Timeless Wisdom from Buffy, “Books Smell.”
In it I compare Giles' love of books and disdain for technology with the growing ebook revolution. It's still one of my most popular posts; if you haven't read it, you might want to check it out.
Last night, while editing a scene that just didn't feel right, just didn't draw the reader in, I remembered part of the quote from that post. In it Rupert Giles is explaining why books are better then computers and says, among other things, “Smell is the most powerful trigger to the memory there is...” That made me realize what the scene was missing: the smells.
Once I started thinking about it, I expanded the idea to printed books themselves. When we read a book, the faint smell of paper is picked up by the brain. The perception of smell triggers the limbic system, a very primitive part of the brain, and is connected not just with smell but also with our memory and emotions. If you're an avid reader who finds reading books to be a way to shred stress, it wouldn't surprise me if just the smell of books starts to make your feel more relaxed.
Additionally, the texture of paper and sound of turning pages work to solidify the experience in the brain. These subtle but critical signals just can't be reproduced with ebooks. It's possible that for some readers the only way to truly "immerse yourself in a good book" is to read a bound copy.
This is just one reason why I believe ebooks will never totally replace paper. Others include the ease of finding a favorite passage; there's no way to flip through an ebook (while you can highlight your favorite passage, doing so takes you out of the book). I even read an article a while back (that I can't find now) which said kids prefer to read paper books over ebooks.
While paper books and ebooks both have their drawbacks and advantages, in the end the thing that draws us into a book--the sights, the sounds, the smells of another world--might just be the same things that draw us to books in the first place.