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.


“Fahrenheit 451: What’s The Temperature At Which E-Books Burn?”

That’s the question that NPR asked yesterday. The article alerted me to the irony that Ray Bradbury’s great novel, Fahrenheit 451, was coming to an e-reader near you.

Reported by the Associated Press:

First published in paperback by Ballantine in 1953 and as a hardcover by Simon & Schuster in the 1960s, “Fahrenheit 451” has sold more than 10 million copies and has been translated into 33 languages. It imagined a world in which the appetite for new and faster media leads to a decline in reading, and books are banned and burned. Bradbury himself has been an emphatic defender of traditional paper texts, saying that e-books “smell like burned fuel” and calling the Internet nothing but “a big distraction.”

Ever since this new technology made an appearance, I have always been a staunch supporter of the traditional paper-and-ink type of book. Admittedly, many more trees go into the production of a physical book than one that is downloaded, but I love to see the design of the book’s cover up front and personal, take out my favorite inky black pen and underline and notate to my heart’s content, and flip back and forth through the prose to remind myself of earlier parts.

However, with the December holidays approaching, I have seen so many more articles and blogs talking about what gifts to get book lovers. I bet 99% of them all mention a Kindle, Nook, etc. When I’m riding the crowded subway, I totally see the appeal of having a small device that you press instead of giving the man next to you a dirty look as you try to maneuver your next page turn. Also, we all forsake our scholarly pursuits at times and indulge in the occasional guilty pleasure. Then the question arises: Should I just take my iPod with me instead or hastily construct a paper-bag book cover à la elementary school so no one on the F train will judge me?? The scenario–well, isn’t it easier to take one e-reader with you on vacation than three heavy books?–is always posed (which I swiftly rebut with: Ah, I’m a poor writer. I don’t go on vacation). But I do understand the logic for all of those holiday-takers.

So, has my opinion changed on the e-reader? Perhaps. Although, I still love a good book, when the day comes for me to go through my Harlequin romance phase, I bet an e-reader will be right at the top of my wish list but for now, I’ll still be perusing the shelves of my favorite bookstores.

Oskar Werner & Julie Christie