The Horror Of Paper Books

This is a post I’ve kept putting off. Things happen.

Then Wayne MacPhail tweeted this photo he took inside a bookstore:


It gave me a feeling of absolute horror — and I knew the time had come to actually do this post.

There I was several months ago in a bookstore. One of the few still remaining in Manhattan that offers overstock at incredibly-reduced prices.

And I found a book I would have liked to have.

But I couldn’t bring myself to buy it.

I kept having flashbacks to all the times I’ve had to get boxes, put the books in boxes, carry the damned boxes, move the damn boxes, unpack the damn boxes, and again arrange the damn hundreds and hundreds of pounds of printed paper books.

That book would have been another pound to lug around. Another frikkin object hanging like an albatross around my neck, limiting my mobility, weighing me down, reminding me that it will remain when I’m gone.

Let me say again: I really wanted the book.

But I physically could not buy it.

I’ve developed a bizarre allergy to printed books — of the kind that are bought and owned and have to be moved around and that are always looked at and that are also a reminder of one’s mortality.

Library books I don’t have that problem with.

I can temporarily lug them home, even have a pile, read them, and then poof! back to the library they go.

But I want to own books.

I feel a guilt at not giving writers their rightful payment for reading.

Plus, with things being the way they are — and have been — I can no longer count on any public library having a copy of anything on its shelves. I once had to go to the Northern part of Manhattan just to read a short story by Barry N. Malzberg because only the City University had a back issue of the pulp magazine it was printed in!

This is another reason why I am an eBook militant.

I’ve never been a paper fetishist. My first collection of books were mass-market paperbacks. I never liked the size and weight of trade paperbacks and hardcovers. But I eventually amassed a collection of those too. I couldn’t help it: Publishing had changed and there was no longer a guarantee of anything in hardcover or trade paper moving down to cheap paperback!

But the book as an object I came to see for what it is: A cage for the words within it.

It’s the words — it’s always been the words — that interested me. Never the packagaing, never the jail the words were locked-up in.

I can’t be the only one out there who feels a sense of material liberation with eBooks.

Recently, a writer I’ve written about in this blog left a Comment offering to ship me a whole big bunch of books I’d blogged about. I never published that Comment because I couldn’t explain why I couldn’t accept more printed books. Even free ones. Even free ones from a writer whose work I admire!

So, this post has been something I’ve needed to do, in reply to that writer.

And to also explain why I have come to absolutely hate printed books.


Yes: But they’re better weapons as eBooks!

Explore posts in the same categories: Books - Other, eBooks, Reference - Life, Writers - Living, Writing

10 Comments on “The Horror Of Paper Books”

  1. Kat Meyer Says:

    i was going to say you were the book-averse equivalent of Cayce in Pattern Recognition, but your allergy to printed matter is a bit more severe than hers to branding. They have medication for that, Mike. Hey, I bought some PRINTED BOUND MATTER tonight. for myself – i got “Little Brother” so i can read it with my nephew (well, not literally with him, but during a relatively similar timeframe) and so i can participate in an online book club discussion of it. I imagine they would have accepted my taking it in via ebook, but the book club is run by Vroman’s bookstore, and i wanted to be supportive. You, too should participate: – all the cool kids are doing it.
    So, in spite of your inclination to burn pretty paper objects, I agree w/ you about 70% of the time. Good postie!

  2. mikecane Says:

    Cayce did Pilates. Ew.

  3. Claire Says:

    My house has far more “physical books” than I know what to do with. I have taken some to the local jazzercise center (which has a book swap shelf) and thought maybe I should mail some boxes randomly to some of those bed & breakfasts that keep tantalizing books around for their guests. Even though I have (an early version 1 kindle) I haven’t quite gotten in the habit of using it all the time. I want to though – lighter suitcases and travel bags on trips, etc. I have a friend who only buys hard cover books (this takes physicality to the extreme) (or maybe she only keeps hard cover books. All of this is by way of saying ebooks are a great idea, but take a little getting used to. I’m sure the habit of physically browsing books in a bookstore to discover some new reads you might not have found otherwise will get replaced with browsing Amazon (big advantage to them versus independent sellers). (On a random side note, my son had to highlight certain words in a book he’s reading for english – searching for those words on Amazon in one of their “look inside” versions certainly made the job easier…).

  4. mikecane Says:

    >>>searching for those words on Amazon in one of their “look inside” versions certainly made the job easier…

    That is sooo clever!

  5. pericat Says:

    When we moved house last August, I paid out better than 6000 dollars to the guys with the trucks. Not to pack anything, just to haul it all. At least $4000 of that was for moving the books. We have 26 6×4 bookcases, more of smaller sizes, 600 linear feet or so of books, and this after giving away, selling or trashing several boxes’ worth.

    This can’t go on. It’s like a herd of elephants tethered to my waist. More and more, ebooks are looking like the way out.

  6. If you chucked out the albatross, you’d have room for one more book.

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  8. […] stumbled on this interesting blog post a couple weeks ago. This guy has a lot of really insightful things to say, especially considering […]

  9. kargosh Says:

    Paper books of the kind that can be passed on after reading? Of the kind that can never, never be altered or deleted, by publisher or ebook reader developer? The kind that won’t break if you drop them and won’t be destroyed forever if you spill a drink on them? Books we can read in complete privacy because we know the publishers can’t snoop on out habits to sell us more stuff that enriches them but not us?

    Sorry, I see ebooks as a slightly underspecced version of the original whose flaws we tolerate for the sake of convenience.

    • mikecane Says:

      Paper books that have deformed several of my lower back discs and have led to chronic pain problems from having to pack and move them several times in my life.

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