In a fun game of Don’t Rest Your Head this past Sunday, the Mad City we ended up in at the end reminded me a lot of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which I read years ago. Enough that I was interested to pick up the book again this morning for my commute. I got 20 or so pages in before arriving at work, and as was my habit years ago but hasn’t been of late, I dog-eared the page I was on to mark my place — and then had to smile as the corner easily folded down because it had been dog-eared when I first read the book. A nice little reminder, a new kind of note of familiarity, a little sign to welcome me back to a place I’d been before.
There are a lot of reasons people resist e-readers, other than the price, and I can respect a lot of them. I don’t get the “book smell” one — I’ve never noticed a particular smell to books. I’m sure there is one, everything has a smell (except for iocaine powder!), but I’m not a smell-oriented kind of person. In this case, I’m visual. I love covers, I love how books look, all lined up on my bookshelf, or sitting on my nightstand. Given that, you’d think I’d hate folding pages to mark my place, because doesn’t that destroy the perfect look?
Nah. Just like sneakers are meant to get dirty, and bumpers to get scuffed, books are meant to be used and read and to show the signs of it. I’m picky, though. I hate cracked spines, but I love creases in them; I get irritated by rips or a little water-damage, but I love a cover that’s gone a bit soft from being held.I love that I folded a page that I’d already folded, knowing I’d been there before, that this was my book. I think I treasure that fact even more than this being an autographed copy.
And these are the things you can never get out of an e-reader. There’s no real sense of ownership, of nostalgia. There’s no way to know you’ve been here before, beyond the fact you know the story. Some e-readers let you highlight passages, sure, but that feels more distracting than anything, because you also have to read what everyone else has highlighted. It draws your eye to that sentence before anything else on the page, you end up reading it out of context instead of being able to enjoy it on your own. (This happens to be one reason that I’m glad I have a Nook instead of a Kindle; no highlighted passages.)
Do I still enjoy having an e-reader? Hell yes! I can carry as many books as I like with me at a time, I can easily go read a previously read book without swapping it out on my bookshelf. Having an e-reader is great. But there are some things it just can’t replace, whether that’s the smell or the feel or the vivid covers…or just an old, dog-eared page inside a well-worn cover.