Last Sunday Michael Enright had an author, a bookseller and his “younger brighter cousin” on to talk about “how many books are too many?” They all indicated that you couldn’t have too many books, regardless of how much room they took up. So I just sent this reply to them via their online comment option:
Having your panel of bibliophiles discuss giving away books was kind of like having drug dealers discuss how they felt about police harrasment: they were all opposed to it. Go figure. I have a PhD in English and my wife has an honours English degree and we have too many books. There are many that our son reads and so it is good to keep lots around. But lets set limits.
I realized long ago that I will forget most of what I read, and I will never read Clarrisa or Pamela, so there are some things that can and should be given away. I really get bored when people drone on about the sensory nature of “the book” and how smelling it and turning pages makes them excited. Most of my books are paperbacks because they are cheaper, and reading them is awkward because the spines are never great. They can be awkward to hold and the large ones must be read sitting up. I’ve read the last 6 novels for our bookclub on my iPhone because it is portable and can always be found.
Buying an ebook means my wife and I can read the same book on different devices–she prefers our Sony eReader (the iPad is a great device but kind of large and heavy for an eReader). In fact, my wife could not read my yellowed paperback version of Crime and Punishment but the eReader let her choose the font. I love the fact that my iPhone or eReader allows me to choose from a variety of books depending on my mood, no matter where I am. Two years ago I was traveling and we had bought tickets to MacBeth in Stratford and I wanted to re-read it. So for a small fee I downloaded five Shakespeare plays to my iPod Touch and read MacBeth. And for $1 I purchased the Cliffs Notes for it on the iPod Touch as well!
I’m not suggesting that eBooks will every fully replace printed copies, but they have many advantages. I’m more interested in the words _inside_ the book than the book itself. And I appreciate the fact that having the book in electronic form allows me to get rid of some of our physical library.