E-Books, Printed Books, and Axes

If I love a hardcopy book, then chances are good that I will still have that book in 20 years. I can pull that book down from my shelf and revisit whatever notes I wrote in the margins when I first wrestled with its ideas.

If I love an e-book, chances are not as good that I will still have it in 20 years. For digital media, 20 years is a long time. Across that length of time, it is likely that the e-reader I use will have been eclipsed by a different and better platform. The maker of the latest platform may or may not see value in supporting the legacy content I purchased for a different device. The “e” in e-book could stand for “ephemeral.”

As a result, I have this new consideration to factor in whenever I contemplate purchasing a book. Namely: Is this a book that has the potential to so elevate my thinking that I will want to be able to return to it, and return to the conversation I originally had with it, well into the future? Obviously, this is a tough call to make about a book I haven’t read yet.

We could call these great books “axes” in a nod to Franz Kafka. He wrote, “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.” Because of the problem of still-changing digital platforms, I tend to view books such as these as needing to be purchased and experienced in hardcopy. Axes, in other words, still need to kill trees.