Friday, March 11, 2011

Physical Books Matter In Ways Ebooks Never Will

We had a small house issue last night.  Well, it's been an ongoing issue.  For several years. Our roof at the back of our house needs fixing.  Has for awhile now.  Most of the time it's not an issue, but if it rains really badly - especially when the roof is weighed down with snow, like it is now - the roof leaks into the house, into the insulation, through the sheetrock, through the ceiling, into our unfinished "back porch" (which was unfinished when we bought the house), essentially my "office".

It's not much of an office.  Here it is during better times.  During the summers and Spring it's okay.  Fall and winter it gets too cold (ICE COLD) so the kitchen table essentially becomes my office.  

Then my "office" on the back porch - where all my books and comics and "cool" stuff is - gets trashed because of winter non-use as it becomes a "catch-all room".  In Spring I put it back to rights again, use it during the summer, but the ensuing fall and winter it just gets trashed again.

Anyway.  Periodically it leaks.  Into my office.  Usually we catch it in time with bowls and things.  Before the leaks can get to my bookcases, which off course HAVE to sit against the wall that leaks because the floor - having never been finished - slants downward slightly, and if my bookcases stood against the SAFE, LEAK-FREE wall, they'd be always tilted, on the verge of falling over.

It rained a ton last week.   And all day and all last night.   

And apparently we didn't catch the leaks in time.   I discovered this when I noticed how oddly out of balance one of my shelves were.  Wiggled it, noticed the whole bookcase had warped.  Investigated further, and yeah.  Several soaked, waterlogged, and ruined books.  In a frenzy I boxed books, moved them downstairs into my basement workspace, turned on the dehumidifier down there to combat the damp, and made sure none of the leaks came near outlets and switches and stuff.

But, the damage had been done.   

As I packed my books into whatever boxes I could find, my mind flitted around this thought: "Wonder if this proves all those Kindle/Nook folks right, that ebooks are better than physical books.  Ebooks don't get soaked and ruined, do they?"

And my response was instantaneous.   It didn't prove the ebook folks correct.

It clarified for me why I love books so much, and can NEVER love ebooks or even like them, for that matter.

Sure, I was a bit annoyed - even depressed - that I'd lost several Stephen King and Dean Koontz novels last night.  Two hardcovers, even.  But to me that proves the value of a physical book, that their loss could arouse such emotion from me.  In losing those books, I've lost so much more than just the book.  

I've lost the tangible memory of WHERE I was when I'd purchased those books.  When I'd purchased them.  The memory of reading that one book while having lunch at a buffet (which I did almost every day before meeting Abby, read and eat alone) because of the gravy stained thumbprint I left on page 35.  

The memory of finding that book at a garage sale for only 25 cents.  The memory of buying that book while on a basketball road trip (from my brief college basketball coaching stint, or even further back, during my college playing career) in Washington, D. C.  The memory of snagging that book from the hospital waiting room that day my wife had her Cesarean.

There's no way in HELL memories like that can ever be attached to an ebook or a Nook or Kindle.  If I "lose" an ebook, (gets deleted or whatever) what's the cost?  Not a whole lot.  Just download another.  And if my Kindle or Nook broke, it'd be more like a broken computer than losing a book whose pages I've touched, turned, maybe even underlined and smelled.  I've lost an appliance, then.  A tool.

Not my memories.

Funny.  How often losing something reminds us of the cost, and of the value of things....