As the ebooks editor at Trinity University Press, and as part of a generation growing up in the digital age, I hate to admit that when ebooks first emerged, I resisted them. (And when I finally gave in and bought one, my ninety-year-old grandmother had to teach me how to use it.)
As far as I was concerned, ebooks meant the death of the greatest tradition I know. Don’t get me wrong—technology is fine when it comes to certain things. Advances in CGI, digital animation, and other moviemaking technology? Great. The ability to watch ridiculous YouTube clips on my phone? Yes, please. But technology, I thought, leave my books alone!
I love walking into a used bookstore and seeing dusty volumes lined up on a shelf, and more than that, I love what those dusty volumes represent: knowledge and wisdom that have been passed down through generations. As a philosophy major, I love Aristotle best. My closest friend, a classics major, has Plato’s Republic on her bookshelf, next to Euripides. Preservation of tradition, and wisdom, and being transformed by the written word—that’s what books mean to me. Technology, it seemed, threatened to destroy all that. Sure, trendy devices are great when it comes to entertainment while I’m waiting at the doctor’s office, or finding my way back to the hotel when I’m on vacation, or, perhaps, texting a cute guy. But as far as I was concerned, that was about it.
It turns out that ebooks are doing more to preserve that source of knowledge and wisdom than I realized. They’re allowing publishers to bring long unavailable books back into print, this time to stay. They don’t rely on the number of copies printed, and I can download them instantly to my e-reader. They transcend the challenges of time, space, and availability by virtue of their digitality.
Take Donald Culross Peattie, one of the twentieth century’s most influential American nature writers, whose work has long been out of print. The age of the ebook allows Trinity University Press to bring back his important body of work this fall for a new generation to appreciate, love, and learn from. And this time it’s without fear of the books ever going “out of print.”
Next year when I’m sitting in a waiting room, maybe I’ll pull up An Almanac for Moderns by Donald Culross Peattie on my iphone instead of watching that YouTube video of the honey badger.