There’s a quip I sometimes use at the conclusion of a book purchase. It’s meant to be amusing but also contains a serious grain of truth. When the customer is in a good mood, my occasional comment as I hand over the selected items is, “These are ready for immediate use the moment you get home.”
Before you get the wrong idea, I’m not about to launch into a diatribe against ebooks. They have found a wide audience and the technology is here to stay. For me, however, ink and paper will always be the preferred book format and if I had to make a list of reasons to support my opinion the first one would be accessibility.
An ebook requires a reading device and a power source. Without electricity, the device becomes inert and any books stored inside are stuck in cyber-limbo. A stack of conventional books on a table, like the Staff Favorite display at Annie Bloom’s, is accessible to everyone who comes in the store. There are no buttons to push. A book made of paper and ink is always “on.”
Sharing is also easily accomplished. Here’s something I’ve witnessed more than once: a customer holding several books comes to the counter accompanied by a friend and during the transaction the friend picks up one of the books and says, “I think I’d like this. This looks really good!” The buyer then replies, “Then you read it first. I’ve got these others to keep me busy.” You can’t play that scene with an ebook.
Another thing you can’t do with electronic editions is write in them. I’m a non-fiction fan and being able to cite reliable sources is one of my obsessions. My collection of books about World War Two, Korea and Vietnam is filled with Post-Its marking important pages and copious notes scribbled in the margins.
I have no plans to part with the annotated books, but there are a whole lot of volumes in my personal library that are under constant review and may eventually find new owners. Books should be out in the world circulating, not sitting idly on a shelf. The process of reading is the best way for information and ideas to be disseminated and debated, and a population of avid readers helps keep society intellectually energized.
So while it’s a great feeling to be surrounded by books when I’m on the job, what feels even better is seeing those books heading out the door with customers who are eager to start turning the pages. And if you’re eagerly looking for suggestions, three recent releases I’m currently recommending are Wilson by A. Scott Berg, The Deserters by Charles Glass and The Skies Belong To Us by Brendan Koerner. Each book is brimming with facts about this country’s past that too many Americans have forgotten or never knew about in the first place.
So what, you may wonder, is my absolute favorite paper and ink title? I always say it’s the one I just sold, the one that’s no longer on display. Wherever it goes, it will be accessible to any reader who holds it. No assembly required. Batteries never needed.
Jeffrey Shaffer is a bookseller at Annie Bloom’s Books in the historic Multnomah Village district of southwest Portland. His relationship with Annie Bloom’s began in the 1990′s when the store’s booksellers enthusiastically sold his two humor collections I’m Right Here, Fish-Cake and It Came With the House. He continues to blog about politics and popular culture for Huffington Post and also contributes to the “Modern Parent” blog at the Christian Science Monitor.