They cannot be copied or bought at a bargain. They cannot be wrapped up beautifully and thoughtfully given away as gifts on special occasions. When you finish reading an e-book, you can not share it like a meaningful photograph that can be framed and set up and looked at in your home. Even if the cover is beautiful and included -- alas -- the machine needed for its viewing must be shut off and recharged. An e-book cannot catch your eye on a shelf years later, so that you pick it up and enjoy it all over, again. Nor can it be left out for someone else to notice and say, "What's this? Was it good?" and then lent. Some e-books even disappear after a certain period of time... I don't know where they go. Thus, an e-book is an isolated experience for one person, alone, and while they may add to your general knowledge, you cannot really "own" one in the traditional sense of the word.
In the beginning, e-books were a boon because they allowed wide and immediate distribution of information and some fine literature for pennies on the dollar, as long as you didn't mind losing some of the versatility and longevity of a traditionally printed book. This form of media even paved the way for a massive database of rare and otherwise lost volumes and manuscripts that -- without the labor of love from a worldwide force of volunteers known as the Gutenberg Organization -- would never have been accessible to the common public. All for free. These last few years are the first in history where any child with a computer can thumb through the original Da Vinci notebooks to get an idea for a school science project. That in itself is priceless. Of course I like e-books. I like them in the same way that I like the future.
But I do not love them.
Not the way I can love a physically bound and traditionally printed book. Accessibility of knowledge aside, I love print books mostly because of the human connection. They are touchstones to other lives. They are vehicles for time-travel to other centuries in places that no longer exist anymore. They are windows into moments of emotion that have come and gone for someone, detailed so poignantly that those same emotions register on your own heart, impossible miles and too many years away to reach all by yourself.
One of my most prized possessions is a half-century old copy of an autobiography of WWII hero, Eddie Rickenbaker. Not so much for what the pages contain (although they moved me deeply), as for the author's signature inside. The thought of that book resting beneath the hands of that man -- one of my own heart's heroes -- surviving and then finding its way to me so many years later, encourages me. It incites my soul to better things. It taps me on the shoulder of my innermost being as I stand in a crowd of hundreds pouring over thousands of ravaged, discarded books, and says, "Look -- it's me -- I'm still here."
Print books have great capacity for human connections beyond their author's original intent. Some of them have attained "baraka," as an ancient culture once described items that had gained a life of their own from having been used by many others. I like that I can pick up a used textbook and find the previous owner has already highlighted all the important parts. I like that the spots and spills on certain pages of my grandmother's cookbook came from real moments in her life because she is no longer here, and I miss her. Once, I even thought I smelled cinnamon. My own father is nearing the century mark and no longer possesses the mental agility and quick wit of his earlier days. But in reading over a volume in his personal collection of Churchill writings he wanted me to have, there were a few scribbled comments from some of his own brilliant moments... and I am reminded.
Some of my print books come from places I will never visit but they miraculously take me to them. Some I love because I so love the people who gave them to me. Some I love so much that I must give them away because there is life and hope in them: the usable kind that someone I care for needs desperately today. Sometimes (and for reasons unknown to me) I am driven to share my most special treasures. I can honestly say these treasures are more valuable than money to me. I like it that they are all mine to collect and save and do with as I please. They allow me to surround myself with the accomplishments of others here in my study as I work away year after year at trying to accomplish something of my own. I take invaluable pleasure from them. They give me strength. They encourage me. They connect me. And sometimes if I listen hard enough...
I can hear heroes.
What's happening on the farm today... snow on the ground, overcast skies, and the goats only venturing so far as to stick their heads out of their cozy barn and say, "Whaaat? It's no time to be having kids no matter how far we are overdue. Bah! Bah! Bah!"