E-books don

This may be the electronic age, but when it comes to reading, I prefer the technology of a much older generation.

Electronic books haven’t been as popular as some anticipated, and after checking out a few e-books on a Palm m500, it’s easy to understand why.

Reading is about much more than just taking in information. It’s an aesthetic experience and a physical process, which the existing e-books of today can’t come close to emulating or replacing.

The experience of reading begins in the bookstore – I love browsing through bookstores in search of an interesting read. The last thing I want to do in the few precious hours of leisure I have afforded to me, is spend them in front of a computer. I already spend enough time during the workday staring at my fuzzy monitor. I can’t pick up and leaf through books on the ‘net. I prefer small independent stores with knowledgeable staff or used bookstores that are brimming over with books. And, despite the fact that there are whole tables dedicated to Oprah’s picks, even mega-stores such as Indigo have more charm to offer than your average e-book Web site.

I also have qualms about forking over cash for bits of information. It’s all too abstract for me. When I buy something, I need to be able to see it and physically hold it in my hands. I can’t feel a sense of ownership for something sitting in my computer, which is at the mercy of every computer hacker out there. Books are more than just a source of entertainment and enlightenment to me – they’re also furniture. My apartment would seem rather empty without the bookshelves.

And when it comes time to read, I much prefer the crisp white pages (or tattered yellow pages) of books to the glare of a screen. No matter where I sat or at what angle I held my Palm, it seems there was always a glare shining off the screen, which was a bit distracting, to say the least. And the font on the e-books were reminiscent of the old dot matrix printer days.

I have to admit the fonts are much clearer with Microsoft Reader technology, but they’re still nowhere near the resolution of the printed page. And my old-fashioned books never die on me, refusing to open because I’ve neglected to charge them.

Rather than an enjoyable pastime, reading e-books felt more like a chore – something to be gotten through.

Of course, as with most things, there may be a place for e-books. They could never replace real books, at least not for me, but I wouldn’t have minded owning a few e-books back in my university days. It would have saved my back a lot of aggravation if my English 101 books were available in electronic form. Rather than lugging around various Norton anthologies, I could have downloaded the poem or book we were discussing for the day. The m500 is small enough to fit into my wallet and weighs practically nothing. Of course, when it came time to actually read the material to be discussed, I would still turn to the paperback version.

E-books may also be a way to find rare and out-of-print material. While searching through the Web for something to read, I was pleasantly surprised to find Booth Tarkington’s Alice Adams a book I’ve been looking for in used bookstores in vain. Best of all, the electronic version was free – available for download at the University of Virginia’s site. It’s good to know, that even though the book isn’t out there in most bookstores, it still exists in some format or other. But while you can be sure I downloaded it, you can also be sure that I’m not giving up my search for a more concrete version. And yes, I know I could probably find it through a rare books Web site, but that would be too easy and not nearly as much fun.