Fetishism: Old-World Romantic Seeking Partner to Correspond Through Letters Only

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I am continually surprised by the reluctance of readers (especially those of my generation) to embrace the electronic book. I swear I've heard all of the responses mentioned in the "Of Two Minds" article, my favorite being "the smell of the paper." Seriously? I have never understood an obsession with musty paper and crumbling glue. I guess I was the only kid at the library who liked to request collection purchases just so I could get the book before any other patrons.

[Note: I'm probably going to offend someone who identifies with this statement. If this person is you, I apologize in advance.]

I think this response shocks me because the very people that often make this statement are those whom I know rarely read a book, print or otherwise. Instead, print book fetishism seems to be an indicator of cultural status, often making the statement, "I am an old-world romantic bibliophile who appreciates a more reflective time when we didn't connect through social media. I also love library catalog cards, hand-written letters, and other out-dated and inconvenient relics of a simpler time." While I agree that visceral experience is an important component of the reading process, I vehemently oppose the idea that digital books don't provide an experience of their own. This may differ from that of a print book, but by no means is it inferior.

The "The Cult of the Book" article touches on a similar concept--academia's lingering obsession with the superiority of print media. In fact, the university's preference for print may actually be a less ideal choice, for in an increasingly digital world, academia must embrace digital literacy in order to remain relevant. I feel like the reluctance of academia to accept electronic texts is, again, a cultural statement hearkening to a world composed of Great Book elitism.

So, after all that, I do identify with one of the remarks in the "Of Two Minds" article.

I still collect print texts. They're beautiful. I like mine crisp though; none of that crumbly glue stuff for me.



Abby's picture

I love your approach to the

I love your approach to the obsession some have with printed texts. Printed books do have their place; I agree with you that they are beautiful. However, I don't understand how they are superior. How do you think people can be broken of this printed book fetish? Or is this possible? Is there a way to set up e-texts as a supplement or complement to printed texts? Or will we need to wait for a generation that is not used to printed texts and is therefore more responsive to e-texts?

The Old-World Romantic Bibliophile

You hit the nail on the head with the statement: "I am an old-world romantic bibliophile who appreciates a more reflective time when we didn't connect through social media. I also love library catalog cards, hand-written letters, and other out-dated and inconvenient relics of a simpler time." That notion is hilarious but I think it's also exactly what many people who are reluctant to try e-books internally say. I know that it's more or less what I've been saying all this time in defense of bound books and no longer having a Facebook. Still, it's silly and I know I and all the other people who having been saying stuff like this probably just need to knuckle down and read an actual e-book before forming an opinion.

laura8's picture

I think your response hits

I think your response hits the nail on the head. To hold onto a dying form so vehemently is fetishism. Everyone might have certain printed texts to hold onto for any number of reasons, but this isn't enough reason to oppose e-books entirely. I own a large number of books that I am constantly working my way through and I found recently, that I don't want to keep some of them. I keep my bookshelves stocked with my favorites - those ones I like to go back to and read in printed form. But I also can't wait for an e-reader (preferably a Kindle because of its lighting factor), to handle when I'm traveling or just want a quick read to distract me during the day. Probably this hold onto printed texts will only completely dwindle when the younger generations age and any hold on printed books is relinquished.

While I largely agree with

While I largely agree with the statements you make in your post, I have to wonder if there is something more than pure fetishism behind the common linkage people cite between the "real" reading experience offered by print books and the allegedly less satisfying experience of reading digital copy. I tend to think that this has to do with the physicality/tangibility of print books vs the immateriality of digital texts. I think this is also more closely related to the consumer experience more so than the actual reading experience and that there is a certain amount of transference going on behind the scenes of these statements. For instance, when someone buys a print book they get in return a material product that they can see, feel, and smell (and taste if they are strange enough to lick the page or even hear if the story is frustrating enough to cause them to throw the book thus producing a loud thud when it touches down), but when people buy a digital book they get a file that can then be loaded onto a device and simply read. I think this in some sense devaluates the product in the consumers mind. I do, however, think there are ways that this problem can be addressed.

chelsiemess's picture

Jared, that's an interesting

Jared, that's an interesting thought! What do you think could be used to balance out the return for the consumer? What about electronic "extras" like the special features on DVDs? Or would additional content still be too intangible? That's definitely an issue the ebook industry needs to explore.