Marshall McLuhan once famously wrote that the medium is the message. I must confess that I have not read his work so can’t speak with any authority on what exactly he meant. But I take his words to mean that the medium (book, film, marble, canvas, etc.) and the message (written story, visual story, sculpture, painting, etc) are one and the same thing. Perhaps he had a point!
I used this poster on my Facebook page a few days ago, expecting a discussion on how central a hobby reading is to various people. I got that, but I also got a discussion of whether books are better than e-books. I get this a lot on my Facebook page. Many readers make a distinction between the two–and if there is one, well, it goes without saying that books are better. What are we actually saying, though, when we reason this way? That e-books are not books? But the paper book and the electronic book are just two different media to convey the same experience, aren’t they–the reading of a story? Aren’t the medium and the message different things after all?
We can certainly have our preference between the two. Some of us prefer paper books to the exclusion of all else. Some of us far prefer the electronic book. And some like the audio book best of all. I am not fond of audio books, mainly because I can’t concentrate on the sound of someone else’s voice in my head. It has to be my own voice. But I love both paper books and electronic ones. I love the look and feel of paper books as well as the smell and the ease of flicking from page to page to check names or details. I love the look of books on tables and in bookcases. I love bookstores and cover art. On the other hand, I love the convenience of my Kindle–its light weight, the facts that I can carry a whole library around with me anywhere in the world and that I can read it one-handed. I like to be able to vary the size of the print and not to have to worry about overflowing bookcases. I love being able to select a new book right on the device and being able to start reading it within minutes.
What really surprises me is the passion with which some people conduct the debate as if there is a right or wrong answer to the question of which medium is better and as if everyone who reads via the other medium is just simply wrong. Yet each medium presents the same story for the enjoyment of the reader. Several months ago I even had a scolding on my Facebook page from someone who called me a hypocrite for doing my reading on Kindle when I expected other readers to buy my paper books. Huh? As the poster above says, does it really matter how we read, only that we do read? I am very thankful that I am still surrounded by many of my books in physical form, including those in the two large bookcases in my bedroom. I am equally thankful that my book purchases no longer have to depend upon rare trips to the city and the nearest bookstore 100 miles away. I had to ration my reading in those days.
I will be interested to read your comments on this topic. And I must say a special thank you for all the thoughtful and fascinating comments you made on last week’s blog. The three winners of my Christmas book are Katherine Martell, Stacey Altavilla, and Anita H . Since that book, A CHRISTMAS PROMISE, is still not out in this new edition, I’ll offer it again this week to one person who leaves a comment below.