Ever since I was very small, I’ve loved stories. My older brother used to make them up to help me sleep at night, my parents used to read to me, so stories have always been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. In recent years, with the rise of the ebook, there’s been a big debate about “the right way” to enjoy a story, and quite often ebooks aren’t it. I hate that. Stories are a special kind of magic: they help people to escape, they give them access to empathy, they help us to understand one another and let us forget the world all at once.
Don’t you dare tell a person that their ereader is an abomination. That’s snobbery, and it’s just as bad as telling people that they shouldn’t enjoy certain genres of book/film/etc (something I blogged about for the Booktrust, which you can read if you fancy).
I’m a great big fan of letting other people do what makes them happy. If a person finds a book hard to engage with and they prefer to digest a story through a film? Great! I love films, and the visual medium can do so much that a printed one can’t (I might write a blog about this in the future), and if a person finds reading on a digital device easier or more convenient then good for them, they’re still enjoying narratives and that’s the best thing ever.
I prefer physical books because that’s just how I’ve always encountered stories, so that’s ingrained in me I guess, as part of my upbringing, but even then I prefer paperbacks to hardbacks, battered and worn. I know that others prefer pristine hardbacks, resplendent and beautiful, but for me it’s the words inside that I crave. That’s not to say I don’t just aesthetically enjoy books for the way they look – I am definitely not above buying a gorgeous edition of a book I already own because it looks pretty on the shelf. I am that shallow sometimes, okay?
But it isn’t even always a preference issue either – ebooks are cheaper, and space a premium, so why should we live in a world where the ability to enjoy stories is reliant on class? Or health? There are many who find holding a physical book difficult, and we shouldn’t be looking down on them for their choices, because that’s an especially awful kind of elitism.
I’ve heard the argument that physical paper is where stories are meant to live, but what about before we had a written language? The beauty of stories is how versatile they can be, and the oral tradition of storytelling is filled with just as much beauty and passion as the written word is. Have you listened to Stephen Fry reading the Harry Potter books? It’s divine. And implying that stories belong in physical books really denies the power of plays too – Shakespeare does not work on paper. It just doesn’t. I love the bard, but reading him is no fun – having those stories performed though, is amazing, because that’s how those stories where intended to be told, and that’s what I’m trying to get across – however you choose to engage in a story is absolutely great.
You like to binge on Netflix and absorb episodes of on-going narrative? Excellent! Me too! You like the ballet? Awesome! I’ve never tried it, but I bet I’d be absorbed. You like playing hours of Bioshock? I adore video games – they’re a chance to interact with a story in a way you don’t get from other mediums. You like an action blockbuster with pretty people and an uncomplicated plot? So do millions of other people because that’s storytelling in an accessible way, and that is a real joy!
So don’t frown on someone because they buy ebooks. And don’t think someone’s a snob for only buying leather bound classics (unless they’re ostensibly being snobby). Don’t judge someone who wants to see the film because the book isn’t going to hold their attention. The essence of the story is still there. Remember, to our knowledge, human beings are the only thing in the entire known universe, amongst the vastness of existence, who spend their time making up stories to amuse and thrill each other. That to me, feels like a very unique sort of magic. We should treasure it.
Thanks for Reading,
P.S. A big thanks to my great friend Ming for proofreading, editing and offering suggestions.