We live in the days of Kindle. There's no denying that e-book readers have much to offer; users can carry thousands of books around with them. Cost of production is virtually eradicated. And the trees saved…well, as I said, there are many good reasons to invest in an e-book reader, and use it regularly.
But here's another thing. The most popular e-book readers--like Kindle--don't support graphics. Users are offered a few simple type options, and a range of sizes, and that's pretty much it. The thinking is that this reduces file size, I think, and is supposed to enhance reading efficiency.
It also strips books of their visual elements--their illustrations, their page layouts, and their font stylings. Does this matter? Well, yes. Quick now, which of these words is the "holiest?"
Which of these was written by someone in tie-dye and a medallion, which by someone wearing barrettes, and which by men laying the foundations of a nation?
A book's design--the fonts and illustrations used, the size of the type and margins, even the amount of space between the letters and lines--can create a powerful image, even before we read a word. They set the stage for the book's content every bit as much as the sound track and lighting set the stage for a movie. And all of that is lost on most e-book readers. It's a bit like watching a movie--with the image and the soundtrack turned off. Or reading Shakespeare, rather than watching it performed.
Our history as a literate species begins with pictures--pictures on cave walls, pictures on cathedrals, pictures in devotional books. In ages when most could not read, stories were told--and told powerfully--in pictures.
We've been a visual species from the beginning, a literate species for a few thousand years. The walls of cathedrals bore the Church's message to the masses far more than any printed document. As children, our first books are picture books. The visual and tactile experience a printed book can provide is still impossible to replicate on the most popular e-book readers.
Some readers are beginning to move into the graphic world; Barnes and Nobles' Nook offers a graphic, color experience--and the hope that our future may include books that replicate the graphic, emotional experience that designed and printed books offer now.
Sherry Wachter has been designing and illustrating all sorts of things--including books--for nearly fifteen years. She has written, designed, illustrated, and self-published two novels--one of which won the 2009 Best of the Best E-books Award--and several picture books. She does not own an e-book reader. To learn more about book design or to see her work visit her online at Magic Dog Press.