Thank you, Jonathan Franzen

Last night my friend Sue and I braved the cold and went downtown to hear author Jonathan Franzen speak.  Franzen is a novelist and essayist and holds strong opinions on any number of subjects.  He’s also charming and funny and scary smart.  It was a fascinating evening, and I went home slightly giddy from the rush of intellectual stimulation.

One thing he said in particular resonated with me.  Franzen is no Luddite (he was very adamant on this point, since he’s often called one), and contends that he’s a fan of much that technology has to offer, but at the same time he’s clearly concerned about the direction the world is going, what with the constant magnetic pull of smart phones and chatter of social media, including Twitter.  I couldn’t agree more, especially on this last point — I tried Twitter a while back for 48 hours and had to unplug it as it made my head spin.  He’s not fond of e-books, either, and spoke eloquently about “the quiet permanence of the written word.”

I love that.

“The quiet permanence of the written word.”

Personally, I don’t mind e-books.  My own e-book sales are brisk, thank you very much dear readers, and I would break down and cry if someone tried to take away the e-reader my sister gave me.  It’s an absolute life-saver when I travel — I’ll never run out of reading material on a cross-country flight again. Still, to my mind, reading an e-book simply can’t hold a candle to the particular joys of reading a physical book.  There’s the whole bookness of a physical book, for starters, its familiar form and feel, its intoxicating smell, its satisfying heft.  Having published fourteen of my own at this point, I also know exactly how much thought and care goes into every physical book on the shelf, from the dedicated editors who stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the writer to the gifted artists and designers who dream up the cover, select the font, and lay out the pages.  And in the case of children’s picture books, there’s another layer involved as well: the illustrator, whose artwork lights up the words.  A physical book is a labor of love and a work of art, truly.

And then there’s the actual experience of reading.  I don’t find I’m able to dive into a story on an e-reader in quite the same way I do with a book.  Eventually the story sucks me in and I’m not as conscious of the fact that I’m clicking a button or touching a screen to “turn the page,” but there’s still something vaguely disorienting about the whole thing.  I don’t like not being able to see both pages at once (and no, using an app on my laptop screen doesn’t do it for me either in this regard), and I don’t like not being able to flip ahead or back or know at a glance how much further I have to go to the finish line.  Plus, once I do get to the finish line, if the book is one I absolutely loved, I can’t pass the e-book version along to family or friends.

(Apparently I’m not alone in my preference, as a recent essay by Nicholas Carr in the Wall Street Journal points out.)

So all things being equal, I’ll take “the quiet permanence of the written word” that waits for me between the covers of a book any day of the week.  And thank you, Jonathan Franzen, for that beautiful phrase.


33 thoughts on “Thank you, Jonathan Franzen”

  1. I completely COMPLETELY agree!!!!! My family always asks me if I want a nook or kindle because if u can’t find me, I’m in a book. I always say back to them that I love the physical book so much better. Just like u said, there r so many joys of reading a real book. Thanks for posting that quote. It is totally correct. 🙂 it might be my motto now.

  2. Okay, you totally just said what I think. Sometimes I feel like Im weird because Im 16 and think that this is not the way it should be, that this is not leading us in a good direction at all, that i think exactly what you said. But oh well. Im thinking it no matter what. 🙂
    Thank you!

  3. that sounded like a good presentation. Also, I totally agree about the e-books. I have problems with my vision and so the school district gave me an ipad to use in class and for me to do my reading on it. I was ok at first and didn’t see a difference but now, halfway through the 1st year with my school ipad i would defiantly get a real book, even though it does help me see it better. But i do say that its better than getting made fun of for a large print book twice the size of the real thing:(

    • Tatum, the iPad sounds like a great solution for you. The thing is, there’s nothing wrong with e-readers, they’re useful and can be fun and as I said I use both. But my preference is a real book! 😉

  4. I agree 100%!!! This is beautiful thank you for bringing it to people’s attention I could not have said it better.

  5. I don’t prefer one over the other. I like my kindle fire but I also like everything a real book has to offer.

  6. Amazing Phrase! I don’t have any technology but i don’t mind because I certainly could curl up with a book better

  7. I totally agree about how much better a book is than an e-reader! Although when i read more challenging books (like when i read Pride and Prejudice) I read it on an ipad because there was so many helpful things like the definition of words and easy ways to bookmark and comment on things. But i just love the way a book feels so much more!

    • Now that’s the perfect use for an e-reader! I’m not against them at all — love mine, as I said. 😀

  8. I totally agree. I don’t have an e-reader, and I don’t need one. Reading just isn’t really the same when I’m staring at a screen instead of an actual page. And I love the feel of turning pages. But I can see how an e-reader would be useful when traveling. My family does a month long trip each summer so maybe an e-reader would be useful then.

  9. I agree. Books are so special to me. I personally hate e-readers. There’s something about diving into a book that’s so special to me…

    Heather, I am on Heaven to Betsy! I love it!

  10. I was against getting an e-reader at first, but now I can’t imagine not having one. I have gotten wrapped into the many novellas and mini series that authors only publish via e-reader. I agree though that having a real book in your hands is a totally different experience. I also enjoy that you can lend kindle books, so for my friends that live far away I can lend them the book for free instead of shipping it. I understand though why people have different opinions on this subject. I also hope that e-books never replace paperbacks. 🙂

    • They definitely have their strong points, Elizabeth. I’ve got to figure out how to lend e-books. Can you do it with all of them, or just some?

      • Only some books can be lent. When you view the book on amazon, if in the product details it says Lending:Enabled, the book can be lent. Then you lend it by email, and the person gets it almost as if you gifted the book. Depending on how long you chose to lend it, you get the book back in 7+ days.

  11. I love e-books and don’t think there’s much of a difference. The words are never changed and that’s what’s important to me.

  12. I totally agree! I use both, I have an Ipad for when I need a book on the fly, I can get one. There is nothing better then have a well loved book in your hands. This is when Eva Bergson would say “When you have good books you have good friends.” ands thats exactly how I feel about books.

  13. I’ve wanted to get a Nook for some time now but I’m just not sure how much I would like reading a book on a screen. I love the feel of having a book in my hand. One thing that I’ve seen though are Nook cases that are made out of books so that you still get the feel of the book when you’re reading. What do you think? I love that quote by the way. That little sentence says so much! 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • Nooks are totally cool — there’s nothing wrong with e-readers (and I agree that the cases are really fun). I like the idea of a case made out of books. Very funny!

    • If you have trouble reading on a back-lit screen you might want to opt for an e-reader that isn’t backlit.

  14. I. Am. In. Love.
    That quote is definitely getting a spot in my journal (I was inspired by Emma Hawthorne to make a journal with quotes and inspirations).
    But on a totally different topic, I wanted to say something. I got the boxed set of the MDBC for Christmas (I wanted my own copies of all the books) and I realized I’ve never read the whole series in order! So I went to re-read MDBC and I’m so glad I did. I am constintly laughing at how differently they are acting in this book than WYWE! I also realized how much you foreshadow to other books in the series, like how it says that Emma has never been to Europe and Mrs. Sloane is such a good cook that she could have her own T.V. show! So I just wanted to thank you because I’ve realized that I can re-read this series a million and one times and still be glued to the pages each and every time.

  15. Plus all of the Mother Daughter Book Club books are on my nook. I have Wish You Were Eyre in hardcover because my teacher paid for it and everything. Lol,I got it on Halloween. I have Wish You Were Eyre on my nook anyway though.

  16. I got a nook a while ago as a gift, and thought I’d take it on trips. And I did for a while, but discovered that I would search for anything and I mean anything to read before I’d resort to the ebooks on my nook. Crazy, right? I don’t take it as often when I travel now. It’s gathering dust on a shelf, I’m afraid.

  17. Really? I love my nook and trust me I used to do the exact same thing,Shauna. But now I read all the time on it. For a long time I even got it lost. You’ll like it someday. Or you know you could give it to me if you want to be generous. 😉

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