68.7 F

Davis, California

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Column: Page Turners

As much as I refuse to believe it, the Borders downtown has shut its doors, pawned off all its books and sold one of its bookshelves to my roommate. Every time I see our shelf it makes me feel like we’ve cannibalized our favorite between-class haunt; it’s like I’m looking at a severed limb or something.

I know the economy and illiteracy probably had something to do with this whole catastrophe, but I like to blame the iPad, just because the name sounds like a sanitary napkin and it looks like the iPhone’s awkwardly large cousin that people make fun of at family reunions.

In all honesty, it’s not just the iPad, but the Kindle, Nook and, yes, even those smart phones that you can read this column on, that killed Borders. The recent shift in the market toward e-books is doing to bookstores what the invention of the Mp3 did to those wonderfully ‘90s CD shops.

Why go out and buy a real ink and paper classic when you can instantly download the latest pseudo-religious teen vampire novel set in a town named after cutlery?

That is what bothers me the most. And I don’t mean reading Twilight, although that bothers me a lot. The e-book craze feeds into our obsession with technology and our overwhelming need for instant gratification.

That’s not to say that I’m against all instant gratification, because cookies are pretty kickass, but it is indicative of a larger problem. As a nation and a generation, we want things, we want them now and we want them for free, if we can steal them without getting caught.

Case and point: over the summer I met a Kindle-using Frenchman who had an e-library with hundreds of books, all of which he downloaded illegally. That sneaky devil.

He’s not the only one. I think it’s safe to say that a majority of tech savvy people have, at one point or another, dabbled in piracy, be it music, movies or the kind that involves a sea-worthy vessel (well, maybe not), simply because it seems so easy and harmless.

Of course, piracy isn’t harmless, hence those awkward commercials that equate stealing a narcoleptic grandma’s purse with pirating Harold and Kumar Go to Whitecastle.

The creation of e-books means there is a whole new world of cyber crime blossoming before our eyes. True, it is possible to steal a regular book, but you can’t steal it as easily and with as little guilt. But I digress.

My biggest hang up about the whole deal is that I don’t want books to become just another outdated thing used ironically by hipsters, like vinyl records, PBR and handle bar moustaches. They deserve more respect than that.

Maybe it’s just the nostalgic and socially awkward English major in me, but it makes me sad to think that the next few generations won’t get to turn the paper pages of a Dr. Seuss book or peruse the aisles of their favorite bookstore with friends.

I’m probably just feeling the same mid-life crisis that scribes felt when the printing press came around, but I can’t deny that I’m feeling it. More and more I see people walking around with e-readers, but I also once saw an English class attack a student with pitchforks and torches for using a Kindle. So, perhaps ink and paper print isn’t quite dead yet.

If I put my feelings aside and think about it like an economist, e-books do make sense. They’re inexpensive to produce, so there is now a variety of books that cost a lot less than they would in paper from. The major retailers allow previously unpublished authors, like your uncle Ned and your sci-fi obsessed freshman roommate, to fulfill their secret dreams of getting their own ISBN number.

In case my logical argument against e-books has failed, I’ll leave you with this food for thought. Scientific research has shown that every time someone buys an e-book, a panda dies.

So keep cute, cuddly pandas and booksellers everywhere alive by giving good old-fashioned low-tech books a try. Or not, you choose.

KATE ZARRELLA wants to know if anyone has actually participated in piracy that involves a Jolly Roger. Send her a message in a bottle at kazarrella@ucdavis.edu.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here