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It was, undoubtedly, the year that the e-book exploded, and for consumers the consequences are undeniable—-e-books are generally cheaper and more accessible than their printed-and-bound cousins. But the benefits of the Kindle and other e-readers come with a tradeoff, writes Mark Athitakis in our Arts in Review issue: “every e-book downloaded represents a tacit judgment on books in a larger sense: that they’re things we don’t need to live with forever.” He writes:
We accept that a book won’t be a permanent part of our lives whenever we borrow one from a friend or check one out of the library. But 2009 was the first time large numbers of people appeared inclined to throw down cash money on books that won’t last. (How much money is unclear; Amazon hasn’t disclosed sales figures for its e-books or the Kindles; other businesses are similarly stingy.) How do I know they won’t last? I can start by digging out the three burned-out MP3 players I’ve owned in the past five years, all stuffed with scads of now-inaccessible songs—except, that is, for the ones I have backed up on CD. If Kindles have arrived, then people are now growing comfortable treating books as shabbily and disposably as MP3s. Every time I’ve talked to the owner of an e-reader, I’ve asked how confident he or she is that the e-books inside will be accessible in 10 years. Not very, is the usual answer.
But Athitakis isn’t so sure that the days of books—-the physical kind—-are numbered. Read why, and browse his list of the year’s best titles, here.