When Books Die

IF YOU’RE A WRITER (read: late shift barista), a literary academic (read: writer without talent but who has a PhD), or a book enthusiast (someone with a real job), you’ve no doubt been dragged in to the conversation, argument, or cockfight about books versus eBooks.

Those on the side of the dead tree cite the book as an artifact, and how to enjoy literature you need to be able to hold it, dog ear its pages, shove it under your Ikea coffee table so that your smokes stop rolling off. Those on the side of the digital eBook argue that we no longer start fires by banging rocks together, or ride horses to work, or prevent couples in love to marry no matter their sexuality, because we’ve evolved as a people.

As a writer myself, I’m just impressed when someone chooses something of mine to read over James L. Patterson or some thing about wizards, and frankly I don’t care if they read it off the backside of a Puerto Rican virgin as long as I get a cut. But writers are fickle, horrible people, and for the most part they want you to read books that eliminated thirty percent of the Argentine rainforest only to sit unread in a publishers warehouse.

So here, below, is the definitive final word on the argument that eBooks are better than book books, one that will be cited when your children learn about the death of the book in university years from now. On their tablets. Without pens.

1. Books are Killing Trees
Rainforests are depleting exponentially year after year, so why isn’t  Matt Damon telling us to go digital? If books were made from the critically endangered Brown Spider Monkey, PETA, the IUCN, and Jason Bourne  would all be telling us to switch to eBooks immediately, or stop reading altogether.

Is deforestation of the Amazon worthy of the latest collection of concrete poetry or reprinted French philosophy? Do we really need to clearcut Indonesia so that teenage girls can read about vampires having intercourse with werewolves and zombies? Is another season of American Loggers in the name giving grad students more thesis subjects really worth it when there’s a viable option that would promote sustainability? Bad Will Hunting for not getting out in front of this issue.

2. Books are Heavy
Have you ever helped your buddy move in the dead of winter to a sixth-floor walkup when all your other friends claimed to be busy even though they weren’t because unbeknownst to you your buddy had never thrown out a book, even still owning his grade six science text? Of course you have, so you’ll know the pain and frustration of helping said buddy carry six thousand books weighing the equivalent of a water-soaked elephant holding a Honda Civic. You know how much those books weigh on your Kindle or iPad or BlackBerry Bottle Rocket XII Elite? Nothing. Like, literally nothing.

3.  Books are Flammable (Inflammable? No, flammable. Flammable)
Look, everyone like to enjoy their favorite tome of Latvian experimental poetry late at night, half-cut on gin and painkillers, with a pack of Camels, am I right? You know what happens when you pass out at 3 am while reading Uldis Bērziņš’ Daugavmala and you drop your smoke into the book? Your apartment burns down and you have to move in with your mother, that’s what. You know what happens when you drop a smoke onto your eReader? You spend a day arguing with a Staples clerk that the half-cylinder burn was there when you took the Kindle out of the box, that’s what.

4. Books are Elitist
Don’t you hate it when you’re hanging out with your buddy, and he won’t shut up about how he’s “really getting into Foucault again” and that he “can’t wait for the new Žižek to come out,” like he’s trying to impress a grad student with deep rooted daddy issues?

The problem is that some assholes actually read those books, and will look down on you if they drop by the pub and you’re flipping through Twilight: Breaking Dawn, because, man that Bella is a piece of work, and then you get made fun of and the cute waitress who was totally in to you is now hanging with your Foucault-reading buddy at the bar swooning at his talk about The Use of Pleasure and other books no one cares about outside of universities. With an eReader, no one knows what you’re reading, and it’ll be our little secret. Bring on The Hunger Games and bring home that waitress.

5. Books are Weapons
Have you ever told your wife that her younger sister was “kind of hot, like a younger, tighter version” of her and that if you weren’t together then you would probably see if she wanted to go see Breaking Dawn Part I with you because you think that you’d have a lot in common with a first-year Liberal Arts major who wasn’t alive when Kurt Cobain was, while your girlfriend was trying to read The Carrie Diaries?

Well, let me tell you, when she starts smacking you with that book, it’s going to hurt. A lot. And when she stops hitting you and throws her half-glass of chardonnay in your face, it’s going to sting when it gets into those fresh paper cuts. You would have to do something really stupid to get beaten with an eReader, because those things are expensive and if it gets to the point in your life when your partner is hitting you with an iPad, you’ve got bigger problems than I can help you with and she probably doesn’t even have a hot sister.

6. Books are the New Cassette
Look, I love books. Love them. I’ve read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas about thirty-seven-and-a-half times, and I’m still angry about the time my buddy Rich tore a filter off the cover. I am that guy who refuses to throw out a book, and I have angered friends by filling a 48 gallon Rubbermaid container with old copies of Sweet Valley High, before telling them my new apartment was on the eighth floor and there’s no elevator.

But you know what didn’t aggravate their hernia? A box of cassettes that would no doubt be fragments of plastic and unwound tape by the time I opened it, because cassettes are obsolete. The technology changed. For the better. No one’s rocking out to INXS on their yellow Sony sports walkman anymore, and for good reason. You know who still has cassettes? The dude who can’t wait for the new Žižek. You know why? Because he’s a hipster dick who thinks it’s ironically cool.

Note: No trees were harmed in the production of this column. Some feelings were hurt, and my wife moved out, and I spilled some gin on my MacBook so now my function key doesn’t work and for some reason I can’t open any document with “buttermilk” in the title. But no trees. 


Mike Spry is the author of JACK (Snare Books, 2008), which was shortlisted for the 2009 Quebec Writers’ Federation A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry, and he was longlisted for the 2010 Journey Prize. His most recent work is Distillery Songs(Insomniac Press, 2011). He lives in Toronto.

Illustration by Lasse Mathiesen Køhlert. Check out his work here and here.

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