Books vs. E-Readers

To me, books are not a just a collection of words that make up a story or information. Books are paper. Books are ink. Books are imagery, texture, typography. Books have pages and spines. Books are the collection of various imperfections that accumulate over time as more people read them; a page crease, a coffee stain, sand from the beach, a tear in the cover. As books age and are read over time, the object becomes a story in itself. As a lover of books, I admit that I have not been very open to the whole idea of e-reading, which basically eliminate the book as an object and puts them in electronic format. The print designer and book lover inside me screams “NO!” every time I hear about the latest e-reader. There is just something about it that seems essentially wrong with removing some of the elements that goes beyond the actual story that makes book reading wonderful. But I did realize that I didn’t have a real experience to back up my opinion that real book reading was far better to e-book reading. So, I thought I better try it out.

So, I started with an iPad. There are various apps you can download onto your iPad or iPod that will allow you to read books. I ended up going with the Kindle app (kindle is Amazon’s answer to e-reading), which gives you access to all the books available on Amazon. I’m sure there is an equivalent app for the Kobo, the Chapters version. So getting started involved a rather annoying combination of downloading files, signing up for online accounts, logging onto accounts, and submitting my credit card info. I realize that the set up is probably the most complicated part and now that I am set up that it will probably be easier from this point on, but regardless if compared to just picking up an actual book and opening it, it seemed pretty ridiculous.

So I finally got the book onto my electronic device and I’m ready to read. I started off reading from the iPad, moved onto iPod, and finally finished off on my laptop. I felt a little like Goldilocks; this one’s too big, this one too small, etc. I wasn’t ever able to find one that I thought was just right, but I can admit that maybe if I was using an actual e-reader (the Kindle, the Kobo, or Sony Reader), I probably would have found that better.

There is one essential element (or flaw in my opinion) that I was constantly aware of throughout my e-reading experience. I was very conscience that the device I was using to do my reading was breakable and expensive. I think this, more than anything, kind of ruined my experience. There are just some things that I would not think twice about doing with a regular paperback that I would never do with a portable electronic device. Reading in the bath is example #1. Leaving it out whenever and wherever is #2. Reading in bed is a lot more uncomfortable and slightly ridiculous with a laptop or iPod.  Not to mention some of the other uses that go beyond actually reading. What if I needed to start a fire in a worst-case survival situation and needed paper to get it going? What if I found a rare herb and wanted to preserve it by pressing it between pages of a book? What if I needed a makeshift doorjamb? The list goes on and I’m pretty sure in most of these scenarios, my $10 paperback would be more handy than an expensive e-reader.

Don’t get me wrong, I admit that for some situations an e-reader might be preferable to an actual book. In talking with a bunch of people about the e-reader issue, one of the main reasons that came up for getting an e-reader would be for traveling. On extended trips, it is easier to carry an e-reader, which can have hundreds of books in it, to carrying a bunch of books in your suitcase. Sure, I can understand that. Personally, if I’m having trouble fitting in my books, I would simply take out some clothes, but I get that not everyone would share my priorities. Another benefit is if you have your e-reader app on your iPod, you can pretty much read a book anywhere, anytime. You could tell people that you are just checking your email when really you are re-reading Twilight for the sixth time, and no one would be the wiser. I get that. Is it going to get me to convert? Probably not. I have gotten over being embarrassed over my preference for teen vampire fiction and romance novels. Now I just see those who sneer or groan at my book selection as simply missing out.

As a side note, another reason I got a lot as a benefit for e-readers was the availability of free books. Apparently with most of the e-readers you can download many of the classics, amongst other books, for free. Sorry e-readers… the idea of access books for free is not a new or revolutionary concept. It’s called a library. Edmonton Public libraries happens to be pretty awesome, so if it’s free books you seek – I suggest you look there.

To sum up, I am glad that I finally bit the bullet and tried e-reading. I can see some of the benefits and can understand why some people might prefer it to actual books. Will it be replacing my books? Never. But I knew that. I can admit that I was only semi open minded to e-reading when I started and this one experience is definitely not enough to make me a convert. I love my books, not just the stories, but the objects themselves. I think the world would be worse off if the printed page became a thing of the past.

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