An avid squash player belongs to a private athletic club where he plays twice a week. There are other, cheaper courts to play on: the local JCCA and YMCA, his alma mater, which is only a five-minute drive from his apartment, and the high school he attended, only ten minutes from his apartment. All offer courts.
To be fair, his club is also a fine dining and social venue. It has a billiards room, a wonderful library, exercise equipment, a steam room, a lap pool, and an august membership. It is a very nice place, and membership dues aren’t negligible. But he doesn’t eat there. He rarely socializes there, never plays billiards, barely reads, exercises at a different place, doesn’t steam, and swims laps in a different pool. Yet he pays every month to play squash.
Why, friends ask; why do you pay the club dues and only use the squash courts, when you could play for free at any one of several other convenient locations every week? Because, he answers; because it’s nicer here.
And so it is with books. Books are wonderful, beautiful things. Their heft, smell, and scratchy-dry sounds are all part of the indelible mark they leave as we read. Reading a book is more than hearing a story; it’s a more subtle experience. A story is what a book is made to hold, but books are more than stories just as frames are more than the paintings they hold. Frames can be works of art in their own right, and books too can be equally wondrous as their stories, equally dear, equally worthwhile in their own right. Imagine oiled leather bindings, crisply delicate pages, ethereal dust, illuminated typefaces, and all that… now you’ve got the picture.
Amazon’s terrible Kindle device, which downloads the text of books to an electronic tablet, is a photograph of a painting, without a frame. The basic gist is there: the words on the Kindle screen are the same as are on the pages of the book, but there’s no beauty left. There’s no experience to it, there’s no tactile sense to pressing buttons, there’s no magic. A photograph of a painting will give an idea of what’s going on in the painting, but the two will never be the same. Moreover, reproductive photography hardly conveys the subtlety of brushstrokes or the majesty of a gilt frame. And nobody pulls his favorite armchair in front of the fire, pours a drink, lights his pipe, and cracks open a dusty old… Kindle.
Like our squash player, whose goal is to play but whose experience is made nicer by quiet locker rooms, friendly attendants, and complimentary iced tea, so too is our goal of reading a story made nicer by the beauty of a book. To be fair, Kindle may revolutionize books like the printing press and save fortunes in many arenas. Students would certainly love to buy one Kindle and then download textbooks every term for one dollar each, instead of buying them at $300.00 apiece. But efficiency and cost-effectiveness are just that. They are not beauty.