Shane Neilson on the Future of Books


About a year ago a patient of mine came into my office. I had been, at that point, practising medicine for ten years. And up until then, my patients waited for me well, or badly. The ones who seemed to have more patience were the ones outfitted with books. This could be because they expected to wait, were planners, and were occupied; it might be intrinsic to the fact that they were readers. But last year, for the first time, I walked into the examining room to see a patient fiddling with a Kindle.

One of the pleasures of encountering patients reading books is discovering what they’re actually reading. Mostly this has been murder mysteries, true crime, blockbusters, self-help; but, on occasion, I’ve found select, surprising patients reading a title that could be considered–cue appropriate sniff–literary. Yet I ask every patient about their book, regardless of genre, and engage them in a brief discussion of that book. (So far, no one has been caught reading a book of poems.)

The Kindle presents a problem. I can’t tell what the patient is reading. It’s a device. It has none of the aesthetic or heft of a book. I like the honesty and public nature of books: the reader, in public, shares them with the public. And I think we are all enriched by that sharing. The Kindle, in contrast, keeps secrets.

I asked this patient what they were reading. It was a fantasy title–I don’t know if this is ironic or not. I eyed the device suspiciously, and the patient offered to let me hold it and play with it. I picked it up, and “read” the displayed page, and learned quickly how to “turn” the page. I didn’t feel the page against my hand. I felt the tyranny of a screen. I handed the book back to my patient. I didn’t know what to say. It was The Future.

A few months later, my mother asked me if she should get an e-reader. She is a mass consumer of books. She doesn’t keep favourite titles on hand; she sells them to the second-hand store upon completing them. She devours books within hours, and then they are Done. I looked at the relative cost of electronic books versus paper books, and apprehended quickly that she’d save a lot of money. Also a lot of trouble–she’d no longer have to fret about the mailbox, or bother driving to the city bookstore. And it’d be good for the environment too. I told her to do it, that it seemed like a good idea to me. For her. I waited.

She doesn’t have an e-reader, and it’s not because she’s wary of technology. She’s refused The Future because, even though her passion for books is found in plot, and not style, she still respects the physical object too much. She likes the heft. She likes the feel. And she is the perfect candidate for the e-reader. So, I think that this actually bodes well for The Future. The other part that bodes well? I haven’t seen another Kindle since.

One Comment

  1. Muriel
    Posted August 14, 2011 at 2:14 am | Permalink

    All things have their positive and negative. I have a Kindle and love it. I use the dictionary. I have Scriptures at hand and when a friend urges me to read a book they recommend I have it there in the blink of an eye. I still use the local library too.

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Shane Neilson

SHANE NEILSON is a poet from New Brunswick. He will publish The River and The Road, a book of criticism on Maritime poetry, with the Porcupine’s Quill in 2017.