Much has been said about how e-books will change our reading habits – and our lives. I’ve no interest in either railing against or defending these changes. I’ll leave that to more informed people with clearer agendas and views. Changes will happen: we’ll adjust. Things will be gained and things lost.
But one small aspect I’ve not seen discussed much is something we are likely to lose which I’ve personal experience of: Book Crossing.
This process had been going on for decades – perhaps centuries – before the name was coined and the appropriate website created. At its broadest and most informal, it’s what happens when, having finished a book in one location, you leave it for the next person who passes by to pick up and read/or carry off to read later.
I’ve got a bit of experience of Book Crossing. I’ve left Terry Pratchett in Lima, Agatha Christie in Machu Picchu and Conan Doyle in a small Fijian village. I picked up Iain Banks on Easter Island. This was before the Book Crossing website was the approved gateway, so I merely abandoned and picked up without logging the books’ progress, but I like to think all the books I released went on to do some travelling in new company (although I suspect the copy of Hound of the Baskevilles I left in the Fijian highlands may still be there, as the locals were somewhat perplexed when I traded it for Kava).
But with ebooks, the opportunities to raid/restock bookshelves in hotels, camping huts and guests houses on a whim will disappear. Perhaps we will find a way simulating the process virtually, but given the old-fashioned method involves actually being there to pick up the book, even if we do, it won’t be the same. My memories of some of the most interesting places I’ve visited are bound up with books I’ve found or left there. I’d be interested to know if that’s true for anyone else.
It’s a small loss, quite possibly outweighed by the many positives of ebooks, but a loss nonetheless.