Glad to have David here as he shares with us his thoughts on eBooks and the experience of reading during childhood:
DON’T BUY EBOOKS FOR YOUR KIDS THIS CHRISTMAS! (SAVE THEM FOR YOURSELVES)
by David Chandler
The eBook has changed the way I read, probably forever. Like most people I was hesitant about them at first, thinking I could never be comfortable reading on a screen. Now I download a new eBook to my phone every week and read them on the train. I’m reading more books than ever, and taking chances on books I never would have tried if I had to lug them home from the store. The convenience, low price (sometimes), and portability of eBooks combine to create the biggest advance in print technology since Gutenberg.
But it’s funny—the other thing eBooks have done for me is convince me how much I love good old-fashioned paper books.
pBooks (we need a new term for something that has existed since the Fifteenth Century. “p” can stand for “paper” or “print” as you please) were all I had as a kid. I was a lonely child and a nerdy one and I spent years of my youth with my nose buried between big pillowy sheets of high acid paper. I lugged paperbacks with me everywhere I went, and sometimes hardcovers, those massive, unwieldy tomes that always seemed more serious, more important, than their smaller cousins. Books were my constant companions. I had a beautiful edition of The Lord of the Rings that I kept under my pillow so I could read them by flashlight when I was supposed to be asleep.
I loved pBooks, but I didn’t really think about them. They were everpresent and therefore invisible. The rise of eBooks, however, has brought them back to life as objects, as totems, as prized possessions.
This is never more true than with fantasy novels. A good fantasy is a world unto itself, bound up between two covers. As a child, reading fantasy novels wasn’t just an intellectual exercise. It was a kind of humble, innocent religion. It was participating in a myth, it was living a secret life. The wonder and joy that came from those pages was my great consolation and salvation.
That kind of rapport with a book just isn’t possible with text on a tiny touch screen. No, don’t get me wrong. I’m no Luddite—I got my start as a writer by posting my early novels online. They were eBooks long before they ever made it to the printed page, and that format was perfect for what I was writing. But there are some stories that need to be read—savored—in quiet, in solitude, as opposed to those you can bolt down on a crowded train. The ritual escape I experienced as a child was only possible because I could hold the actual book in my hands, make it mine. Make it real, make it feel more real, because here was a physical object that described an abstract reality.
As adults our relationships with books are very different. We read for information, or simple pleasure, or to avoid boredom. I download dozens of books on my phone I don’t expect to be any good, but I read them anyway, for one reason or another. I don’t read them as deeply. I don’t revisit them—I can’t imagine wanting to read an eBook more than once.
But as a child, a pBook is more than just words. It’s a method of establishing your identity. It’s a badge, a sign you belong to a certain confraternity of people reading the same book, either all at once like the Harry Potters or over a great ocean of time, as with the classics, where every page breathes with all the thoughts and inspirations of the generations of readers who came before you and the potential, the legacy of all those readers yet to come.
See? No eBook ever inspired someone to such flights of purple prose.
Kids—and those experiencing a love of reading for the first time, regardless of age—should always read pBooks first. They should get the experience, find out what library paste smells like, feel the roughness of the wood pulp page against their fingertips, bend back the spine of a paperback and feel that delicious, sinful crackling as the binding starts to give way. They should dog-ear pages. They should ruffle through a book looking for a particular passage. They should mark them up with highlighters and leave cryptic marginalia for the next person to read the book.
They should have the ultimate joy of finishing a book, closing the cover with a contented sigh, and then putting it back on the shelf, of seeing it go on existing without them. Of knowing it’s always there, that the story continues even after they’ve put the book down.
There will be time, later, for them to read eBooks on their phones, on their Kindles and their Nooks. There will come a time when their relationship with books changes, like it does for us all. They’ll start consuming books like potato chips, unwilling to stop at just one, downloading the next book before they’ve even finished the first. It’s an important step in any reader’s career, when you realize that books are meant to be taken by the shelf-load, to be taken in the context of other books, to become part of a mental library.
But please—please!—don’t ruin that transition. Don’t give your kids eBooks too soon. Let them have the magic, if just for a little while. Just the way you had it when you were a kid yourself. Because once you make the switch, you can never really go back.
David Chandler is the author of the Ancient Blades Trilogy of fantasy novels: Den of Thieves, A Thief in the Night, and Honor Among Thieves, which are all available now from Harper Voyager. All of his books are available as eBooks.