Tuesday, June 11, 2013

E-Books v. Real Books by Justin Garrick

It’s great to see a website about books so heavily featuring the real thing – the paper book!

I’m wrestling with my conscience over the move to e-books. It’s not that I don’t like technology or understand the convenience of carrying dozens of books in my 662 gram iPad – I do, especially when I’m travelling – but I can’t give my friends and family e-books in the way that I’ve always loved giving real books.

For Novels, 3-D is better than 2-D

Some people say it doesn’t matter whether you read on pages or on screen and, up to a point, I agree. It’s the order of the words that counts, much more than the print of the words or the feel of the paper.

That’s why I’m all for reading reference books and non-fiction on Kindles and the like, but when it comes to a really good read – the very personal experience of immersion in a novel – I like to know far into the book I am. I like to feel how far I’ve got to go before the end, and I like to remember where on the open double page a particular line was spoken or a scene was described.

It’s an old cliché to say that we “dive into a novel” but it’s a good metaphor for actually getting below the surface of a story, getting inside the world that lives between the pages. You can do that both physically and imaginatively when a book has three dimensions, but I still just can’t do it with the two dimensional surface of an e-book.

Books are Memories

I also need to see a book regularly on my over-burdened bookshelves to keep it vivid in my memory.

When I daydream while I’m working, my eyes wander over my bulging bookshelves reminding me of plots and adventures I’d once enjoyed as an alternative to tedious reality. When I’m doing the ironing or the cleaning, my eyes catch on the spines of different books that I’d almost forgotten, and their characters instantly leap back to life in my mind.

Likewise, when, every so often, I have to shuffle my books around on the shelves to squeeze in new ones, I rediscover all kinds of ideas that I’d once known so well but had started to forget. I don’t get that experience from a file menu: out of sight, out of mind when a book’s in a computer. I wonder what people of the future will use to cover their walls, if not row upon row of books with all those little black, orange, blue and grey penguins waddling in ranks along the shelves.

Books make the Best Gifts

Maybe it’s because I worked in bookshops for so many years when I was younger – stacking shelves on the night shift, recommending good reads to customers, talking with fellow workers about the latest releases – but I still really like to buy and to give good books, to think hard about what I’ve read and what will match the style and interests of my friends and family members.

To search hard for a book that my brother will like reading, is to know what my brother is thinking and interested in now; to buy a book for my sister is to imagine what she enjoys and to hope that I can extend it; to give a book that I’ve read to my friend is to give him part of my imaginative life experience to add to his own, but to give him an e-file is to give him little but data.

Books Shape your Life

When my daughter was born, I knew she’d grow up in an increasingly digital world, so I bought her the books that I want her to have for a lifetime, books that carry the stories that I loved and that I hope she’ll love when we read them together, and that she’ll always love when she sees them on her shelves in years to come. If I give her a file, who’s to say it’s format won’t be redundant before she even starts school?

There's Room for Both

Read, read, read anything you can.

Read books, magazines, newspapers, bus tickets and food packets if you have to. Read always, and read furiously. There’s nothing worse than being stuck somewhere with nothing to read, and that’s the wonder of always having something to read these days, literally at your fingertips, on your iPad or your iPhone.

But when it comes to the best books – the books that shape your life, the books you’ll always love and remember – read them in paper, keep them, come back to them and share them with everyone you can. With books, as with so much else in life, it is in giving that we receive. Enjoy.

About the Author 

Justin Garrick became Head of School at Canberra Grammar School in 2011.   

He was educated at Sydney Grammar School and Sydney University, where he graduated with first class honours in English Literature. He also has a master’s degree in Education from the University of New England. He earned his PhD as a Cambridge Australia Scholar at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and he has an MBA from the University of London. 

He has taught at Sydney Grammar School, St Paul’s School in London, Oundle School and Wellington College, where he was Head of English and then Deputy (Academic) prior to joining Canberra Grammar School.

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