Of all the cool things—and believe me, there are many— I love about Ready Player One, or rather, about the fascinating world depicted in this recent blockbuster sci-fi by Ernest Cline every geek in the universe comes to love, one particular passage stands out:
It didn’t take me long to discover that the OASIS was also the world’s largest public library, where even a penniless kid like me had access to every book ever written, every song ever recorded, and every movie, television show, video game, and piece of artwork ever created. The collected knowledge, art and amusements of all human civilization were there, waiting for me.
For those who haven’t read the novel yet (are you serious!?), the OASIS is this massively online virtual reality world where everyone in this future dystopian world immerses themselves every day—because the real world suck balls.
Now tell me this is not the ultimate dream of every bibliophile out there. To have access to every single book ever written? To read any book of your choice, at any time, anywhere? And above all, for free? Hell yeah! Except, a voice at the back of my mind tells me: No, this is not it. This is not enough. Actually, it may not even be as good as it sounds—especially if it happens at the expense of the complete takeover of digital books over physical books.
Ask any of your avid reader family member/friend what his/her most memorable reading experience is. Chances are, they’ll say it happened when they were 5 years old. In a garden. In the school library. In an old used bookshop in London. On a summer evening. Tugged under the blankets on a dark stormy night. There are countless possibilities. They will tell you the most painstaking details of how it all happened, who was there with them, and how it was all very silly/random at first… And at some point, they’ll tell you, they picked up this particular book. Maybe it was The Hobbit. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. A Twinkle in Time. Pride and Prejudice. The Hunger Games. Even Twilight. They’ll tell you it was God’s very will. It was meant to be. They’ll tell you how it was as if they went mad, was hypnotized and mesmerized, and how they devoured the whole thing in a day/night/two straight days. And, here is the thing—they will tell you what the copy they discovered looked like. Yellowish with the smell of old books as if they were there since the beginning of the universe. Filled with notes and annotations on the margin their parents or the previous borrower/ owner of the copy left behind. Maybe it was 35 years ago. A decade and a half. When their first child was born. Regardless, I’m sure about one thing: the touch, the smell, the flipping, the firm/shaky grip… plowing meticulously through pages after pages after chapters and volumes are all part of the experience—none of it can be easily produced, recorded, and therefore recalled with the tiniest details had they read, as kids our age do now, on their smartphones or Kindles. The wholesome experience of reading a physical book, and the nuances associated with the human act of reading, can only be conducted by humans with a real book, a physical object that actually holds up some space in this physical world, one that you can hold, smell and flip through and remember.
So when, and why do I prefer a physical book? Glad you asked. It’s really quite simple. When I can answer with a confident enough voice, when I can see in my mind’s eye clear enough, that years from now, I would want to be remembering how I first read this book I just encountered. In short, if it holds the potential of becoming part of what makes my life worth living—and really deserves the space it will be occupying, then, yes, I’ll gladly take it to the checkout in where I found it, and bring it home.