Death and the e-book

I recently read an article entitled, “Can you inherit an e-book?” I didn’t think much about it until two days ago. The article’s author began with the anecdote about the settlement of his recently deceased aunt’s estate. Her books were divvied up between the nieces and nephews. He goes on to write,

[W]hat we inherited, I suppose, was a particular way of seeing things, an intimate philosophy. That’s what a personal library is, I guess: an assortment of books that have survived successive purgings of the shelves over the years, leaving only the ideas and insights a reader truly treasures.

The article pondered the idea of now that we are in the digital age of the book, what will happen to specific moments like inheriting someone’s personal library. How can it possibly be meaningful to be presented with an e-reader after the reading of the will?

Like I stated, I read the article, thought it an interesting question and then completely let it escape from my mind. It wasn’t until I was in the library did I think back to it. I was surrounded my beautiful books (I was sitting in section dedicated to Sanskrit books). They were exclusively hardbacks and as they lined the shelves, they were in their own way, works of art. The spines were written in varying colors (gold, red, green) and much attention was given to their design. I have no idea what the content was but that is besides the point. I was just taken by this massive collection that I was surrounded by.

I like the easiness that an e-reader gives to travelling and it helps save me money and time by utilizing the public library’s online collection. Because I live in NYC, it’s not always ideal to schlep that 900+ page book of Russian literature around and instead, download it onto a Kindle.

The quandary that the article’s writer takes on is an interesting one. But I proffer that we don’t really need to worry about this. The books that are most meaningful to a person will always be procured in physical form, whether it is to scribble away in the margins, pass on to a dear friend, or to keep on the bookshelf so everyday they can glance at the spine and think fondly of it. We still hold our books close to our heart and they will still be around long after our own lives. Nieces and nephews will still gather to see who gets to keep the coffee table art books and who gets the slew of 18th Century French literature.


  1. I recently helped my parents deaccession books in their personal library before their move to a new house. One of the greatest joys was to flip through each book to see if there was anything tucked in the pages. Because my father used birthday cards for bookmarks through the years, we found wonderful messages and signatures from the past in cards from friends as well as family. (One of the cards from me was still so pertinent, and so funny, that I took it with me and sent it to him again this Father’s Day.)

    I also believe physical books will continue to be published. E-books, the way I see them, are simply another choice among the options for purchasing/reading books.

    1. What a wonderful anecdote. I love postcards and I love receiving them. I use them as bookmarks, too, and I always have a lovely feeling when I open a book where I have placed a postcard from a friend (especially those living in different countries). There will always be books that I will buy; I am sucker for wanting to grab up ANY copy of Kafka’s work.

      Paper books will always be published and I agree that e-books are another choice for reading.

  2. What a thought provoking post.

    We haven’t yet gone to a Kindle… And I do rather dread the time, when I really won’t have to hold a real book.

    But use of a Kindle is necessary for some, for different reasons. Let’s hope there always are books-to-pass-on…

    Gentle hugs,
    “Auntie sezzzzzz…” blog…. ~~ My regular blog, on Blogspot

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