Some Words About (e?)Books

Here I sit on an extremely cold January day, reading through education blogs, surrounded by my post prized possessions… my books.

I may or may not have a slight hoarding problem when it comes to books. It is an addiction that I know many English teachers share with me. Years ago, I gave up my obsessive need to alphabetize them by author and just started semi-categorizing them by “genre.” But good luck finding a book in my library. The categorization scheme makes sense only to me. An example from one of my bookshelves (this is the books-that-are-great-literature-according-to-my-standards shelf):

bookshelfThat bookshelf was purchased last year around my birthday, because I had stacks of books all over my office and my mom and I concluded that something needed to be done about it. As you can see, I have already spilled onto the top of the bookcase, and those bookends are coming frighteningly close to toppling to the floor.

I’ve been a book hoarder for a long time, so this is nothing new. As a child, I always asked for a book I was dying to read for Christmas, and when that’s what was under the tree, I would squeal as though I’d just been given a new car. My favorite store in town was Pages for All Ages, which has since folded, but which had the best children’s section I’ve seen to this day.

I know my books are my favorite things because I surround them with my other favorite things. For example:

bookshelf2Above this bookshelf is a picture of me, my mother, and my grandfather — three generations of Illinois graduates — in front of the Alma Mater statue on my graduation day. The bookends about to fall off of the other bookshelf were gifts from my aunt. Let’s just say that, with the possible exception of that Nicholas Sparks book in the floor stack (sorry, it’s from an earlier time), my books rank among my most valued of valuables.

And you know what? They’re not going anywhere.

I am a fan of the digital — anyone who knows me can tell you that. But when it comes to books, my husband will be the first to tell you that much of the money I make goes into buying good old ink-and-paper books (or good old wood-and-nail bookshelves). The eBook movement, therefore, is one I have been slow to criticize but also slow to join. When my friends were all getting Nooks and Kindles, I watched. Considered it. Got a Kindle. Said Kindle is now in my desk drawer. It comes out occasionally, at best.

I still wasn’t sure how I felt about eBooks when I was tasked, along with a team of fellow graduate students, with creating one for teachers this past summer. It is still in review and addresses issues surrounding text complexity and the common core. We incorporated videos, interactive quizzes, audio, etc. The authorship process was awful — anyone who has done digital composition understands its tendency to become a mind-numbingly recursive and dialogic process. See further thoughts on digital composition in this blog post from October.

This post from Dan Coxon on The Nervous Breakdown defends eBooks, and the argument Coxon makes resonates with me. He argues that the my-books-must-be-tactile approach is both outdated and unhelpful as the way we read shifts alongside the technological landscape. He reminds us that what is magical about reading lies in the words, not the pages you can touch, while at the same time acknowledging his own love of paper-and-ink texts. He writes:

The arrival of the Tablet in many ways echoes the invention of the paperback. Most ebooks are cheaper than their physical counterparts, and their ephemeral nature lends itself readily to pulp genres and mass market fiction. As a moderately unsuccessful writer I’ve found that ebook sales now make up around 80% of my book sales. While many readers are unwilling to pay $15 or more for a book by an unknown author, they’re prepared to hand over $2.99 for the ebook. I’d love it if everyone bought my physical book and cherished it, sharing it with friends and discussing it at parties, curling up with it at night in the intimacy of their bedroom. But I’ll settle for an ebook sale and a new reader.

As the meaning of authorship changes, we’ve witnessed major shifts in the ways we “consume” and encounter texts. For many authors, this is frightening, but for others, it is liberating. It is also both of these things for readers. I think of a friend of mine, who loves her Kindle Fire (I rarely see her without it). This friend is not a huge fan of digital technologies in general, and probably thinks I’m a pretty big tech nerd. She doesn’t teach with digital technologies, nor does she have much interest in doing so, but when it comes to reading, she has no problem buying a book with her Kindle and reading it on the plane or between meetings. When it comes to writing, I find digital technologies liberating. When it comes to reading, she does too.

Recently, however, I have started noting a shift in my purchasing tendencies. Though I reserve curling up in front of the fire for those books that speak either directly to my heart or to my head, in search of books to help me prepare for a puppy that will be coming home with me in March, I bought an ebook and sent it to my phone for quick retrieval and reference when my future pup refuses to “sit,” “come,” or “stay.” So despite my shelves of books that will continue to grow and multiply, I can understand the value of books that I cannot fill with sticky notes, mark with pen and pencil, accidentally spill coffee on, or otherwise make look like this:


To books, in all their media.

One thought on “Some Words About (e?)Books

  1. Pingback: More Book Love « Gone Digital

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