When I was eight years old, my brothers nicknamed me “the bookworm who knits.” As the youngest child with two older brothers, I was subject to dozens of unendearing, unflattering and untrue nicknames throughout the years but this one, unfortunately, was accurate. My grandmother had insisted on teaching me how to knit, a hobby that unexpectedly stuck, and there was no denying I had always loved to read.
Some of my fondest memories from childhood were Sundays spent at the bookstore: hours spent getting lost in the aisles between seemingly infinite shelves of books, making the excruciating decision of which to take home and then sitting in the bookstore cafe with my dad, him with his coffee and me with my hot chocolate, eagerly reading the first few pages of our respective books before returning home to devour them entirely.
When finished, I would place each book on a shelf in my room, possibly to be reread or to be lent to a friend, but more so as a stamp of my pride, a tangible reminder of what my brain was capable of. My first picture-less book, my first chapter book, my first Shakespearean novel, all lined up in my room to be appreciated and admired like a wall of trophies.
Through the years, I have done my best to continue this tradition and, for the most part, I’ve been successful. I still have a shelf in my bedroom full of my cherished reads. My favorite afternoons are those spent browsing aimlessly in bookstores, but due to the increase in popularity of eBooks, and thus the decline of printed books, many of my favorite establishments have closed. In Baltimore, where I’m from, and now in New Haven I have my go-to bookstores but whenever I’m on vacation and looking for a place to buy books, I end up driving all the way out to a Barnes & Noble that’s gone out of business or a small bookstore with an incredibly limited selection.
In situations like these I am tempted to succumb to the times and buy an eBook. My father, whose job requires him to travel very frequently, loves his Kindle as he never has to weigh down his suitcase with heavy books. If he forgets to bring a book and is without access to a bookstore, all he needs is an Internet connection and within seconds he’s reading the book of his choice. It saves paper, it’s lightweight and it has an unlimited selection. Thus, our movement towards the eBook makes sense; it’s convenient and, for the environmentally conscious, it’s eco-friendly.
A friend of mine is in a seminar in which all of the students are provided with iPads for the semester, enabling them to pull up videos, pictures, readings and any other information pertinent to the class material.
But paradoxically, this same class also encourages students to utilize Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library as a resource. The students are encouraged to access primary resources, handwritten letters and poems composed on typewriters, all dating back to rich historical time periods, offering them a sense of intimacy with that era that would never be achieved through an online document. If we continue this shift towards iPads and eBooks, eventually putting a stop to printing books entirely, how will students in the future have the authentic experience of delving into our ancient texts at a place like Beinecke?
In my Italian class last semester, we were able to read some passages from one of the earliest editions of Dante’s Inferno in Beinecke. Reading from this edition dating back thousands of years was infinitely more powerful than reading a copy printed off the Internet.
It’s not just the authenticity that we lose when we revert to eBooks; we also lose the aesthetics. I have some books that are so beautifully crafted that their significance to me is not just the content but also the tangible features — the cover, the texture of the pages, the font. And then there are my own additions: names marked on the inside of the front cover, dog-eared pages, scribbles along the margins. All of that is lost to the online reader.
This University is meant to value authenticity, antiquity and intricacy — when administrators and faculty urge a shift to eBooks, they should take care to also preserve the unique experience of reading a printed text. And as members of this community, we must all remind ourselves of our inner bookworms (knitting optional), put down our iPads and take a trip to the bookstore.
Ally Daniels is a sophomore in Berkeley College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .