Published on: October 17, 2011by Kevin Coupe
A friend of mine - who notes that he is an enthusiastic Kindle user - sent along to me a quote that he’d read from the writer Maurice Sendak, speaking to a UK reporter about how much he hates e-books. Here is what Sendak said:
I hate them. It’s like making believe there’s another kind of sex. There isn’t another kind of sex. There isn’t another kind of book! A book is a book is a book.
That’s a great line. It speaks volumes about Sendak’s experience with both e-books and sex.
Sendak is absolutely within his rights when he says that he hates e-books, and that for him, a book is a book is a book - which is to say that for him, a book must be paper, and within two covers.
However, I would argue that the most important two words of the previous sentence are to him.
But he is absolutely wrong if he believes that this is the way it should be for everyone.
For me, a book is about ideas expressed through words and sentences, put together in a way that provokes thought and feeling, sometimes at the same time. I’m agnostic about format - it usually is a matter of convenience, cost and who the author happens to be.
And as a writer, I am completely neutral about form - it matters not a whit to me whether someone reads our book in physical form or as an e-book. They're still reading our book.
I’ve used Tom Stoppard’s play “The Real Thing” here before to illustrate this point, but my feeling is that you can’t quote Stoppard too often. The play, which I’ve seen in two vastly different Broadway productions, is about a writer named Henry, and at one point in the play he speaks about the connection between words and ideas:
“This thing here (a cricket bat), which looks like a wooden club, is actually several pieces of a particular wood cunningly put together in a certain way so that the whole thing is sprung, like a dance floor. It’s for hitting cricket balls with. If you get it right, the cricket ball will travel two hundred yards in four seconds and all you’ve done is give it a knock like knocking the top off a bottle of stout, and it makes a noise like a trout taking a fly. What we’re trying to do is write cricket bats, so that when we throw up an idea and give it a little knock, it might travel ... I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you’re dead.”
Henry talks of words and ideas ... but not of paper and ink. It seems to me that writers ought to be in the business of making their sure their words are seen and their ideas experienced by the most number of people, not passing judgment on one form of book vs. another.
In the same way, traditional retailers need to be careful about making value judgments about one form of retailing over another. Do that, and they run the risk of seeming irrelevant to an entire swath of population, and one that may be broadening and deepening over time.
They need to keep their Eyes Open. Personally, they can shop any way they like ... but they have to be careful about assigning their own values to others.
- KC's View: