By Frank Werner
The other day, I was having a very nice cup of coffee with Tante Trude in one of the old-fashioned cafès one still occasionally finds in Germany.
“Tell me, dear boy”, she said, pointing with her fork, “what is that little leather book you are always carrying around?”
I told her it was an electronic book. She was fascinated.
“An electric book? What does it do? Does it have a little lamp so you can read in the dark?”
“No, it’s an electronic book. In fact”, I said, opening my Kindle, “it is 140 books at the moment.”
She looked at the little machine, ate some Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, and frowned.
“How? 140? I mean, where are they all? It’s a computer, isn’t it? Do you buy the books in a shop? How do you put them in there?”
“Stop, stop! One at a time. Yes, I bought it. And yes, I buy the books in the Internet as well. I’m not sure how it works myself, but they arrive instantly on the device, once I’ve bought them.”
“I can see how that could be useful”, said Tante Trude, sipping coffee daintily, “but it’s not like a real book at all. You know how I like to read, with a real book in my hands. It feels nice.” She handled the little device and transferred some cream onto the screen. “This is not to bad, but it’s not like a book at all.”
“I know, dear Tante”, I said, cleaning the cream off with a napkin. “It’s not supposed to be a real book. You know how much I like books and how many I’ve got, not to mention that I’ve been a bookseller for all of my life.”
“Yes,” she smiled. “You even pretended to sell books when you and the other children played shop …”
I cut her off hastily: elderly relatives sometimes go down memory lane and forget to come back on time:
“Yes, so I don’t think anyone can accuse me of not liking books. However, when I was waiting for you just now, I read. And I had over 140 books to choose from! Imagine the catastrophe of going somewhere and not having the right book with you. I remember going on holidays and taking an extra suitcase just for books. Now I carry a little library right here in my pocket. Isn’t that great?”
“Well, yes”, she answered, “but still, you know, real books … remember that time in London when I was allowed to touch that prayer book? THAT was a book, this is a reading machine.”
“To be sure,” I answered, “that’s what it is. And books are about reading, aren’t they? I mean, it’s what’s printed on the pages, that’s important, not the packaging!” I wasn’t quite sure about this line of reasoning, nevertheless, I was especially forceful.
“You may be right”, Tante Trude smiled, “but still, it’s not the same. I understand about taking lots of books along, I understand about buying a book when you feel like it. I understand all that. But I still think a nice book needs a nice binding, nice paper, ah, well, a nice feeling about it. That electric book of yours is a machine, books have souls.”
“Beloved Tante”, I implored, “books are made of dead trees, ink, and such, they don’t live, or have souls, as you call it. This thing is the future and a gift to all readers.”
“Nonsense, dear boy,” and she finished her cake. “I don’t deny it is useful. You can keep it, and read all you want. But I’ll still go to Frau Hermann and talk to her in the shop for a bit, and hear what she has to say about the books she’s gotten in, and I’ll buy a nice book from her.”
“Good on you, Tante Trude”, I said. “The world needs more people like you. But what do you do when you get cream onto your nice new book, eh?”
“I do what I always do – I lick it off”, she smiled. “Good bye, dear boy. Oh, and what do you do, when the electric fails? I can still read by candlelight!”
With that parting shot she was off, leaving me with my E-reader, my doubts and the bill.
(Posted on Books and Other Animals, presented here by permission of the author.)