Musings – book or ebook?

A rainy evening finds me browsing in the local bookshop. Walking through sections, reading the back covers, randomly scanning the pages – just another day amidst the books. You never know who you’d be introduced to – a swashbuckling adventurer, a philosopher or a business man – and as long as they have a good story to tell, they are all equally welcome.

Of late though I also have had another bookshop even more ready with its wares – the kindle bookstore. With amazon entering India, the prices are reasonable (and several come free!)and the delivery instant – so much so that I already have a well filled out kindle library. And some of my good friends are still hesitating to try these electronic texts – “what about the texture, the feel and the experience of a real book – surely the ebook can’t deliver that?” they ask with tentatively.

Me, I am ambivalent – I sometimes vouch for the ebook and sometimes for the physical book. I prefer certain devices for certain book formats. Blogs (and of course micro blogs) make for great reading on my phone as do the occasional poem or kindle single. The iPad is good for a short story or illustrated books or for that matter video books. The kindle I prefer for novels – its light weight, long lasting battery and eink technology make for the perfect reading experience of the longer formats.

I love the physical books too – some look so appealing on their shelves as to make even the consideration of an electronic alternative a compromise, almost a sacrilege! Classics in particular (autobiography of a yogi; Godel,Escher, Bach etc. for instance) seem to be best savored in book form. I prefer reading asterix and tintin comics too for that matter on paper (though that may change if they come up with a super iPad version). Interestingly, different formats seem to appeal for different types of books – the hard cover (with large, detailed typeface and high quality print, and exquisite paper) seems tailor made for the classics we want for our libraries, paperbacks seem best for one time reads.

To sumup therefore – texture and feel do have their part to play – but not all the time. Books (like good movies and most times even more) have a way of leading you into the plot to the point that the format, print quality and other parameters fade into the background. All you need are non-distractors(typos, missing/torn pages/very bad print etc) and of course some aids to enhance the experience (hot chocolate anyone?) – and soon the plot is all that holds your attention…

Which brings us full circle – it certainly does not seem to be an either/or type question. I guess we’d go for the ebook formats when we need stuff instanter(!) and for the physical books when a book “demands” it at the bookstore. Kind of like we embrace either tradition or novelty in our lives depending on the occasion, I guess we will continue to buy, savor and share both of these formats.

Which brings me to the one sore point I nurse relating to the ebook format. Digital rights makes it very hard (actually almost impossible) to share the ebook with my friends – something I love doing with my books in general. Which is a shame really because books are meant to be digested, enjoyed and shared with others – that’s when we do justice to a good author’s insights. And what makes it harder to accept is that the electronic format is truly designed to share easily – and the fact that a material object is easier to share than a bunch of atoms just is so hard to rationalize.

So if you’ll excuse me, got to go now and enjoy Antifragile( yes I know Taleb prefers the physical form better but then only the ebook format is available right now in my country and what’s more it makes for perfect reading on my kindle device!).


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