Where I spray-paint my thoughts…

Shiny New Toy


digitalbookI am not normally one to get excited about gadgets, but I am so excited about the new toy I finally bought for myself, after months of deliberation.

I bought the Sony Digital Reader PRS-505 (there is a newer model, the PRS-700, which for about another $100 gives you a few extra features, including touch-screen technology and backlighting, allegedly at the price of a slightly less crisp screen display).

I thought long and hard about making the switch to digital books over paper.  Of course, at this point it’s not a complete switch — lots of books I’m interested in still aren’t available in an e-book format, and since I’d rather pay for a book than download it illegally, I will probably still use the library for a long time to check out books that I’m somewhat interested in but not sure I want to own.  Still, I can already see the digital reader replacing a lot of the paper books that are slowly taking over my house.

One of the biggest advantages, I think, will be when I travel.  If you’re a regular reader of this blog you will know I have a somewhat addictive relationship to books and reading, and I worry about not getting my “fix” when I travel, which always results in me shoving a ton of heavy books into my luggage and still worrying I might run out.  It will be great to load up the digital reader with all the books I could ever want for a trip (and some to spare), then have this one slim, handy thing to pack.

I love the book-like look and feel of the reader in its brown leather cover. I love that a lot.  I hope I will save a few trees, as well as some bookshelf space in my house, by buying fewer paper books — though the benefits to the trees may be offset by the disadvantages of whatever horrific environmental process they have to go through to make the digital reader. That always seems to be the way with doing anything environmentally sound — one step forward, one step back.

I had a lively discussion with my friend Uppington about the fact that she feels as if I’m “going over to the dark side” (I may be  paraphrasing) by choosing digital over paper. I understand why people have an affection for the physical form of the traditional paper book.  I myself love picking up an old, much-read volume and seeing the tired white spine that reminds me how often I’ve had this book in my hands.  But if I were to pick up a brand-new, untouched edition of the same much-loved book, with a different cover, it wouldn’t feel the same — yet within minutes, once I began reading, it would be the same.  I would argue that the magic of books is contained in their words, not in their pages, and that those words can be just as effectively enjoyed in a digital format.

I suspect digital books may really be the way of the future (I have been wrong about technology before; I refused to buy a DVD player or any DVDs for YEARS because I firmly believed that within a few years everyone was going to be using digital audio tapes and I would be able to play my vast collection of cassettes on the new systems).  If they are, I also suspect we’ll always have some nostalgia for the experience of opening a book, the smell of the pages, the feel of a book in your hands.  Just like people eighteen hundred years ago probably recognized that the codex was inevitable, but had some nostalgia for that experience of rolling out a scroll, seeing the lines appear one by one as they unrolled it.  No doubt they looked at their old basket of scrolls with a sigh for something beautiful that was being left behind by technology. 

Scrolls didn’t last; books may not last. Words and stories will.  And I hope to enjoy a lot of them on my new digital reader.


7 thoughts on “Shiny New Toy

  1. “It will be great to load up the digital reader with all the books I could ever want for a trip (and some to spare), then have this one slim, handy thing to pack.”

    …Yeah, right. I can see it now…a bag packed to the seams with books PLUS the digital reader thrown in (with 20 books on it) “just in case”…

    I think the digital reader is cool too, but it still seems to me that there are too many books NOT available for it…though I suppose I haven’t really looked into this.

  2. Come on over. Tis fun here on the dark side. And you don’t have to give up “real” books altogether.

  3. I’m pretty sure I could get enough books on the reader that I wouldn’t need to pack any paper books on a trip. But you can check me out on that next time I come to Ontario, Jamie.

    It is fun on the dark side, Tina.

  4. Oh, you just make me feel lost and sad. I’m sitting here, looking at my beautiful library, all of the volumes I have loved and cherished over the years, with the coffee stains, and the peanut butter dribbles and the water drops from the bath tub. I imagine them being unwanted, cast aside, to make way for a shiny digital reader. And on CDs vs. cassettes? My teenage son collects vinyl albums. Guess maybe he takes after me.

  5. Trudy, I’m sure you’re probably right that eventually digital books will take over a lot of the market but I’m a firm believer that the hold-in-your-hand-smell-the-paper-turn-the-page kind of books will be around forever. I just can’t imagine a world without them! I love the smell of new books. But the leather cover on your gadget sounds appealing…

    I’ll be interested to hear what you think of it long term…

    • Maybe a newer version of the digital reader will include that ‘hold-in-you-hand-smell-the-paper-turn-the-page’ smell! Brought to you digitally, of course. Maybe they can even make the old books smell older.

  6. Uppington, if I could ever “cast aside” books, I don’t think I’d need a digital reader. The inability to ever throw out, give away or pass on a book is part of the problem that makes me worry that if I keep collecting paper books for another thirty or forty years, I’ll have to live on the street in my old age, as the books will have taken over the house.

    I can’t imagine a complete switch to digital happening in any of our lifetimes, so I think those of you who are determined to stick with paper books are safe from ever losing them or being forced to use a digital format.

    Part of my problem with paper books is that I only like one format. I passionately love trade paperbacks; I actively dislike hardcovers (bulky, heavy, hard to hold) and mass-market paperbacks (cheap paper, poor bindings, etc). Most of what I’m hoping to replace with the digital reader (other than an adequate supply for travel) is the year-long wait when a book I know I’ll love comes out in hardcover, yet doesn’t come into my library, so I have to wait and wait and wait for it to come out in trade paperback.

    But as you say, Karen, the real test will be in the long term and how useful it proves to be. Right now I’m reading another of Sharon Kay Penman’s massive historical novels, The Devil’s Brood (one of those I’ve been waiting ages for it to come out in paperback, or into the library), and I have to say slipping the reader into my backpack is a lot less back-breaking than lugging around the entire 752 page hardcover would be!!

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