The Sunday Salon: Book Burning

Book burning – two words guaranteed to raise the hackles of book lovers. Even thinking them makes me want to growl.

So imagine my surprise to see this headline the other day on Book Riot, an online magazine for book lovers: “Burn All the Books: Whey I’m an eBook Devotee.”

I’m sure the headline was designed to incite a little riot, or at the very least, get a good dialogue going in the comments. The author of the post admitted her own ambivalence to eReaders early on. “It all seemed so impersonal,” she wrote about reading electronically. But in the wake of two cross-country moves, which involved major culling of her humongous bookstacks, she began to see the appeal of eradicating books from her life completely. She began “playing around” with eReaders (specifically the Kobo) and found that she “liked it immensely.” Even her fears about eReaders destroying the “readerly experience” appeared to be unfounded. “I worried about the loss of the experience of snuggling up with a book and a cup of tea — I thought the readerly experience would suffer. But it hasn’t!  It’s just changed. Now I like to turn the lights out and curl up with my iPad switched to “Night Reading” mode and  have this perfectly secluded world that is all about me and my book.”

I don’t feel this way about the eReading experience. I love my iPad, but for some reason I can’t stand having it anywhere near my bed, much less curled up in it with me. Frankly, I’d rather be curled up in bed with an income tax course studying to become a tax preparer. But  I have no problem with others who prefer digital reading to paper books. But I must take exception to the author’s suggestion that we “burn all the books.”  There are still those of us who love physical books, who are happy to make room for them in their homes, and who are hoping against hope that books will continue to be published in paper form.

Just last week, I unpacked a box of books that belonged to my son, books that he had loved at every age and stage of his life.  Pat the Bunny, the Berenstain Bears, Winnie the Pooh and Peter Rabbit, John Bellairs mysteries, Shel Silverstein poetry. How happy I was to have kept these books for the past 25 years, because now I can pass them along to my Grandson. Somehow, handing over an eReader just isn’t the same experience. It saddens me that, in a world which is so crammed full of stuff and places to buy more stuff, much of which is transient and useless, we talk about dispensing with the physical existence of something that can actually become more meaningful over time.

I really can’t condone the notion (rhetorical or not)  of book burning. Even though we might gain some extra room in our apartments and houses,  I think we’d be losing a whole lot more in the long run.

How about you? Do you think “real” books will someday become extinct? Do you think that would be a loss if they did?


16 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: Book Burning

  1. Hello from New Zealand,
    Let me tell you what I am doing now. It is 8pm NZ time. I am curled up in bed with a cup of tea reading ‘State of Wonder’ by Ann Patchett. This book was recommend by Bookstack. I can tell you, it is a rattling good read!
    In fact, instead of spending the day fishing on the banks of a local stream, I was sitting under a willow tree, legs in the sun, immersed in this book. Every now and again I looked up, pausing a moment, eyes wandering to the stream bank where my husband was casting his rod, to think how I could have missed this author.
    Thank you Bookstack for you insightful recommendation. For someone who is a die-hard 19th century English history buff, this book is a breath of fresh literary air which I will recommend, with great pleasure, to my university book group.
    Best wishes,
    Louise Donnithorne.
    Christchurch, New Zealand. 6.11.2011.

    • Wow, Louise, you made my morning! I’m so happy you’re enjoying the book, but even more excited that my recommendation found its way to you in New Zealand and encouraged you to step outside your normal reading “comfort zone.”

      My other favorite Ann Patchett book is Bel Canto…once again, she puts her characters in an odd, threatening situation, and the way they handle it is remarkable.

      Thanks for reading Bookstack!

  2. I was just thinking this weekend of how I could possibly fit more shelves into my home! I think it would be a terrible loss, but I don’t think books will disappear entirely. Their production, commerce around them, writing about them, and their physical presence in places like universities is long established in Western culture. I think it will take a long while to un-do that.

    • I hope you’re right, and that it takes a VERY long while!
      Meantime, good luck with finding more room for your books ~ I’m always looking for that myself 🙂

  3. Oh, bite thy tongue, Blogger Who Suggests Book Burning!

    There is nothing quite like the physical book. While I have and enjoy my Kindle, my preference is and, I suspect, always will be for the book itself. I love fondling the old books that have been around for a long time, seeing their well-loved and well-read pages. They are like Velveteen Rabbits to me.

    I rue the day that actual print books are gone. To me, it will feel like something out of The Handmaid’s Tale!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  4. I’m in complete agreement, Becca. The physical feel of a book that’s been read, the look of a kid’s scribbles in a loved picture book can’t be replicated. But don’t worrry–people with new e-readers tend to be infatuated. It wears off. And just wait until they crash, as they will–it’s inevitable with electronic devices. Or the first power outage. Or the bath where it gets dropped. What I love about paper books most of all, though, is how they generate conversation in my family and curiosity from my kids that leads them further into reading, whether the same book or another by the author or about the subject.

    • I think there’s just something different about a paper book, and yes I agree that they spark more conversation, especially among children who can see the cover when you’re reading!

  5. I agree 100%, Becca. I hate the idea of physical books disappearing. I don’t have an e-reader and right now can’t see owning one. I love my physical books, I don’t want to ever see them go away. Sometimes I get so tired of the digital world where everything is transitory. Every month it seems there is something new and “better” that we are supposed to run out and buy. It makes me sad.

  6. You and I have exchanged comments about this before, I think. I love my kindle to bits, especially in the middle of the night when I don’t want to leave bed, but can’t sleep. It’s light lets me read without waking my husband. I also love the vast amount of free literature available for ereading, and the way you can have a book within seconds, should you want one.

    On the other hand, I love the conversations you have while browsing in a bookstore, the scent of crisp paper and hot coffee, the magic of the “discover new readers” shelf, and the way you’re not risking hundreds of dollars if – like me – you like to read in the bath.

    I think publishing is evolving into an industry that can support more than one medium, and I think that’s great. As long as people continue to READ, I don’t much care HOW they do it.

    • I think the good thing about eReaders is that they have helped boost book publishing, even if it’s not the traditional manner some of us might prefer! As you said, anything that encourages people to read can’t be all bad.

  7. Live and let live is my motto. I don’t like the ereader experience at all, myself, and love reading proper books. But I am perfectly happy for other people to get value and enjoyment out of it. So long as they stop saying silly things like burn books!!

  8. I will never give up the object of a book. I love holding them and seeing them and revisiting some of them. That being said, I love the ease of my Kindle. I like the instant gratification of reading about a book on say Bookstack and having it in my hot little hands or on my hot little Kindle in seconds. I like boarding a plane with 80 books and several magazines on one small device.
    I continue to enjoy both. I don’t think anyone is burning books, I do think my children’s generation will be more inclined towards the e-reader.

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