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I admit to being somewhat of a luddite. I’ve never downloaded a “tunes” on my portable music player. I’m still not clear on what a “Vine” is, despite countless friends making “Vines” to explain “Vines” to me. And what about those newfangled electronic reader thingies?
I know there are a lot of us who’ve put up a fuss about paper books going the way of relics like the Dodo bird, Max Headroom and Texas’ collective goddamn mind. Most of those complaints center around nostalgia and fear and pretty much usually end with the argument that you can’t beat the smell of a real book.
I promise not to talk about a book’s smell.
There are just some straight-up practical reasons real books beat out e-books.
1. They make you look smart. The truth is, if I see you looking at a tablet screen, I assume you’re playing Candy Crush or looking at Facebook. I assume nothing about your intelligence. However, if I see you with pretty much any book that is over a 10th grade reading level, I assume you’re smart-ish. I mean, you could still be hiding paper porn or a crossword puzzle in there, but I wouldn’t know. Barring a handful of books, I would still think you were ok. And, honestly, paper porn? It’s the new handlebar mustache and bicycle tattoo. Get on it.
2. Books can be used as other things. You need a doorstop? Got one. A heavy object to hurl at an unsuspecting bug that you couldn’t kill with hairspray? Got it. Need something to prop open the window in the winter when radiator heat apartment building turns from warm to “skin-removing?” Got it. An object to prop up the cheap shelf you bought to hold books? GOT IT. Man, there’s nothing a book can’t do.
3. Giving a book away makes you seem nice. Maybe you are nice. Some of us are nice, but don’t seem nice. But giving away a book I just finished made me seem nice. I loved giving away books. It was like the socially encouraged version of re-gifting. And it’s green as fuck. I can’t give you my tablet. Well, I could. But I’m not THAT nice.
4. You can hide your shit in there. Yes, maybe weed. But really…whatever. I hid dirty notes I didn’t want my mom to find. I hid bad report cards. I hid concert tickets from concerts I wasn’t supposed to go to. And there is NOTHING like seeing the well-preserved remnants of those things fall out of a book 20 years later. What can you hide in a tablet? Maybe your porn. But most of you aren’t even doing that very well.
5. You can physically write in a book. You can have a dialogue with the people who came before you and the people who will come after. Yes, I know you can use tabs and shit to tag notes in a tablet. But in a book, you can actually read the observations of the person who owned the book before you. Sometimes their notes help you think about what you’re reading in a new and insightful way. Sometimes it was just a doodle of Count Chocula smoking a joint with the word “TITS” scrawled in capital letters. Either way, you were linked to the last person who read (or just looked at) the same book you were currently reading.
6. Books have power. People at one time were so afraid of books that they burned them. Think about that. Folks took the time to gather wood, gather the books and gather a crowd, because they were afraid of an inanimate object. They could have just NOT read them. Or thrown them away. Seriously, there’s like a thousand easier things to do. But that’s what made them cool. That’s what made you read them. But somehow, deleting that book download just doesn’t have the same draw. That’s not going to inspire the youth of today to do a damn thing.
7. They smell so good. Shit, I’m sorry. I know I said “smell” wasn’t one of the things. But it is. I mean, what does a tablet smell like? Money and sadness? Trust me…pick up a book. Put it to your nose. Suck that shit in. Know what that smell is? It’s my weed from 20 years ago. And also old paper. And it is heaven.
Christy L. Bonstell is a writer and performer for Second City Communications and The Second City Network, a sometime-journalist and all-time crankster. You can learn more about her at www.ChristyBonstell.com.