Years ago, when music started to be distributed electronically, I was dismayed. The cover art, the liner notes, the dust jacket, and the printed lyrics of a record album were all part of the musical experience for me. These palpable features disappearing quickly in the days of MP3s and the iPod, and I miss those parts of my music. But now I can have all of my songs in a little box no bigger than my wallet and carry it with me wherever I go. Clearly I'm willing to trade the physical objects for convenience, and so are many others.
What has happened to recorded music is now happening to books.
Since we're among friends here, I won't wax lyrical over the beautiful, romantic nature of books. As you know, we would quickly become lost in descriptions of charming bookstores, in the smell of old paper, in the feeling of running our fingers over the spines. Let's take those delights for granted.
Let's also admit that such romance can be taken to foolish extremes. I have been known to borrow a book from a friend, read and enjoy it, go buy my own copy--and never pick up and read that book again. Owning the book itself brought me some happiness or satisfaction ... but was owning it necessary? Was it even a healthy impulse? Or is that temptation something to overcome?
There are days when I think I should not need to own, to revel in, and, yes, to show off all the books I've read. I honestly can't tell, in my house furnished with books, if I'm showing facets of my personality and signaling that I'm part of the literary tribe, or just demonstrating my vanity.
My books do represent what I consider important, however, and I love walking into a fellow reader's house and seeing books there also. By contrast, we all know that vaguely sad feeling of entering a house and seeing no books on the shelves.
But imagine a world where you could carry around thousands of books at a time, accessible at a...