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The Student News Site of the Latin School of Chicago

The Forum

The Student News Site of the Latin School of Chicago

The Forum

The Transition to EBooks (and Why I Don’t Mind Papercuts)

MJ Porzenheim

Cannot you see, cannot all you lecturers see, that it is we that are dying, and that down  here the only thing that really lives is the Machine? We created the Machine, to do our will, but we cannot make it do our will now. It was robbed us of the sense of space and of the sense of touch, it has blurred every human relation and narrowed down love to a carnal act, it has paralyzed our bodies and our wills, and now it compels us to worship it.

“The Machine Stops”- E.M. Forster


EBooks suck.

As I write this, the mantle of our house is lit indirectly by the sunlight streaming in through the living room windows. On it, the stupider of our two cats is admiring himself in the mirror, threatening to knock over a pale green copy of plays by Henrik Ibsen. The book contains A Doll’s House, Ghosts, An Enemy of the People, The Master Builder, and a sticker that indicates that one Mary Jane Kahle once owned the book. A Doll’s House has annotations, some (much to my amusement) in block capitals.

This was my grandmother’s book. I don’t know her. I’ve never met her. Next to it stands a book of plays by Moliere, also hers. The next two books on the mantle are bound the same way by the same publisher, but are not hers- they are my other grandmother’s, thieved from Hunter College (in New York) and the New York Public Library. They are by James Joyce. I do believe that there’s another book that rightfully belongs to the New York Public Library in our house: The Pushcart War. She stole that one too. I doubt the library wants it back in the state it’s in, though, as the book lacks a cover.

I love books. I don’t think I love anything like I love books. In elementary school, I would wake up with my book under my pillow, read through breakfast, read on the way to school, read whenever I could get away with it in class, read during recess, read on the way home, read all afternoon, attempt to read through dinner, and read with a flashlight until I got too tired, at which point I would put my book under my pillow and go to sleep. As a kid I didn’t even consider it homework because I enjoyed doing it. I even thought I was pulling a fast one on my teacher because I would happily exceed the independent reading homework. No doubt my teacher would have actually been pleased, but I preferred to think I was being disobedient.

Anyway, it is a sufficient to say that none of my book-related experiences would have been possible with an eReader. There would be no books on the mantle. My parents would have set time controls on the thing and it would have turned off at bedtime. The teacher would have said “no eReaders in class” and would have confiscated it. I used to drop my books in the bathtub. I might have been electrocuted. For god’s sake, an eReader wouldn’t smell of book. It would smell of nothing. I love the smell of ink and decaying pages. I don’t even mind finding dead silverfish. Have you ever found the annotations of the person responsible for like a quarter of your DNA and ALL of your mitochondrial DNA in some eBook? I think not.

Maybe eBooks are more convenient, and maybe they take up less room, but books are important. And when I see that the Latin library is buying eBooks, it is disheartening. Physical things are losing a war of attrition to digital things. beat out Borders. People buy their music on iTunes now. Perhaps we haven’t slid into E.M. Forster’s apocalypse, but eBooks edge us closer. I still believe that what is important to us we must hold sacred. I don’t think books are meant to be experienced on lightweight tablets that smell of nothing with screens that tire your eyes.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll read my grandmother’s copy of the plays of Ibsen.


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    botooleMay 2, 2013 at 9:51 am

    Thanks for the article, MJ. I agree that physical books are great, but being able to take an entire library on a plane with you is pretty great, too!

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The Transition to EBooks (and Why I Don’t Mind Papercuts)