When plugging e-books, I run into a recurring objection—something like this: “But I just like the look of books on my shelves or on my coffee table.” This isn’t just me. SF author Steve Jordan got dozens of similar comments when he pitched Read an eBook Week at Chronicles Science Fiction Forums.
It’s tempting to reject the objections as a sort of a book fetish, and in fact, that’s not all wrong. How many books are bought not to read but to display? I don’t think anyone knows the answer to this, but I suspect that David McCllough’s John Adams and Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time were purchased by most people to put on tables and impress friends—or in the hope that someday the buyers would be able to sit down and read them.
Fathoming the resistance to e-books
If books are fetish objects, then resistance to e-books begins to make sense.
Many of us dread being approached by the earnest young man with the massive leather Bible draped over his arm—who could not fear the approach of a PDA-carrying equivalent? Many of us have fond memories of growing up near dusty libraries where all of the world’s secrets seemed kept, and where we could dream of reading All The Books.
Coping with the paper fetish
How, then, to address the fetish of paper? Certainly you don’t have to spread the fetish, camel-load by camel-load, to distant parts of the globe. But I think it’s important not to criticize it, either. First, few respond well to having their fetishes criticized, but second, and most importantly, the book fetish is a hopeful sign. A book fetish means that people want to read, recognize that they should read, but all too often simply don’t read.
I suggest the answer is this: paper books are for decoration, for fetish objects. E-books are for reading. Reading e-books doesn’t run the possibility of damaging your precious paper books. Even more importantly, you can really read e-books. Because you carry them with you in your phone or PDA, you can read them when you’re stuck waiting for an appointment, waiting in line at the grocery store, waiting for your children to pick the all-important gym shoes, or during those long moments while your child is on the bench in the pee-wee football game.
P-books as decorations—and e-books for reading
Let’s embrace the paper fetish–every home needs some p-books for decoration, and as reminders of an earlier way (like those nice samplers from our grandmother that we hang on the wall). E-books are much more prosaic—they’re for reading.