Lit Links: The fate of the bookcase

The book is dead! Long live the book!

Well, not quite.

We’ve been reading with interest the many opinions on the rise of the e-book and what it means for print. Our conclusion, reached over many slow Monday mornings and staff room coffees, is that e-books are fantastic. For the people who like e-books.

It’s not that we don’t like them. E-books are convenient in many different ways. I have access to thousands of free classic public domain books on my i-Phone. And very recently, Apple introduced iBooks, giving i-Phone and i-Pad owners the ability download thousands of books not in the public domain. (Although in many cases, your official Apple version of the latest Grisham will cost more than the paper version.) Any book. On your phone! This is the stuff we didn’t even dream of when we were playing Pong and Pac-Man because even now, it seems far-fetched to anyone over the age of 12.

Real books, though, can be magical in ways that a bunch of ones and zeroes probably cannot. For a bibliophile, a world without print is inconceivable! It would mean the denial of  pleasures like turning up a long wished-for rare book in a charity shop. Or running your hand over the smooth cover of a new paperback. Old book smell. New book smell. Deciding whether to crack, or to not crack the spine – with some books you simply must, and with others you never would.  And, god forbid, with only-ebooks as the medium for all those words, heavenly places like the famous second-hand book shop Shakespeare & Co in Paris would disappear. I don’t think I want to live in a world that would kill off Shakespeare & Co.

How will we collect our books together in a purely digital world? If you like books, you can’t tell me that this:

stirs you as much as this does:

Okay, I know that a bunch of hard drives versus one of the most amazing libraries in the world is not a fair comparison. And yes, there are now lots of places where you can create your own digital bookshelf online. ABCers have been spotted using Shelfari, and Goodreads is one of the best web 2.0 applications of the digital bookshelf I’ve seen. But can digital bookshelves ever come close to the dog-eared, crackle-spined eclecticism of the collections in our Ikea billies?

“In the age of the e-book, what will happen to bookshelves? How will we decorate our apartments? How will we judge our prospective partners?”

No books means no shelf-snooping! Perhaps we can replicate it by embeding flash drives full of books into the contents of curio cabinets, where the curios reflect our personal obsessions and interests in a way that we hope will show who we really are. Or perhaps we’ll retain our billies after all, “as display cases filled with only the books we valued enough to acquire and preserve in hard copy.” Many of us with tiny homes do this already. But I don’t believe that booklovers with even the tiniest appartments in Amsterdam will ever give up on ink.  People who love books will buy books, and the people who love reading will probably buy both e-books and real ones. There will always enough people who like the tactile, olfactory pleasure of reading a ‘proper’ book to keep real books alive.

At ABC, we believe in real books. That’s why we’re investing in Europe’s very first Electronic Book Machine, which will debut in our Amsterdam store this September. We see a future for the bookshelf. How about you?

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