In this article Alexander doesn’t dismiss hardcopy books, he doesn’t predict that they are going obsolete, he doesn’t say actual books don’t have merit, nor does he say that old books are bad, useless, irrelevant, or boring.
His thesis is: E-readers may be causing more readers to read Classics. Books that are past their copyright dates are generally free for Kindles, ibooks and Nooks and therefore people are ok with “buying” them, rather than paying 11, 12, 20, 25 dollars for a new book (because, yes, they can cost that much even electronically), and are likely to read them ‘cause they’ve got them.
The implication that E-readers are going to “save” Classic books is somewhat absurd. The idea that people aren’t reading these older books and novels because they are long and hefty volumes is dumb. He cites his Twitter:
as one respondent to my completely unscientific Twitter poll put it, “Finally finished Count of Monte Cristo because I could take it on the bus without blowing a vertebra.”
Have you seen the new Murakami novel? Or any brand new hardcover novel these days? They’re the size of an average sized wall calender. I was going to buy V is for Vengeance for my sister for Christmas, but then I saw how fucking large the volume is and remembered that she likes her books to be reasonably sized. People will drop $25 on a brand new hardcover book by their favorite author and they will tote it around in their handbag or backpack and read it on the bus/train/ferry/subway/trolley car no matter the size. War and Peace and Vanity Fair and Les Miserables may be hefty volumes but so are new books (and there’s always Frankenstein, Silas Marner, Pride and Prejudice, and Washington Square all old, all slim volumes).
Alexander also comments that E-readers as gifts this past holiday season was nearly twice the previous year. This isn’t surprising considering how many options for E-readers there are these days. It used to be your basic Kindle or a Nook, then the iPad came out, then all of a sudden there are multiple options within the Kindle family and Nook family. There are E-readers on which you can check your email and listen to Pandora, you can do crossword puzzles and surf the web, OR you can just read books and shop Amazon. You can work solely off of buttons on your device, or you can get a touch screen. You can have electronic ink or you can have an actual computer screen. It can be black and grey, or color! The options have gotten a little out of hand. But there are more options and therefore more reasons to get an E-reader and more reasons to use one (I have a friend who uses his Nook for checking his email and surfing the web - not reading).
Alexander also writes:
As any Kindle or Nook owner knows, e-reading devices come pre-loaded with at least one free literary classic, and the iBooks app for iPad includes Treasure Island.
as if already having a Classic book on an electronic reading device is going to inspire the average reader to explore more “classic” authors. (Also, I don’t think this is true; I think the only volumes that came on my Kindle were two dictionaries and the user’s guide — maybe things have changed in the past year.)
Along with his claim that people are choosing classic “free books” because they can’t afford new books and to pay their bills on time, Alexander maintains that E-readers and “free books” (and the current economy) are giving people the opportunity to read books they’ve been meaning to but haven’t. He writes:
On the other hand, that pang of guilt you feel every time you pass Tolstoy or Austen sitting unopened on your shelf now has an electronic remedy and one that didn’t cost you more than a little download time.
If you are passing unopened copies of Anna Karenina and Sense and Sensibility already on your shelf, why the hell would you download it? You can just pluck it off your self and read the damn thing. I feel plenty of guilt that I haven’t yet read Vanity Fair, Rebecca, Wuthering Heights, Perelandra and Swann’s Way as they sit unread on my bookshelves, but I’m not about to download them to my Kindle in hopes that having them in a slim electronic is going to get me around to reading them any faster! This is fantasy. This is like buying a gym membership and running on the treadmill twice. This is a New Year’s Resolution band aid that is merely easing your guilty mind. If you already have the hardcopy there is no reason to get a digital copy (unless your traveling and it’s an old favorite and you don’t want to bring a bunch of books on an airplane with you or backpacking around Europe or hitchhiking across the Pacific Northwest).
Ok, last peeve about an otherwise very well written and articulated, if not asinine, article: Alexander cites some well known, well read, largely downloaded “classic” authors and he adds:
Charles Dickens (who just celebrated his 200th birthday,)
Charles Dickens has been worm food for the past one hundred forty two years: he didn’t celebrate shit. People who lurve Dickens celebrated the 200th anniversary of his birth on 2.7.12. But that’s really just a pet peeve on my part.
The Classics are going to survive every reading fad humans can develop (that’s why they’re called Classics). But it is possible that the slightly lesser works may have a wider audience because of E-readers. Tolstoy and Hugo and Austen and Eliot and James and Wharton and Dumas and Dante and Ronsard and Voltaire and Emerson and Stevenson aren’t going anywhere and don’t need E-readers to keep people interested in them. If Tumblr has proved anything to me this past year its that Readers Are Everywhere. We are no Dying Breed. We are going to pass along our love for the written word no matter what Amazon and B&N do or don’t develop to “make it easier”. Writers, readers, educators, parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, Sesame Street and Reading Rainbow are going to get new readers interested in reading, not gadgets and devices. People are going to continue to read books new and old alike and they are going to do it however their odd, quirky brains see fit.