Wednesday, February 29, 2012
This morning Shelf Awareness serves up this quote of the day, and it stops me. I think I might just move on, but I can't.
Because Parks' assertion that reading the e-book frees us from "everything extraneous and distracting" ... "to focus on the pleasure of the words themselves" in no way jibes with my experience. Yes, I have downloaded dozens of books onto my iPad. Sadly, I've left many of them stranded. Unable to scribble in the margins, dog-ear the pages, underline emphatically—unable, in other words, to engage in a physical way with the text—I grew distracted, disinterested, bored. Yes, Michael Ondaatje will always keep me reading. And so will the work of my friend Kelly Simmons, and the words of Julie Otsuka, Leah Hager Cohen, A.S. King, Timothy Schaffert, Paula Fox, and Justin Torres—though I wish I owned all of that work on paper. But here on my iPad—stranded, unfinished—sit Jesmyn Ward's Salvage the Bones, Andrew Winer's The Marriage Artist, Margaret Drabble's complete short stories, and many other tales. These are, most likely, extremely good books, and yet, I find myself incapable of focusing on them in their e-format. I need to interact—physically—with the texts before me. I can't do that, in the ways I'd like to do that, with a screen.
I am also, as a footnote, intrigued by Tim Parks' final lines, when he speaks of moving on from illustrated children's books. With the rise of the graphic novel and the increasing insertion of images back into teen books (and I suspect we'll see that illustration encroachment continue), I wonder if we have really moved away from illustrated texts. I wonder, too, if we should. Art is not just for juveniles, after all.
Here is the quote at length, as excerpted by Shelf Awareness.
"The e-book, by eliminating all variations in the appearance and weight of the material object we hold in our hand and by discouraging anything but our focus on where we are in the sequence of words (the page once read disappears, the page to come has yet to appear) would seem to bring us closer than the paper book to the essence of the literary experience. Certainly it offers a more austere, direct engagement with the words appearing before us and disappearing behind us than the traditional paper book offers, giving no fetishistic gratification as we cover our walls with famous names. It is as if one had been freed from everything extraneous and distracting surrounding the text to focus on the pleasure of the words themselves. In this sense the passage from paper to e-book is not unlike the moment when we passed from illustrated children's books to the adult version of the page that is only text. This is a medium for grown-ups."
--Tim Parks in his post headlined "E-books Can't Burn" at the New York Review of Books blog