I wandered the shelves at Barnes and Noble last night after dinner. I’ve fallen behind when it comes to recent fiction, so I wanted to peruse the science fiction/fantasy section, and maybe pick up a new book or two. As I usually do, I looked up reviews for anything interesting using the Nook app on my phone. After settling on a couple — the first book in the Iron Druid series by Kevin Hearne and The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams — I bought them. Only I didn’t use the Nook app to get the e-book versions. I bought honest-to-goodness dead trees.
I’ve been e-book only for over two years. I resisted at first. Heavily. I screamed and ranted about the tactile pleasures of reading an actual book to anyone who would listen, and plenty who wouldn’t. But being given a Nook (and later a Nook Color) as a gift opened my eyes. I could carry my entire collection around on this little device. I didn’t need bookshelves. I embraced the new technology, and even took some of my physical books to the library, figuring I wouldn’t need them anymore.
Lately though, I’ve been having a change of heart. Part of it has been the realization that I spend enough time as it is staring at illuminated screens and not really wanting to add to that total. Especially now that I’ve gone bifocal, the idea of a nice, unlit printed page has become incredibly appealing. There have also been plenty of times when I sit down to use my Nook and realize the battery is dead. So I have to wait for it to recharge, while all these manually powered books sit on the shelves awaiting my attention. And as I’ve mentioned before, a piece of electronics sitting on a shelf doesn’t have the same compulsion as a physical book with a bookmark in it reminding me that I need to get back to it.
There’s also the matter of seemingly having hitched my wagon to a falling star. Don’t get me wrong; I think the Nooks are fine devices and was grateful for both I was gifted. But they’re clearly not doing so hot, like the company that makes them. And I’m reluctant to keep investing in media for them if the whole thing could go belly up any day now. I doubt Barnes and Noble will reach out and somehow prevent me from reading the ebooks I’ve already purchased, but after seeing Amazon do something similar a few years ago, I don’t want to take any chances. I can’t see myself buying a Kindle or other tablet, and while convenient, reading on my phone isn’t exactly ideal.
But in the end, it all boils down to missing that physical experience. Of picking a book up off the shelf, reading the back cover, checking out the first couple of pages, and carrying it out with me. That’s all gone when you just download a big packet of data. And I’ve yet to comfortably curl up with my Nook the way I used to with my books. Plus, I just like having books in the place. They’re comforting. I’ve got a taped-up copy of The Sword of Shannara that I’ve had since 1978. I don’t know if I’ll ever read it again, but I can just look at it and bring back the memories of the times I did. That’s something even the swankiest piece of new tech can’t do. And I don’t have to plug it into anything to get it.