I’ve just spent two weeks on holiday reading the very large, extended writer’s edit, paperback edition of Stephen Kings The Stand. It was, you might think, at more than one thousand three hundred pages, a perfect example of where an ebook would be superior to the paperback: at times it was hard to hold, it was reasonably heavy and it didn’t fit in any of my pockets. However there was something nice about the experience of reading that chunky paperback on holiday. I’m not going to give the usual reasons of smell, resistance to sand and water and reading clarity, instead there were another few things that struck me as missing when reading an ebook…
When reading a paper book you need a bookmark (unless you’re one of those Heathens that bends down the corner of pages shiver). Some people perhaps have a special bookmark, made of metal or embroidered or leather. I however pick up the nearest bit of paper handy when I start reading the book. In the past this has been: the gift tag if the book was a present, a paper receipt from my wallet, a strip from a handy newspaper, a folded flyer, a business card and so on. And from then on that little item accompanies you on that trip through the book. That little reminder become a companion. I love that, it somehow knots you and your environment and the book together. A little bit of uniqueness that the ebooks are sorely lacking.
I know I said I was going to mention imperviousness to sand and the elements, but this is slightly different, this is the effect of the environment on the book itself. You may get an oily sun cream fingerprint on one page, a splash of spicy sauce on another or grains of sand forever lodged in the crease at page eight nine. Then the extremities of the book weather too, especially with a paperback. The spine may crack and bend (no matter how hard you try to prevent it), the edges of the pages may darken or ruffle slightly and when you’ve finished the book it looks read and it feels read.
When each book is packaged differently there is an emotional connection with the book, especially if you’ve been carrying a lump of a paperback novel everywhere with you for two weeks. It’s like a song taking you back to the time you first heard it, whenever you see that specific paperback edition it will take you back to that holiday by the see, or that hot week at home that summer, or the harsh winter week you curled up by the fire with the rain pouring down. The physical packaging is another trigger for you memory, another sense to hook into the past.
Maybe one day ebooks will catch up with the physicality of paper books, or we’ll all forget or not care about these things? But until then I don’t think you can beat taking a paperback on holiday.