The Joy of Reading Books

I swear to God those Stephanie Meyers don't belong to me

I have a confession to make: I haven’t read a book for a long, long time. Oh, I’ve read an e-book or two alright since last year. But I haven’t read and finished a proper, printed book for a damn long time. That Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson is lying down under my bed slowly collecting dust. It would have collected more dust if not for my wife who cleans the house almost everyday, but you get my meaning.

I used to devour books, lots of them. Got myself lost in a good yarn from time to time. But these days, I just somehow couldn’t muster the amount of concentration needed to get myself really lost in a book (both the printed kind and the electronic kind). I have a rousing suspicion that it’s because of the internetz and the instant and easily-digestible information that you can easily get off of it these days that really shorten my span of attention (Twitter and Facebook are probably the biggest culprits in this crimes against humanity). But whatever the cause may be, the fact remains: I haven’t properly read and finished a good, printed book for damn too long.

A recently-popular video in YouTube titled “The Joy of Books” made me reminisce the old days. It reminded me of how I used to love the feel of a printed book in my hand. The tactile feeling of turning over a page is something that my fingers will somehow always find joy in. The video also reminded me of how I used to love spending my time in mega bookstores such as Borders (which recently went bankrupt). These days I am, however, torn between the old book format (meaning printed, made-from-dead-tree kind of books) and the new ones (read: electronic).

My misgivings started ever since the time I had to move back to my hometown of Jakarta. I had been living in the Philippines for a project for 2 years at the time, and up until that point I’d amassed quite a number of books in my collection. Books in the Philippines were surprisingly cheap, and due to this I was sort of on a book-buying spree mode during most of my time living there. I would buy at least one book in a month, and I would occasionally buy more than two in one go. Needless to say, books took up most of the weight of the stuff I had to bring back home to Indonesia. It was the cross I had to bear for my ‘sins’, yes, but boy was that cross heavy.

Moving can be a psychologically-taxing experience, and having lots of things to move can really add to that. My fondness of books was slightly tarnished by that episode. On one side, I would always love books and their tales (and again, the tactile feeling of turning a physical page). On the other side, I started to hate their weight and the fact that they take a considerable amount of storage space. The possibility of my having to move again someday in the future made me cringe whenever I look at my bookshelf. It started to feel like a love-hate relationship.

And the day I had to yet again move to a different place came around. That time around I forced myself to leave behind some of my books as I wouldn’t be having the luxury of going back again to my old residence. I had to select carefully the books that I would have to part with. They were either books that I had read and wouldn’t ever read again, or books I haven’t read and would never be interested in reading. The books that I brought along was considerably less than the last time, but still it was quite a burden.

The arrival and emerging popularity of the e-book format was something that I welcomed warmly. Not only do they don’t take up physical storage space (each only take about 10 -or-so megabytes of your hard drive), the sum of their weight is only confined to how heavy/light your ebook reader/tablet/hard drive is. Unfortunately, access to these e-books is still somehow limited, legally speaking. Big e-bookstores, such as Amazon, Apple’s iBook, Barnes and Noble, haven’t open their door to people living in my side of the world. Copyrights matter, I’d say. And so I obtained some of the e-books through rather, shall we say, ‘unsavory’ means and while most of the others are given away for free. I am still waiting for the day when I’d be able to buy electronic books just by clicking a button or two.

These are some of the books I won't be donating to the library until the day I die

These days I can’t say that I miss the printed books very much except for the feel of touching and turning their pages and for their sentimental values. And also reading a printed book also has the advantage of not tiring the eyes as much as reading an e-book displayed on  a tablet or computer screen. These, in my humble opinion, are only small nit-pickings compared to the advantage of having all of the content of my two man-height bookshelves crammed into one relatively small tablet/hard drive. Once I obtained the soft copy version of some of the printed books I owned, I’m planning to donate them off to the library.

There are, however, some books that I’d like to hold on to because either I feel that their electronic counterpart would never be able to compete in terms of presentation quality, or the electronic version simply doesn’t exist yet, or maybe even because these books hold some personal value to me. A few of the books I received as gifts and some of the graphic novels and hardcover books I own come to mind in this case. Some of the graphic novels I have contain some of the best artwork I’ve ever seen. So far I can’t see how it can be translated perfectly to electronic format. But who knows? These days the advancement of technology is very fast. Consumer tech companies are racing to create higher-resolution displays at one end and at the other end people keep finding creative ways in creating electronic books with great artworks and highly enjoyable presentation.

Despite all of this, one fact remains: I love books. Perhaps one day printed books will really be a thing of the past. And hopefully some time in the near future electronic book publishers get around to widening their e-book distribution to this side of the world. But until then, I’m holding on to (some of) my bounded pieces of dead trees and reserving some space on the shelves for them.

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