conversions any more.
So many of this second group of books are older books that are in the public domain (figure about 1922 in this country but the copyright laws keep changing to assuage the greed of the authors’ estates). Some are classics I haven’t read, others are less well-known books by famous authors, many are intriguing books by less well-known authors and what is probably the most important division is books by authors that are no longer readily available, even in the mustiest used bookstore or the largest online used bookseller.
What I then noticed and what Cole also emphasizes is that with the growth of the electronic readers there is also a tendency to dip back into those older books that can be downloaded for free both from the major vendors (Barnes & Noble, Amazon) but also from online sites such as Project Gutenberg and even the local public library. Here I sit in my office with the wall covered in books three rows deep—books I may never get a chance to read—and right in front of me is my iPad containing hundreds of more books I may never get to read. I use the iPad for those classics that I can usually download for free and read almost anywhere I go without needing to lug a pile of books with me, but I am more and more restricting my purchasing of books to the more experimental types of literature and anything that will bend my mind: they are usually too new and two limited in scope to make it to the eBook repositories so I am forced to add them to my shelves.
Cole posits that the change in our reading methods (i.e.., electronic books) is leading to a reawakening of an interest in older books and more classic literature. I agree. What do you think?