I was watching The Colbert Report last night, because, well, I love it, and the guest that was on was Nicholas Negroponte. He is heading up the foundation: One Laptop per Child. It’s a great idea – get laptops and technology into the hands of children in developing nations. It helps with education and empowerment. However, he mentioned it as the death of books, saying that if you can hold 10,000 books in one laptop, you would never need an actual book. And I’m not sure how I feel about that.
A friend of mine who’s currently traveling is considering buying a Kindle. At first (and sometimes still), I thought that was a fantastic idea. It is a huge hassle to carry books around – they’re heavy! And once you’ve finished one, your never guaranteed to find an English language book that you actually want to read at a hostel or in the town you’re visiting. Case in point – in Saranda, Albania, the only English language books for sale in town were English: Albanian dictionaries. They had Sarah Palin’s autobiography in Albanian, but no English language books. And the books at the hostel were pretty much trashy crime novels. It would have been great to be able to access an English language bookstore at my fingertips with a Kindle or an iPad.
But isn’t there something about a book itself? The feel of it? The way you can leave it for others to read, or save it to put on a bookshelf at home? I have a copy of Catch-22 that I read years ago by the pool – the pages are wrinkled at the bottom from the water when I would rest it on my stomach as I read in my deckchair, and seeing those pages always brings me back to that moment – the heat of the summer, the kids yelling and splashing in the pool. I’m not going to get that kind of memory from an electronic reader.
I have made my students in all of my classes actual read and use a book for all of their projects. They complain that they can use the internet to find information much quicker and much easier. I make the claim that I want them to physically have a book that they can see and touch and (as I saw someone doing in the library today) smell.
A few years ago, I took a class about literature and globalism. I learned several things from that class. The one that has stuck with me the most is that graduate students in English are, on a whole, fairly annoying, quite snobby, and completely separated from the real world. But on a more relevant note, we discussed the globalization of books, and how books are spread/translated/read throughout the world. I always had a fascination with the idea of airport books – if a book is being sold in an airport, it is literally traveling the world. So if a child in India or Zimbabwe can have at their fingertips 10,000 books – what books would they have? Would they be books by Western authors? Books from local writers? How would this be determined? And while it may be the only way to get books to these kids, shouldn’t they get actual books as well? Or am I overthinking, entrenched in my English major fascination and dedication to physical books?