Jonathan Franzen is grandstanding about how e–books are going to destroy civilization or something like that. Part of me just wants to say, “Yes, like the printing press did. Or the paperback.” Yet… Penguin expanded the reach of literature. Printing expanded the reach of books. And e–books will—even are—doing the same. Because they are free, I know people reading classics and exploring older works of history. If the reactionary principle is to not read anything that isn’t at least a hundred years old, e–books are a revolution in reaction.
More seriously, anyone who thinks that “serious readers” will always prefer printed books has never used a Kindle for very long. It is just as comfortable to read as a book, has less glare, weighs less and can hold more books. You can even underline and have your passages all in a nice text–file. Researchers can have their books on their laptops with the citations already there. And so on. While I will never prefer an e–book for every kind of reading, I do more of my reading on my Kindle every month, and nearly all of my fiction and history reading. I cannot imagine having bothered to take something like The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt on a plane with me before even though (at about six hundred somewhat dry pages) it only lasted me part of one leg of a transatlantic flight. For someone like me who plows through reading material, the Kindle is my best friend as a traveler.
Those who have serious concerns about what e–books will do to culture would be better off talking about the proper ways to use them and how to adapt to the technology rather than recoiling from it. We see how well simple resistance to the internet, and not talking about it, worked out, right?