Dirty Words: Why Can’t an Ebook Be More Like a Physical Book?

June 25, 2014 | Posted in Editorial Features by peterlandau


No one likes change, but it’s impossible to avoid and crucial (just ask your underwear). The publishing industry has been going through a major change for years now, from online booksellers and publishing houses fighting over minuscule margins to readers’ migrating choices of delivery vehicles, and on the other side of these conflicts will be the word, only no one knows how it will be written. 

The fact that change is coming is not debatable, but for the dirty book reader who is the target of this column, the question is how will our habits be impacted. The whole idea of sticky pages is untranslatable to the ereader. Digital pages don’t stick together. When confronted by the physical expression of pleasure, which accompanies the union of perverted reader to perverted text, the results can be expensive. Electronics and semen don’t mix.

Does that regulate readers of erotica, for lack of a better word, to becoming fetishists? Are we to be hairy palming through the dust mite and silverfish infested remainders of the last used bookstore in creation in search of our tactile high? Will the object hold greater significance than the ideas it presents? Does this detour our desires into a dead end?

It’s said that the brain is the sexiest organ, and that may be true, for housed in that gray matter is the spark that ignites and drives the tools to facilitate our arousal. It’s hand in glove, if you go that way. But the brain is an ugly knot of colorless clay without the hands to mold it into whatever turns us on. It’s the difference between the physical book and the ereader. Both tell a story, but so far only only has fulfilled the promise of that story’s theatricality. 

Think about it: an ereader is a dull slab, like staring into your desk lamp, it almost challenges you to read it. Talk about the soft sell, ereaders are like the conman who duplicitously acts as if you don’t need it. Stay away. Nothing to see here. There’s no tease, no foreplay, like we’re used to getting from our physical books. Where are the blurbs whispering to us like come-ons? Not on the back of the device. There you just find a notice prohibiting you from throwing out the thing because of its dangerous components. 

There is no romance to an ereader. No cover design, just the naked screen, a gynecological spread eagle that never takes flight but offers a shortcut to attraction through the basic elements of reproduction. Maybe that’s good for the guy who wants to wham bam, thank you, ma’am his way through the library, but some of us prefer to cuddle. My Kindle screen is a series of ads. Can’t it leave its work at the office? 

A physical book dresses up, puts on lingerie, struts its stuff from the shelf of the bookstore, calling you, playfully, colorfully, cleverly. Judge a book by it’s cover, then get under the covers with it, get to know the book, break its spine while reading, get rough, it can take it. An ereader, in contrast, is unmoving, stuck in its plastic ways, and if you try  something different, be a little adventuresome, you’ll get an error window. Crack its spine and you may get a shock. 

There’s no point in being dismissive of ereaders. Monks likely bemoaned Gutenberg his press. There was no substitute for an illuminated manuscript, but printing allowed everyone the opportunity to read. It also took generations of designers to develop the template for the book as we know it. Give the electronic designers some time to move away from the kitsch of digitally representing an old medium in a new medium. 

My wife suggested an ebook on how to turn on your wife. Just getting the email turned me on. The book is now on my phone and I’m eagerly swiping through its poorly formatted form. Because a book is only a container for a story that is only paragraphs made up of sentences made up of words made up of letters, which are only symbols, the ones and zeros of their time. 

Don’t fear the reaper, but don’t kill your darlings, either. There’s room in our perversions for a vast spectrum of prurient expression. One informs the other. And keep pushing on the borders, break things, make a mess and have fun. We have two hands, one for a physical book and the other for an ereader, but who will handle that growing desire which is the product of our reading? Find yourself a partner. Reading is a dialogue. It takes two. 

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