Saturday, October 23, 2010

Why Physical Books Beat E-Readers

My bookshelves are beyond full. I've got books in front of books at my normal home, and a couple shelves that are full at college. I don't look forward to when I graduate and have to combine those sets of books. Yet, I contend that physical books are superior to e-books and e-readers.

First of all, physical books contain history (as a quality, not necessarily as the content). That's why used-book stores feel like magic. Somebody owned, read, and probably loved those books previously. Some of those books were gifts from one person to another. Some contain markings, names, or dog-ears. You don't get that history in an e-book. When you buy a new book, you start creating that history. You'll remember buying it, where you were when you read it, or things people said to you when they saw you reading it, every time you pick up that copy again. Items have associations. And, items have imperfections that are gathered over time. When I pick up my well-loved copy of Carrie Pilby, it's obvious that it's been read over and over, by me and a few people who have borrowed it from me. E-readers have far less room for associations.

Books also look lovely on the shelf when you're not reading them. Granted, the e-reader takes much less space, but the book-filled shelves can make you look more educated to people who come over. Plus, if you're an out-of-sight, out-of-mind kind of person like I am, it helps to have the books in constant sight, reminding you to read them.

The feel of books is very important to me as well. To begin with, I like that different books feel different. Why should my hands respond the same way to both a textbook and a small paperback novel? The Complete Works of Shakespeare should feel more daunting than Artemis Fowl. Also, some books have strangely-cut pages, some have fancy embossed titles, and some leather-bound books have special leatherwork in the spine. Real books are tactile. E-books are not.

Related to the ability to touch the outside of the book is the ability to peruse the book itself by turning paper pages. I do appreciate the ability to run my hand over a page, to flip pages in search of something, or to look at the top of the closed book to see how far my bookmark has traveled thus far - a measure that means more to me than the precision of "425/550 pages" at the bottom of a screen. I'll grant that there's convenience, portability, and a considerable cool-factor to the e-reader, since it lets us carry a library in a purse, but I just can't give up the paper.

If you're not a sentimental old coot like I am, then an e-reader is probably for you. Except that if there's an Alas, Babylon-style incident and we have no electricity for ages, you'll have maybe a week of battery power before you have nothing left to read, either. Even if you have no time for entertainment, what with all that surviving, when we no longer have Internet access we'll need certain factual books to help us survive - except that if you had any, they were all digital. And that would be terrible.


AddledWriter said...

awww, thanks!

Rae Botsford said...

I am so curious as to how you found my blog. And you are always welcome!