Crossing the Chasm

The debate about e-readers and real books has been going on for at least a year now, with passionate arguments for and against both by people passionate about reading. I didn’t have anything to say in this debate because I hadn’t seen any of the new, improved e-readers till I actually started using a tablet. But even before I saw the e-book readers, I had thought that if they’re as good as the reviews say they are, e-readers would be really convenient to travel with, but that’s it. There is so much more to a book than just a story.

But having finally seen and used the Galaxy Tab – I thought about this a little more. Is there really more to a book than just a story?

First, I thought of how I buy books. These days, they’re mostly new, for two reasons.

a) I’m not as badly paid as I once was(relatively speaking), plus, my interests have become narrower and narrower as time has passed, so I don’t buy music or shop for clothes as much etc. So I have that much more to spend on books.

b) There simply aren’t as many expansive bookshops around Delhi. And with Flipkart it’s now quite easy to get books that have been out of print for years, authors long dead you’d never heard of, writing of a style that you rarely find any more.

And then to talk of my over obsession with books. You can’t really relax while you read it, you have to be careful about how you handle it. So, given the state of the books and my eagerness to buy and keep them regardless, I don’t think I can truly say there’s more to a book than a story. The story, obviously, is the only thing that matters. In which case, there’s no problem with a good e-reader.

Later, I read ‘My book cull: a loss of shelf esteem‘ in the Guardian, and it kind of reinforced what I thought and made me more open to the concept of e-readers.

Last night, though, I changed my mind again.

Curled up with a stack of books around me – all recent purchases from my two favourite bookshops in the Delhi, Fact and Fiction in Basant Lok Market, Delhi(because it carries books that no other bookstore in Delhi has), and The Midland in South Extension, Delhi(because of the magnanimous discounts) – having just finished one book and browsing others to see what I should read next, I realised again that a life with only e-books would be a very sad life indeed.

There is a joy in browsing through pages. There is a joy in touching pages. There is a joy in the heft of a book. There is a joy in looking at a cover. There is a joy in browsing a bookshop, reading chapters here and there and finding something good you may never have heard of before, which you can’t do in an online or e-book space. Add that to the joy of the story, which is already such a great joy, and you’ve got joy upon joy upon joy upon joy for ever and ever and ever.

No e-book can ever match that.

Which doesn’t mean I hate e-readers. And doesn’t mean I will never buy e-books. I will definitely buy some when the technology settles down – there’s a lot of experimentation and trial and error still happening – and the time comes when all e-readers, even the most basic, can be used to read all e-book formats.

It would be really convenient to travel with. But that’s it.

PS: It’s been more than ten days since I have been twiddling with the new Galaxy Tab. Loved the easiness of reading news with Pulse and the wide gamut of books now available via Kindle, Aldiko, Kobo and others. But it’s not yet time to say goodbye to non-e-books. There are some products and services where i’d rather be ahead of the curve.


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