I know, I have had this debate before, but I am still being torn between the idea of which is better – the traditional book, made of paper that is printed on, especially a hard back volume and the e-book reader version that I can get so handily on my Kindle device (or for that matter my iPad, laptop, or even desktop computer). I keep thinking back on all those wonderful years I have had with books, but similarly keep thinking about the pluses of the electronic edition and some of the greener ideas behind it as well. I was especially thinking of this today while watching the Lord of the Rings Trilogy movies this afternoon, based upon probably my favorite books ever, by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Certainly there are advantages both directions. In regards to the traditional paper book, there is something to actually hold and cherish. A lot of the books, especially in the classics and hardback editions are not only just beautiful, but often have some collectible value to them. And then, as noted before, for a lot of what I am interested in with the medieval history there is something that is really hard to beat with the coffee table size spreads of medieval illuminations reproduced with in the pages of a beautifully bound volume. And one of my favorite things, though I am not really quite sure why considering my love of the physical books is the opportunity to sell/trade them, to acquire different books on occasion. Of course, the reality is I rarely sell, but that opportunity for others allows me to find great previously owned books that are often out of print and usually hard to come by at best.
Of course the other side of that with the electronic format is the ability to have something like 3,000 books stored on my device and take them anywhere with me to read. Even having them on multiple devices so that I do not even necessarily need to one particular device to resume a left off story. They always keep my place, allow me to make notes right in the work that never gets shuffled or lost, but also does not devalue the whole of the work either. There is the price point as well, though the electronic version is not always the cheaper work, it most often is cheaper than the hardback version, which is what I would want if I purchase the book and it is available. Similarly, as experience will bear witness in regard to my last online purchases of books which were cheaper, I will never get excessively worn copies, book club copies in that smaller, cheaper format, nor lastly, copies that have just a hint of mold and/or mildew at the edges of the pages you can see when it is closed (that copy was immediately tossed with getting near my other books). Further, while I can really sell them, based on the last time I sold real books – there is not a future for that given the price I got back.
So, I am definitely leaning toward going all e-books in the future. Yeah, I will miss the hours of browsing used bookstore shelves to find just that perfect book to acquire for my collection. On the other hand, I will likely keep a collection of just those perfect books in hard form, the ones with the colorful large size illuminations and similar alluded to previously.
But all this thinking of which way I come down on this really has me in a quandary regarding how the Master of Middle Earth, Mr. Tolkien himself might come down on this argument if he had by some odd chance lived long enough to see such in his lifetime. First, the given. He was nothing if not a traditionalist in every sense of the word – traditional the point he would probably make most modern right leaning conservatives feel a little left of the middle today.
Keep in mind though, he was around during the major industrialization of his part of England from the early 1900’s right on up through the 1950’s, which clearly had a major influence on some of his thinking in this regard and it is often reflected in his works. Traditional makes sense that he would have been more in favor of keeping farmland the way it was and not messing with his beloved woodlands and trees for a bit more industry to come in to its place. Industry, that especially at the time was dirty industry full of fire based power that destroyed to produce what it gave as an end result. But there in lies the problem with the clear side he might have come down upon.
Books themselves require paper to print, take trees out of the forest, even if they had been grown for such a purpose. Paper mills, while maybe a clean industry today have been notorious for less than stellar environmental practices historically. And this does not consider the clear amounts heavy amounts of power that would have been required to produce and especially to distribute a traditional book. Compare that to an electronic book. Sure the device itself requires a good deal of power to produce it and some other, perhaps limited resources as well. But the cost in fuel and such to ship is nominal at best compared to a heavy book and keep in mind the other resource costs are spread out over the number of books eventually on the device, not just one book. And the impact to Tolkien’s own beloved trees, will that one is easy to see where it goes.
Yes, Tolkien was a traditionalist, who did not really like or support the industrial changes going on around him during his time, but if a greener alternative like e-books had been around I believe he would have supported it. After, he was supportive of the past technology because it did harm and change the things around him as much as the current technologies of his lifetime did. Interesting that I like him as writer so much, as I pretty much feel the same way about things.
** – Image is from movie promotional materials.