In a Screen Age, the eye is glutted and the sense of touch is starved. The electronic book robs us of the erotics of paper. Sure an audio clip could emulate the sound of turning pages, just as a screen could impersonate a specific copy of a book – J. Edgar Hoover’s Lolita, say, replete with obscene marginalia (I’m making this up) – but never its feel.
Smart as it is, electronic paper can’t learn, by which I mean it can’t wrinkle at the touch of wet fingers turning pages in the bathtub; can’t remember the stained ring of that glass of red wine you imprudently used to hold your place; can’t speak volumes, from its margins and endpapers, about everyone who has ever jotted a thought in it. “Implicit in the possession of a book is the history of a book’s previous readings – that is to say, every new reader is affected by what he or she imagines the book to have been in previous hands,” writes Alberto Manguel in his marvelous A History of Reading.
The print medium’s saving grace, then, as any bibliophile knows who has ever caressed an onion skin page, inhaled the musk of old pages, run a satisfied finger along the serried ranks on her shelves. [Nicholson] Baker hints as much when he says, “I love the sound of turning pages. That’s one thing that paper does offer – that sound, as if you’re biting into an apple.”
Mark Dery reflecting on what he calls the “Gutenbook” in «Bound for Glory» in the July / August 2006 issue of Print.