Three Reasons to Keep Physical Books

Margaret Atwood is a Canadian novelist, poet, and essayist. She is best known for her novels, in which she creates strong, often enigmatic, women characters and excels in telling open-ended stories, while dissecting contemporary urban life and sexual politics. She is among the most-honored authors of fiction in recent history. In addition to the Arthur C. Clark Award-winning "The Handmaid’s Tale," her novels include "Cat’s Eye," which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, "Alias Grace," which won the Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy, and "The Blind Assassin," winner of the 2000 Booker Prize. "Oryx and Crake" was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2003. She was awarded the Prince of Asturias Prize for Literature in 2008. Her most recent novel is "The Year of the Flood."

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TRANSCRIPT

Question: How are eBooks changing the way we consume books and media?

Margaret Atwood: Well eBooks are another method of text delivery.  And I did run a... I ran a blog on this subject sometime ago and it was called "Three Reasons for Keeping Paper Books."  And the three reasons were:  solar flares which would wipe out communications, towers, and also any electronic media that you might happen to have stored.  Grid overload resulting in brown-outs which would have similar effects.  And internet overload.  Unless people are going to build the grid out more, going to build the net out more, There’s pretty soon not going to have much space on it because of all the spam and porn to the percentage of 95, I’m told.  So it’s very crowded out there.  

So building out the net, building out the grid and what are you going to do about the solar flares.  Well I guess a lead-lined box is about the best you can do.  All of these things point out the fact that electronic storage is pretty fragile.  If you want to keep something permanently, you should probably keep it in paper form and that is why an e-version of your Will is not acceptable.  Another reason is it’s very hackable and forgeable.  As I said, the net is leaky.  And a number of other legal documents, which of course drives people crazy because those paper things take up so much room.  So it’s a problem facing businesses, what to do with the paper?  What is the alternative to paper?  When can you use e-storage, etc.?  It’s also a problem for people, for instance, with small apartments who like to read, where are they going to put all the books?  

The e-reader gives you portability, it gives you instant accessibility and it gives you the possibility of having whole bunch of books with you at once on this little device.  So for that, it’s very, very handy.  Those are the pluses.  

I personally think it’s going to increase reading because you can acquire a book very quickly.  You don’t have to wait, you can just push the button and it’s there.  If you really like it and want to keep it, you may then go get a paper version.  It does remove the element of serendipity, by which I mean, you walk into a bookstore with the idea of getting this book and you see three or four other books that you really feel you must have, but you wouldn’t have known about them unless you run into the store.  So how to create in an e-version that experience of serendipity.  It’s really hard.  

So people are thinking about this a lot the other virtue of the e-reader may be that it’s helpful for kids who are having reading problems because they an isolate blocks of text and make the letters bigger.  So it makes it more visible.  They can see it better, maybe.  I don’t think they’ve done the studies on that yet, but it’s being talked about.

Recorded 9/21/2010
Interviewed by Max Miller


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