People have been screwing with books forever. Apparently, we’re not content to let content be. Publishers and parasites have done just about everything they can to the written word including printing a novella on a toilet paper roll.
And why not? Books just fucking sit there. Anything that livens that up must be an improvement. Right? Just cut out all the unnecessary character development and turn that bitch into a movie. Make that asshole work!
Except that it never works. Every attempt fails because they can’t compete with the best piece of technology out there: the human brain.
The written word goes straight to the brain. It flips switches, kicks open doors, and awakens emotions that send all those natural chemicals coursing through the bloodstream. Trying new ways to trick out the vehicle only adds muffling layers of bullshit between the author and the reader. Between the story and the imagination.
Which brings me to the E-Reader. It’s a plain-to-ugly screen people get to stare at instead of each other. A few years back, someone realized that there’s lost screen time between the desktop at the office and the flatscreen at home. That enterprising someone thought “Aw sweet hell! I’m out here without a screen! FORCED TO LOOK AT THE WORLD AROUND ME! GET ME BACK TO THE MATRIX!” So they made a device with a screen and crammed a library in it.
But fuck that and here’s why:
1. Because every book is a unique experience. There’s something about opening a book. And smelling it. And turning each page. And feeling the weight of it. And the bittersweet anticipation as the pages to the right diminish. It’s something to be held and caressed and consumed. Whether it’s a collector’s edition hardcover or a dime store paperback (I don’t know if there are dime stores anymore and that’s not even the point) there’s an irreplaceable tactile connection.
Ever heard of Stephen King? Well he’s sort of the Paul Stanley of the literary world. You see Paul Stanley of the rock band Kiss banged soooo many women that he got bored and started banging guys (it’s true, I heard it somewhere). Well, SK had written so many books and short stories that he got bored with turning paper and ink into gold. So he started screwing with the format. And every time it was a complete bomb. Ever read the world’s first e-chap-book The Plant? NO?! How about UR or Mile 81? Neither did the world.
He snapped back to reality. When it came time to release Joyland (a novel about a serial killing carnival worker) he decided that a paperback was the way to go. And the only way to go. That’s right, it wasn’t a huge hardcover that was overstocked everywhere and piled at the entrance of every lingering book store that can still turn a profit. Upon its initial release, it was a down and dirty paperback that was overstocked everywhere because SK felt that only a paperback was right for a hard crime novel. It was the experience he wanted for his readers. One that was true to the story. As he put it at the time: “we’re going to hold off on e-publishing this one for the time being. Joyland will be coming out in paperback, and folks who want to read it will have to buy the actual book.”
Yes, I read it too: “for the time being.” But at least it was an attempt to preserve the experience and hedge off the demands of business. Even if it is temporary, it’s good to have someone so high profile who stands up to defend it, because:
2. Storytelling is an art—a collectible art. If my house was burning down and my family was safely on the lawn, I would run back in for some very special books.
I wouldn’t risk becoming a crispy critter if I didn’t connect with the books in a deeply personal way. If I didn’t think they were freakishly special. If I didn’t think they were damn near irreplaceable. Completely the opposite of how I feel about e-readers. I’d let my Kindle become kindling.
I’m talking about collector’s editions. Signed by the author or artist. From small publishing houses like Donald Grant or Cemetery Dance. I love what these bastards do. They pay respect to the word. From the binding to the commissioned art to the slipcases.
Sliding your books into the slipcase is like consummating a marriage.
Grant publishes a lot of limited edition Stephen King works. They were the O.G.’s that were the first to recognize the awesomeness of the Dark Tower series. Their stuff is the best. Real dank. They make books I revere too much to read.
I’m newer to Cemetery Dance. And not as spellbound. But their 25th anniversary edition of IT kicks every kind of ass.
Now, you can find every one of these books—the word parts of them—in e-reader format. They might contain all the sentences collected into chapters and organized with all the proper formatting, but they won’t contain the special. The special-ness of limited editions and signed editions just can’t be downloaded to your Nook. And that totally cheapens the work. It strips away the magic. It’s dampens the power. Suddenly, books are just word-dumps banged out by monkeys. Malleable. Weak. Which is exactly as the inventors intended, because:
3. E-Readers are tools designed to overthrow America. Sorry to break it to you, but every time you shove your face in a screen to read Fifty Shades of Gray, you’re killing America. One of America’s greatest exports is artistic expression. As in the freedom of, without the fear of persecution for. The e-reader is fully-equipped to subvert all that.
“How so?!” you demand even as your mind is wandering back to E.L. James’s fan fiction phenom. Ever hear of 1984? It was George Orwell’s brilliant sci-fi dystopia about a government run amok. If you never heard of the book, then certainly you heard the phrase “Big Brother is watching you.” Well that came from the book (I’m sure you can download it). And the plot centers on this guy who realizes there’s more to the story than what the government is telling him and he sets out to find the truth and love and whatever. It’s a great book, you should read it.
ANYWAY, the truth is hard to come by because there are these fuckwads working in the Ministry of Information who are constantly rewriting history. Little scripts of paper arrive at their desks and they’re tasked with revising the books and newspapers to reflect the politically convenient lie. These lies become the new truth because no one has the documentation to prove them false.
So stay with me here: if all of our information is kept electronically, then wouldn’t it be easy to change the truth? The thing with the printed word is that it’s sealed in time. However it was written the day it rolled of the press is how it remains. Forever. Until the firemen come to burn all the books (so now you have to read Fahrenheit 451 to get that reference). But if everyone got their information from a digital source or an e-reader, an evil government could conceivably change news articles again and again and again no matter when they were written. And no one could dispute them.
This malicious design is just beginning to be evidenced with Tolstoy’s War and Peace, no less. You see, the Nook version of the book eliminated all references to the word “Kindle.” Because Kindle is the name of their competitor. And they don’t like that. So a quick find and replace fixed the book. Made it acceptable. Sanitized it. Removed all references to the competition so the readers wouldn’t have any troubling confusion about which e-reader to buy. All those pesky decisions! True freedom is having decisions made for you. Now enjoy your book, Fun and Peace. And be happy. (hurry! Print this post before it’s too late! before the government reads this post and does a quick find and replace on me!)
But if ruining the reading experience, cheapening the art of storytelling, and eviscerating freedoms aren’t strong enough reasons for you, I have one more:
4. They’re destroying your brain. Quick, read this article. Did you? Probably not. Here’s the gist: A gal named Manoush Zoromodi says there’s a difference between reading words on paper and reading words on screens, and that there’s a very important and distinct quality to reading a book she calls “deep reading” which is what happens when people immerse themselves in a book and the world slips away. She goes on to state:
“The problem is that many of us have adapted to reading [on screens] just too well. And if you don’t use the deep reading part of your brain, you lose the deep reading part of your brain.”
That’s pretty scary. I think our art makes humanity the best thing ever. I’d go even further than that–I’d say that expressing and sharing emotion is the entire point of being human. To lose any connection with human creativity would be a tragedy. There’s no greater feeling than being transported and lost in a work of art. Otherwise, what else is there? Life would just consist of eating, shitting, sleeping, maybe reproducing, and dying.
So I say: go deep and human on.
A final note: No doubt there were a lot of you scoffing at me using STEPHEN KING to make my case for preserving the sanctity of literature. I’m sure there were those who gave up on life and employment to pursue an English degree who would be quick to spout off a long list of dead white guys or avant-garde creative non-fiction writers who would make heftier ammunition. I don’t really have a response.
I don’t care.