What is a book? Is it simply the text we read, whether on bound pages or on a screen? Or is it a tangible object, something held with human hands and made richer by the way we physically interact with it? These are questions that Atlantic writers have been considering for at least a decade, and they don’t have easy, definitive answers.
Recently, the Atlantic contributing writer Ian Bogost made the case that ebooks are an abomination, a technology that takes away from the pleasure of reading and erodes the “bookiness” of books. The definition of bookiness is dependent on how any one individual conceives of that idea, but Bogost makes a compelling argument that it isn’t wholly present in ebooks or e-readers. Other authors, however, have noted ebooks’ potential benefits: Both the professor Alan Jacobs and the journalist Megan McArdle believe that ebooks’ resources—their transferability, their ease of annotation, their searchability—can make reading much easier.
In her defense of ebooks, McArdle also points out that school-age kids, able to read assigned books on e-readers, will develop mental information maps that are navigated via keywords and search, rather than physical markers. This possible shift worries the high-school English teacher Abigail Walthausen, who thinks that the expansiveness and information overload of e-readers could be detrimental to students’ learning and focus.
Reading a physical book and reading an ebook will never be the same experience, but perhaps it’s helpful to remember that both can promote a love of literature in any form.
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