Monday, January 30, 2012

Ever Read 1984, Mr. Franzen?

I admit to being a physical book hog. My wife and I have an enormous collection of books, made even more enormous by the fact we’re packing all of them up and moving them to a new house. All that packing has got us to thinking: How about if, at a minimum, we looked to replace our “classics” with e-books (at least until the Supreme Court renews all those expired copyrights)?

As an experiment this year, I’m going to read one e-book for every two physical books I read. Thusfar, I’m not doing well on that goal, having read only one e-book (Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows). I am on my second – Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. And so far, so good. As far as I can tell, there are no words missing. There is no advertizing shilling going on. Books are books.

So it’s with a bit of amusement that I read Jonathan Franzen’s little bit about e-books at today.

This won’t be another boring physical-versus-e-books debate. What I find comical in Franzen’s critique of e-books is that he doesn’t feel e-books are permanent. Says he:
Someone worked really hard to make the language just right, just the way they wanted it. They were so sure of it that they printed it in ink, on paper. A screen always feels like we could delete that, change that, move it around. So for a literature-crazed person like me, it’s just not permanent enough.
Really? Has he never read George Orwell’s 1984, in which Winston Smith specialized in eliminating the permanence of the printed word?

There are many arguments one can make for or against e-readers or physical books, but the supposed permanence of one medium over the other is about one of the weakest you could make.

I’ve never fretted over the permanence – or impermanence – of the books I read, electronic or not. The permanence, I feel, is in my head, with the images the author’s words help me create, not in the physical or electronic ink that conveys the words from the medium to the brain.

No comments: