The Novel is Dead, Long Live the Novel

“The novel’s not dead, it’s not even seriously injured”

Don DeLillo

There were rumors for a long time that physical books would soon be something of the past. Bookstores would go out of business and libraries would become extinct. Once books could be bought for cheap, and hundreds could be carried with you wherever you went no one would want to read those big, bulky things.

Everyone thought that was where we were headed. They were sure, 100% sure, that physical books were dying. My heart broke at the thought, but I looked to the future and tried to keep up with the wave of technology.

 I tried to read a few books on my iPad. I got through The Shining and On Writing by Stephen King on it; I tried a few classics too. I set up bookshelves and wishlists and tried to keep an open mind. I liked that I could highlight different passages in different colors, I liked that I could take notes, and I liked that I could easily read more than one book at a time. All the features were there, but the experience was somehow lacking.

Maybe it’s just me, but I cannot stand to read books on a screen.

“I need to experience books, not just read them.”

 Lauren Morrill, Meant to Be

The enjoyment of a book starts before you even buy it. There is no place like a bookstore or even a library. The atmosphere feels serious, focused, but not somber. The people are happy to be there. It’s a quiet joy. The joy of being among the words of so many writers. The joy of being among whole worlds and volumes of information. The awe of our ability to contain so much within the small space between cover and cover. The bookstore feels as close to a place of real magic as you can get.

You might be there for a specific book, or might be there because, like me, you go because you just like bookstores. You go because the world has overwhelmed you and you need a place where nothing is rushed, and there is no need to be “cool”. Here you can be you and spend hours among others who are into what you are. There is no subject not covered in a books store. I promise you there is something for everyone.

However, you got there, whatever you are there for, you have to take the time to take the place in. You have to walk up and down the aisles. You have to pick up a few books, leaf through the pages and read the back to find out what it’s about. You might find 3 or 5 that sound interesting. You will carry them through the store, and at some point you will stop and make the heartbreaking decisions about which ones you will have to leave behind. No matter what book you came for the book you buy will be the one that feels right.

You can’t find that with a list of books you scroll on a screen. You can’t feel the weight of the book. You don’t feel how much the pages and cover bend as you roll it. You can’t flip to a random page and read a little before you. You can’t flip to the back and read the last line. You can’t smell the pages.

After you browse and flip and browse some more, you will have to make a choice. You have fallen in love with them all. You either you break your own heart to leave them behind, or you decide you can’t handle that hurt, and you will buy them all. When you get them home you’ll find a safe place to put them, a place apart from the other book you have read and loved and put aside. They’ll be there until each has their time with you. Ultimately you’ll set them aside too. You won’t forget them. You’ll always love them, but you have to move on.

“Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs by elevators.”

Stephen Fry

I don’t care what anyone says, you can’t feel that way about a book on a screen. You might feel something close, but it just isn’t the same. Even with all the bells and whistles, all the features and deals, you just can’t fall in love with that.

With some things, moving from analog to digital might perfect the product but for some things, the entire experience is wrapped up in the imperfections. Who hasn’t heard that the highest streaming quality from iTunes and Spotify doesn’t compare to the warm sound of vinyl? You can’t fall in love with a download file. You fall in love with album art. You put time into caring for it. You treat it with respect, and it becomes a sacred object. You show it off to your friends. You play it for people you love. You fall apart if it gets destroyed.

Books are the same.

They mean something. Every dog-eared page, every bend in the cover, every stain, and every note made in the margins is a physical memory and a point of pride. You loan it out to people you trust. You give and get them from the people you love. They are sacred objects.

“If the novel is dead, I’m a necrophiliac.”

Tiffany Madison

I buy big bulky books now, again. I shove them into pockets and let them weigh down my backpack. I dreamt to devouring them one after the other on my iPad, but I have been reminded it I better to devote a bit of my life to each one. Every book I own is a sacred object. I will browse my own bookshelves and flip through each, remembering what I liked and marking all the ways I caused damage by being careless. I arrange and rearrange them by size and set a few out to be loved again if I cannot find a new one or am struck by the urge to visit the past.

If some love to read from a screen, I guess I can’t judge. More reading, no matter what the delivery method, is always a good thing. You can still learn a lot and discover new places, people, and times by reading from a screen. You can still stimulate your brain and your heart too. I won’t deny that.

But you will never convince me that I will find everything there that I find in my physical books. No matter what features you add you will never convince me to leave them behind. They will always be a part of this world and if they aren’t I hope I’m not too.

***

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Written in response to The Daily Post’s Discover Challenge: Analog

Featured image via Unsplash

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Lisa

Hello! My name is Lisa. I find the human condition fascinating and I often write stuff about that. I blog at zenandpi.com but you can also find me on Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram, and if you like what I do, consider signing up for my newsletter. Thanks :)

13 thoughts on “The Novel is Dead, Long Live the Novel”

  1. 100% agree with your sentiments. I will never abandon physical books. Book stores and libraries are my favourite places to go to if I’ve got a bit of time to kill and nowhere to go.
    Really liked the little quotes you put throughout the post as well, especially that Stephen Fry one!

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    1. I liked that quote best too! I think it really explained the situation well. Of course there is a market for eBooks, same as there is for elevators and escalators, but we will always need stairs and we will always need books. It is a comforting thought :)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My habit of going to the bookshop often, started when I was in primary school. We used to get discount coupons as prizes for various activities. And we used to buy a huge bundle of books. After I changed the school, the habit of going to the bookshop stayed intact, in fact it has turned into a ritual now.

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    1. Mine started when I was young too. I volunteered to work in the school library when I was young, maybe 7th or 8th grade. It’s funny I didn’t remember that until just now. I loved being among all those books. When I grew up I never quite got out of hanging out in those libraries. I wasn’t very good at returning books, though. I think that’s why I started hanging out in bookstores. I wanted to keep them forever I suppose lol

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Love for books never ends I guess. I love having a bundle of books I haven’t read, at all times. I just don’t know why.

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  3. This is Exactly. My feeling. I bought a nook (B&N’s e-reader) when I realized my bookshelves had no more room, and I had no room for more bookshelves, but I hardly ever use it. It’s good for having something to read when I’m caught off guard in a long line, or have a solo lunch break.

    My thing with actual books, is sometimes I have to flip back a few pages if I’ve put the book down a while. I’m visual, so I’ll recognize a part and restart from there. You can flip to a page you recognize as easily electronically.

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  4. Lovely blog. So agree…. thanks. I like to revisit a novel, read again, mark bits I enjoy. I use kindle to review books as I have to read them fast..and that’s the point…you read differently on a screen..you just don’t seem to linger…it’s harder to get into the story. May there always be books…so that we can read them, and I can go on writing them!

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