A word about the printed word


There are dozens of book-related metaphors: You can’t judge one by its cover. Time to turn over a new leaf. Let’s shelve that idea. There are none inspired by e-books. That’s partly because the ancient and noble art of metaphor writing no longer pays the rent. But it’s largely because there’s a romance attached to printed books that e-books can only electron-frisson about.

When you pick up a book you’re holding an entity that essentially hasn’t changed for centuries.

Sure, publishing technology has evolved, but the central concept – a linear narrative encoded on neatly ordered pages designed to inform, persuade, entertain, inspire or instruct – is the same today as it was when writing was invented.

Books have remained a constant – and indeed a key facilitator – throughout the social evolution of mankind.

When you pick up an e-reader you’re holding circuitry. A personal, handbag-sized source of electro-magnetic radiation.

We’re a lot like books. Over time, we wrinkle and dog-ear and discolour. Our saucy bits decay the fastest. Our spines weaken and curve to the point we need others around us to keep us upright. Our exteriors lock us into our heyday – unmistakable markers of time and place. We get critters and suspicious stains (and raisins – why always raisins?) trapped within our folds. But deep within, our story lives on – as fresh and strong as the day it was conceived.

E-books are intangible, unpalpable bits and bytes. Heck, they don’t exist at all without an active flow of electrons.

I guess this is why printed books will always occupy a place in my heart that e-books never can. Books are extensions of ourselves. We collect and treasure them like friends. Their smell and touch add to the reading experience. A bookstore (a tragically endangered species) is a world of magic and possibility. The act of turning pages – by the fire, in bed, or in a sunny window – is as natural and reassuring as drawing breath or sharing conversation with the one you love.

So remember, should your Kindle glow soft, swipe swift and swipe … Nope. It just won’t work.