I recently had lunch with two fellow Filipino writers - memoirist Carissa Villacorta and boxing journalist Ryan Songalia. Ryan wrote a feature about my book, Back Kicks And Broken Promises, that came out in several Filipino and Filipino-American print and online publications and he is a former student of mine. Carissa is the author of Surreality, her memoir of her first years in New York City. We met in Chinatown, at my usual spot on Mott Street, and caught up on what’s gone in our lives since I taught Ryan in the late 1990s. As we enjoyed our dim sum, we also talked about writing, my book’s publication and the promotional work I’m doing for it, other Filipino-American authors and the decline of print publications and their quality - surely you’ve noticed how newspapers are thinner, with less pages, and how some newspapers are made on thinner paper with poorer quality ink.
Also at our lunch were my wife and son and our friend, Ani, who is a fellow martial artist and who has been a wonderful supporter of my book. She had a paperback copy with her, which Carissa got to peruse for the first time. About a month or so ago, I’d sent Carissa a copy of my book to her in The Philippines but it hadn’t arrived by the time she and Ryan had come back to New York for holiday. Taking a stab at the Philippine Postal Service, which over the years has been notorious for slow delivery (I once got a birthday card from my father, that arrived on my birthday, but a year late), Ryan joked that there’s someone in a post office somewhere in Makati who’s reading my book. To that, I commented that I hope he or she is, at least, enjoying it.
Anyway, when Carissa flipped through the pages of Ani’s copy of my book, she made a comment that struck me as very odd but was also horribly revelatory. She said that holding my book - again, a print version - was the first time in months she had held an actual book and turned its pages. With the growth of ereaders, all her recent reading has been done electronically. Like I said, I was stunned. Ryan and I both expressed how we prefer the print version of books for a variety of reasons. My wife enjoys the print but she is very much into reading on her iPad. Ani likes print too but she enjoys the convenience of ereading.
As part of the discussion, I offered this: should the pages of an ebook be called ‘pages?’ I suggested, partly in jest, that they be called ‘flicks’ or ‘swipes’ because that’s what we do with our fingers across the screen (yes, I own a Nook and read books on it that only come out in ebook format) when we move forward in our ebooks. Also, in print books, pages are turned and the reader moves on to the next one. 112 is followed by 113, 113 precedes 114 and so on. On my Nook, I am currently reading a novel by a fellow indie author, The Forever Girl, by Rebecca Hamilton, that is only available in ebook format. However, with Rebecca’s book, it’s two flicks for every page. Perhaps this is a technical glitch but hers isn’t the only ebook that does that on my Nook. The Kindle app on my iPhone refers to pages as ‘location’ and with every tap or flick a page jumps 5 (sometimes more) locations. (Rebecca’s book is quite good and if you enjoy paranormal-romance-drama with a little action you’ll enjoy The Forever Girl.)
There are benefits to ereaders. They help environmentally. Less paper books means less trees being cut down. They also allow us carry more books without the weight bearing down on us, which, believe it or not, can cause joint and back problems. This, though, is probably more a concern with students who carry book bags with countless hardcover textbooks to and from school everyday. With the emergence of etextbooks, this will be alleviated somewhat and ereaders do allow notes to be taken and sections to be highlighted. So, on some level, I am starting to favour ebooks. In a previous post, I also cited how they’re very useful in reading newspapers and magazines. I also read several books at a time so when I travel, which isn’t that often anyway, I am able to bring all the books with me if I have all of them on my Nook.
However, without turning actual pages, smelling the paper and the ink and the glue, hearing the crack of the spine the first time you open it, perusing the shelves of a bookstore, dog-earing the corner of the page with your favourite passage on it that you’ve underlined or highlighted with a pen you had to scramble for, ereaders don’t offer a personal connection with a book. Books make us laugh and cry because of the images the words make us conjure up in our own heads and the things we feel in our hearts. All of the tactile contact with a book adds to that relationship and the resulting emotions we feel. There’s something impersonal about the electronic versions. I mean, in the 1977 movie Demon Seed, the electronic supercomputer Proteus became obsessed with humanity that it wanted to have a child with its creator’s wife. If that isn’t an indication of how impersonal electronic advancement is and how desirable personal connection is, I don’t know what is.
I’m not a Luddite. In fact, I’m quite technologically savvy and I like my gadgets and I do like the convenience ebooks offer but when it comes to experiencing a book, in my opinion, the book has to be a print version. Back at my lunch with Carissa and Ryan, I didn’t but I almost posed this as well: Based on what I described above, should ebooks be called ‘books?’ I offer that they be called ‘ereads.’ We can’t smell their ink and they don’t have a spine to crack but we do read them.
I tried to write this post with a little tongue in cheek. You decide if I’ve succeeded in doing so. I don’t consider myself to be a naturally funny or humourous person, after all, so if you think I’m bashing ereaders, let me reassure you that I’m not. They have their place in our world and that place is here to stay. I was simply stunned by what Carissa said about how my book was the first print book she’d held in months. I was also hit with the reality that ereads (let’s see if I can start a trend here) are more than a reality. They’re changing - they’ve changed - how we enjoy our books. They’re part of our everyday lives and, before long, they’ll be something we’re going to take for granted like we do with our mobile phones.
Whatever way you like to read and be moved, entertained and educated, just keep doing it. Turn your pages and swipe your flicks. You’ll be better off for it.