I fear the day where I will stand in front of my class of eager college students and hold up one of my glorious Norton Anthologies and explain to them, “This is a book.” the way my lit professor passes around colonial coins to show us what life was like in the days when so many of the pieces we read were written. I fear the way they will touch the crinkled pages and fail to see the majesty in the crisp, tangible presence of the page. The smell, the touch… the experience.
Now, I am one of those people who vehemently insists that this day will never come. “Kindles will never catch on,” I said, back when the Kindle was the only eReader one ever really heard tell of. “You just can’t beat a real book.” Now all of a sudden there are Nooks, and Google Books, and even an offbrand eReader for sale at TJ Maxx. My beloved Borders went out of business. I had to pay $60 for an eBook version of my health textbook because it was the only option available.
I shudder at the future if it doesn’t contain real books.
Now, I recognize the appeal of the Kindle. I do. It’s an entire library, in the palm of your hand. Useful for travel. Useful. But it’s not a book! You can’t write in it, with your pen hitting the paper, marking it permanently. Sure, they’ve probably got an Ap for that, but it just isn’t the same. Call me old fashioned, but there’s just something about a book.
For a while I insisted there was no way I’d ever see the day where books weren’t books anymore. Books have been books for such a very long time, surely they won’t replace them!
And then I saw it. The video that the TA showed us in Cognitive Science. It broke my fragile dreams.
At the risk of revealing my tender age (ha) I have to say… KIDS THESE DAYS! In one of the interviews, this boy was talking about SparkNotes. Which may seem unrelated at first, but let me explain. The kid held up, scathingly, a text copy of Hamlet. And he said “Why would I read this when I can read the entire book in less than an hour?” And by that, he meant, and I shudder at this, SparkNotes. He did not differentiate at all in his language between READING HAMLET and READING THE SPARKNOTES OF HAMLET. I was appalled. Certainly he understood, right? That the things on the screen there were not the words of the Bard but mere summary? Useful, perhaps, for review but NEVER a substitute for “To be or not to be, that is the question…”
The video went on to talk about how people are always doing a thousand things at once, and how we have lost the attention span to read an entire book. And then it hit me–not only might Kindles and Nooks and Google Books catch on… they might be full of little SparkNote-esque summaries, so that we can “read a book in less than an hour.” My childhood flashed before my eyes, curled up with book after book after book, flipping each new page, laughing, crying at the words of so many books.
I questioned my entire existence. I mean, I want to write novels. I have always wanted to write novels. And now you’re telling me not only may my novel just be words floating on a screen, never a tangible THING, but it may be reduced to mere summary in which the careful selection of words to comprise the perfect sentence become meaningless?
I reject the notion, and I like to think that I am not alone. To lose the novel, the plays, the poem, in their original text would be a tragedy. Perhaps I may have to let go of the notion of the BOOK itself, in its paper form, and let the world save some trees, but to loose the notion of the TEXT, that I feel would truly be a tragedy for humanity. Literature is a profound examination of the human experience, allowing for reflection and new, deeper understandings of the way we experience the world. I should hate for all that to be reduced to tidbits that you read in a few minutes and then forget.
Please, don’t let me stand before a class and hold up a text and say to them, “This is a book,” and be met with wonder.