Is Jonathan Franzen Right?
February 2, 2012

Are e-books damaging society? I've been thinking a lot about the piece that appeared in the Telegraph this week citing Franzen's


hatred of e-books.I was fully prepared to be annoyed by the article when I read the headline. While I'm not fatalistic enough to link the downward trajectory of society to e-books (or at least not solely to e-books), I enjoyed some of Franzen's points, particularly this one about permanence of physical books:“I think, for serious readers, a sense of permanence has always been part of the experience. Everything else in your life is fluid, but here is this text that doesn’t change."I like thinking about books this way. Sure, I own an iPad and a Kindle, and I have a slew of e-books on both of 'em. I love being able to purchase books on a whim--in the middle of the night, on a rainy Sunday, whatever-- from the comfort of my own home. But I often feel a certain hollowness when I've completed a download. I like the way a real book takes up space in my life the way an e-book can't. If I download a book, visiting friends can't pull it off of the shelf and thumb through it. My infant son can't grab it and chew on the corner, leaving little dimples in the jacket (which annoys me now and which I will feel nostalgic about later when he stops chewing on things). I can't slip a piece of paper into the book to mark my place, or tuck the paperwork I'm carrying around with me between the front cover and the title page. I can't scrawl a friend's phone number on the inside back cover.I asked my interns to share their thoughts.."I actually bought both of Jonthan Franzen's books on my Kindle," one intern said sheepishly. " They're 600 pages long! Who wants to lug that around with them all day?"Ha ha. Touché, Jonathan Franzen.