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Print/Ebook Rivalry: It’s a Bit Silly

MemeOkay, I’ve seen this meme (pictured to the right) going around again, and I just have to respond to this.

1. Who cares about “impressive”? This might be difficult to grasp, but I actually read books for reasons other than being impressive.

2. If we *are* going to talk about “impressive,” my kindle holds over 10 times the number of books shown in that photograph. You know what’s “impressive”? Carrying an entire library in the palm of my hand is impressive. In the Middle Ages, I could have bought most of Europe with that quantity of books.

3. Also, why the rivalry? In all seriousness, most kindle owners I know also own printed books, albeit in varying quantities. I tend to read the Bible, books with a heavily visual component, a J.R.R. Tolkien novel, and any reference book in paper; I tend to read most everything else on my kindle, yet I do own many, many printed books. Why must we act as though it MUST be one or the other? When the printed book was first invented, there was a period of about 150 years in which the literate of the age owned both manuscripts and the newfangled printed books.

Frankly, it is also “more impressive” to own a wall in Babylon with the original Gilgamesh chiseled into hard stone than it is to own either of the two libraries shown here. It would also be “more impressive” to own two stone tablets that you could carry around in an elaborate ark of wood and gold.

It would even be “more impressive” to own a room with thousands of scrolls cubbied into the walls. Opening a mass market paperback just can’t compare with the experience of:

  • Hearing the crackle of papyrus as you unroll a scroll
  • Smelling the scent of papyrus, brought to you all the way from the flooded banks of the Nile
  • Seeing (and feeling with your fingertips) the inked-in Greek lettering of some scribe who devoted months to the effort of recording that book by hand
  • Taking the time to prepare a special place for reading that is secure from any moisture that could damage your scroll
  • Reveling in the intellectual sweat and sense of almost physical achievement that goes into picking out words from an endless stream of letters without punctuation or spacing.

How much less impressive is the experience of opening a recently purchased, machine-made, mass-produced paperback, when compared with the sublime activity of reading a scroll!

But you don’t see me making memes about that.

4. You know what else is impressive? Making books available in a medium that permits millions of rural readers in North America and Africa to access them, who did not previously have much access to books. That‘s what is truly impressive.

Stant Litore

Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

3 thoughts on “Print/Ebook Rivalry: It’s a Bit Silly

  1. More impressive is the oversized illuminated manuscript some poor monk slaved over their entire life….now that’s something I’d like…but since I can’t no reason not to take what I can. Much like you, I love ebooks for their portability and accessibility. And for the special books, be they resource, favorite author, etc…more often then not I have those in both!

    1. I am much the same way.

      I have had the exquisite blessing of having sat for some time, on several occasions, with illuminated manuscripts. Carefully — they are now quite fragile. What is even more amazing is when you realize that many of those monks, in certain centuries, were illiterate.

  2. Love the article. Similar “rage” flashed through me when I saw that meme lol.

    They’re totally different. And for what it’s worth, eReaders and eBooks have caused me to buy more books (both e and regular) than I had before their advent due to the ease of use and ability to carry around a virtual library on any device — you know things I carry with me anyway, like a phone or tablet.

    I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in being reintroduced to books because of their ease of use in an digital era.

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