In Defence of Paper Books

” The advent of the printing press made paper books available to the rising middle class after the industrial revolution. It is little surprise that the printing press found much  favour with the emerging middle class when it evolved, and in turn helped the class steal a march over the nobility to alter the course of history.”

The pull of nostalgia is usually great as another year finds itself wiped off the wall calendar, never to be retrieved. The old is replaced by the new, and the old no matter how dear must concede space for the rise of the new world. Seeking a breather from reading the other day, I was surfing the channels on television, when I stumbled upon the 1957 socio-drama ‘Naya Daur’ which pitches a horse cart against the bus, only for the horse cart to emerge victor. I brushed the end off as a ruse of the on-screen bias towards the underdog. I picked up the book again, and it struck me then: could I not be wrong? Can the old world not revolt against the new. Am I not proof? In the age of Kindle e-books, I prefer the comfort of paper books and stand with my back turned against the welcoming arms of technology. Naysayers – advocates of technology will argue that I am a dying breed. May it be so, yet I propose to argue that the traditional book still has its charms.

All my life I have read paper books and loved the smell of paper. Two years ago a friend introduced me to the Kindle e-books.  I tried my best to adapt to it but failed miserably. Every time I read on Kindle, I felt something was amiss. I am old school. For me reading is an act of self indulgence, an escape route from the harsh realities and most of all it is a means to connect with myself. Reading is an innate need and a deeply personal experience. No device, however good, can do justice to it. I am therefore making a case for books.

 

Paper Vs Metal

I turn to reading for solace. I read when I am hurt, elated, confused, lonely or feel the world is crashing around me. For me a paper book is always more personal than a piece of metal that makes up Kindle. The longer I own a book the more it becomes mine. My books age with me. The story of the book often mingles with the story of my own life. A book often becomes a moment in time. When I pull out ‘Two Lives’ by Vikram Seth, from my bookcase, I am invariably reminded of the lonely Diwali holidays I spent reading it in an empty hostel in Pune University. Books have memories trapped in them and they transport me to another time and place. My monsoon soaked copy of J.M. Coetzee’s ‘Disgraced’ takes me back to the suffocating and demotivating environment at my workplace back in 2013.

A book becomes personalized with pencil marks, bookmarks, reflections jotted down on the margins, damaged covers/pages or even marks of spilled food and drinks on them. It’s harder to personalize a Kindle. It can be decorated with stickers and fancy covers but it is a lot harder to make a Kindle your own. Also, books evoke a certain emotion, a memory and I love it when a friend remarks…Oh! you have that book and I offer to lend it to her. There is a certain warmth in lending a book to someone, which is not the same as transferring a file on Kindle. Kindle e-books are practical but they don’t create the magic of books.

 

The process of buying a book

The process of buying books is as enjoyable as reading them! Yes, there is a process! The best part about selecting a book is to get ready to go to the bookstore, shuffle through the books on the shelf, hold them for a while, read the back cover, skim through the pages, feel the weight of the book and then walk out with it. It’s an experience in itself. E-books can be bought at the click of a button but it’s not quite like the magic of buying an actual book.

 

People don’t collect Kindles, they collect books!

Very early on I realized that I find it difficult to let go off  books after I finish reading them. I feel a deep emotional bond with them, they become a part of me and I am tempted to keep them with me forever. This  has resulted in me collecting books. Today more than 500 books adorn my carefully curated bookcase. I look at my bookcase with pride and satisfaction. It makes me feel at home and adds  character to my room. A Kindle can have thousands of books in it but it will just be a Kindle. If you walk into a room with a bookcase, you can tell whether the person is interested in poetry, fiction or non-fiction, which books have been used over the years and which ones have remained unopened. Kindle e-books can’t have that kind of character.

 

Affordability  and portability

I believe reading is never a question of affordability. The very act of publishing and reading is a bourgeois act, that presupposes resources and time for ‘intellectual refinement’ and ‘aesthetic pleasure’. It is no coincidence that when there are pressing concerns of putting bread on table, or ensuring security to one’s existence, reading takes a backseat. It is little surprise that the printing press found much favour with the emerging middle class when it evolved, and in turn helped the class steal a march over the nobility to alter the course of history. E- books are definitely more affordable and certainly easy to carry.   I can pack in 30 books in a Kindle while traveling and it will weigh as much as a book. But the point is why would I do that? A suitcase of books, if nothing else, is still a sign of affluence – a Kindle could be mistaken for a tablet phone. The line between appearing to be an intellectual and the run of a mill corporate honcho is rather a fine one, and books help one to stay on the right side.

  

Deep reading

I read for pleasure and fortunately I read for my work too! Reading on laptop and phone is an occupational hazard for me. I do it everyday. But when I really want to read and unwind, I need  real books which can be folded, felt and touched. True book lovers will vouch that reading makes one forget our surrounding, makes us forget our own reality and often as a reader you become one with the characters. I need real books in order to savor the magic of reading, you need to be lost in the written words and the story they are conveying. For me the emotions come alive while reading a paper book and I feel more engaged with the book. Reading on Kindle constantly makes me conscious that I am reading and de-familiarizes (to borrow Bertolt Brecht’s term) me from the process of reading. I don’t feel as absorbed as I do reading real books. The paper and ink itself make reading more pleasurable.  I don’t like the idea of being curled up on bed with a Kindle. It feels like another instrument and not as captivating as a paper book.

In any case, whether you prefer paper books or e-books, reading is always beneficial, fun and life altering. So as long as you are reading, it shouldn’t matter whether you are reading on Kindle or a paper book.

The author of this article, Richa Singh is a content writer with Investronaut.