While there is enough interest in the Amazon Kindle to cause the Misses’ copy to be delayed until early next year, there are those in the book reading world that aren’t too keen on it. In fact, some folks are downright hostile to the whole idea of e-books. This L.A. Times piece touches on some of the objections I find particularly annoying.
For example, writer Cynthia Ozick sounds a bit silly here:
“I absolutely repudiate and eschew the Kindle!” she declared in an e-mail. “Even if in its next version an olfactory element is introduced; even if in its next version a tactile element is introduced; even if in its next version it accepts cookie crumbs between the lines.”
It seems to me that if the scent and feel of the paper is playing such an important role in your enjoyment of a book, then the content of the book must be pretty boring. And wouldn’t it interfere with your ability to escape into a story if you are focusing on how it feels to turn the pages?
Of course, I don’t find her objections as irritating as those of Jonathan Frazer, who wrote “The Corrections”.
“People who care about literature care about substance and permanence,” wrote novelist Jonathan Franzen, author of “The Corrections,” in an e-mail. “The essence of electronics is mutability and transience. I can see travel guides and Michael Crichton novels translating into pixels easily enough. But the person who cares about Kafka wants Kafka unerasable.
“Am I fetishizing ink and paper? Sure, and I’m fetishizing truth and integrity too.”
But how can truth depend on whether the words that express it are printed on an electronic page or a paper one? Are they not words in both cases? Confronted thus, Franzen remained firm.
“Yes, in theory, words are words,” he replied. “But literature isn’t data. The difference between Shakespeare on a BlackBerry and Shakespeare in the Arden Edition is like the difference between vows taken in a shoe store and vows taken in a cathedral.”
Virginia Postrel points out here that Shakespeare is an unfortunate example to use since he never published any of his plays. My problem with his example is that it seems to devalue the words of Shakespeare themselves. Why exactly is it better to read them in the Arden Edition? If the Arden Edition is like taking your vows in a cathedral, then what about paperback versions of Shakespeare? Would those be like a Las Vegas chapel?
Great literature survives because of the impact it has on people, not because of the format in which it is presented. I have one of those Dover edition books of famous poetry. I paid a whole dollar for it years ago. Yet, Blake’s “The Tiger” isn’t cheapened by the fact that it isn’t being read from a leather-bound edition located in an apartment that smells of rich mahogany. Literature will survive as long as people read it, regardless of how they are reading it.