The impermanence of digital books
Several years ago, I was reading a book that had a name I found really, really jarring. It was so jarring that it was affecting my ability to read the book. It was just the name, though, so I powered up my computer, opened the ebook file and did a search and replace for the name…and changed it. I saved the revised ebook and then shot a new file to my Kindle account. Problem solved.
And readers aren’t the only ones that fiddle with the digital books. Authors often push out updates to their self published books, erasing errors and sometimes deleting whole scenes or adding in new content.
There’s a certain impermanence to digital books that lends itself to on-the-fly changes. You wouldn’t think to rip out paper pages and paste in new ones. You wouldn’t mark up a print book by crossing out a jarring name every time it appeared. But with digital you can and readers and authors do–maybe not regularly but often enough.
Because of the ephemeral feel of digital books, there’s a rise of somewhat new phenomena of the “shelf worthy” book. It’s a sister to the desert island keeper but in more accessible and tangible form. This is the book you would pay at least ten dollars for to place on your limited shelf space.
As a devoted bibliophile, I used to keep all of my books and when I ran out of nightstand, under the bed, on the shelf space, I would shove them in boxes and store them in my basement. As space became tighter and tighter, I eventually faced the grim realization that I would have to purge. Fortunately purging came at a time that digital books began to proliferate making the purge not as painful.
Now I have bookshelves, but they are no longer solely devoted to books. On some shelves, I have candle holders, glass perfume bottles, an old fashioned Singer sewing machine. My books are strategically placed based more on visual appeal than actual accessibility. I’ve carefully selected a number of hardcover titles for the guest room and I’ve kept books that I haven’t ever read because of the beauty of the print production. For instance, Karen Marie Moning’s Shadowfever hardcover with its translucent dust jacket was too gorgeous to donate. It’s on the shelf. A number of Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb books are tucked into the guest room along with a few other popular titles (like Christopher Moore’s Sacre Bleu and Steven Johnson’s An Innovator’s Cookbook) a guest may take a hankering too.
I have an old box set of Tolkien books, a signed set of Kristen Ashley ARCs and Kate Locke’s cute set of steampunk novels (also a series I’ve never read). There’s Bet Me in ARC form by Jennifer Crusie that I found at my local Half Price Bookstore that I purchased before I ever really new what ARCs were. I’ve also a couple of Korean translated romances–Julie Garwood’s The Bride and Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase.
Digital books are a boon to the voracious reader. Lower prices and the digital bookcase have allowed us to indulge in ways we hadn’t had the ability to do in the past. I don’t think I’d be keeping the endless TBR pile if it was in physical form. Digital books allow me to buy and forget. The physical stack of books by my bedside is a creeping sign of excess.
But there’s definitely room for physical books. Why we keep them and what we keep is going to be an interesting study in the future. What about you? Do you have books that are shelf worthy? Are you being more discriminate?