I can’t listen to audiobooks for the same reason I can’t listen to podcasts. If I’m sitting still, I quickly get sleepy listening to someone’s uninterrupted voice droning on (I believe Sun Tzu noted this in the first chapter of his famous book on parenting advice). If I’m active, with an audiobook playing in the background, I can’t focus on it. The Lady of the House can spend all day with earbuds in, listening to books while doing other things. I evidently lack the necessary railroad switch in my brain to do that. Reading books is for the couple hours before bed, when there are no other distractions.

I do sometimes read e-books, but I still feel like something’s lacking in the format. Sometimes the combination of convenience and cost-effectiveness wins out — “I can have this right now, for half the price, or wait a week to get the physical copy.” But it never quite feels the same somehow. I have a better sense of location in a physical book. I often remember where I encountered a particular passage— left-side page, near the bottom, about three-quarters of the way through — which is useful when I want to look for it again. In an e-book, I have no such sense. There’s no physical geography to an e-book; it’s just a blizzard of words in a shapeless landscape. I have to digitally highlight anything I want to find again (admittedly, it is useful to have a menu option to see all of your annotations).

Ultimately, though, in an age of sensitivity readers, I think it’s foolish to trust anything important to the cloud. We’ve already heard of incidents where a previously-purchased e-book was stealthily “updated” to eliminate words or thoughts that suddenly became unfashionable. Eric Hoffer said that the features of an idealist loudmouth always contain the lineaments of a commissar, and Lord knows we have a surplus of that type these days. I’m afraid that sensitivity reading is probably a growth industry. It’s basically a profession designed to absorb the glut of overeducated, otherwise-unskilled orthodoxy-sniffers who can’t do any useful work, so I expect it to expand in the coming years. Buy physical copies of any media you want to keep.

The signaling charge is the easiest to sidestep. I do have hard copies of books on shelves all around my living room. If I never have people over to my house, though, who am I showing off for?