Wednesday, July 06, 2011

in praise of books, the kind you hold in your hand

I was clicking around on various blogs yesterday and ran across a pretty scathing post about people who still prefer the "feel" of a real book to an eReader.  He made it sound like people who enjoy an actual physical book in their hands are neanderthals, with barely enough intelligence to speak a sentence, let alone appreciate the written word.  I almost commented at length about what I like about real books as opposed to the electronic version, but I don't know the guy and I hate arguing.  So I'll just write my own post about why I like books.

I will say, though, that I like my eReaders, too.  I have two, if you remember--a Kindle and a Sony Reader-- both received as gifts.  Since I love physical books so much, it probably would have been many years before I broke down and bought one on my own.  I have to say that I am slowly being won over.  I often have one of my eReaders in my purse, for when I get caught waiting somewhere.  And of course their #1 best feature:  you can have a hundred books right there in your hand.  Or 300.  You can't beat an eReader for vacation.  I used to have books tucked everywhere around my clothes in my suitcase, and it wasn't uncommon for me to run out of reading material and "have to" go to a bookstore and buy more.  But I still love books, the real thing, with pages that turn.

First of all, and this is the most common complaint I hear from people that have an eReader: it is difficult to go back and find something that you want to re-read.  If Joe Schmoe appears two chapters from the end of a book, and you know he's already shown up once but you can't remember if he's the main character's uncle or her cousin, in a "real" book, it is easy to flip back and find out.  On an eReader, it's such a chore that it's almost not worth it. You can do it of course-- using the search function for 'Joe Schmoe' or taking a wild guess at the location using the 'Go to' feature-- but either of those is irritatingly cumbersome compared to just being able to flip back.

And related to that-- I know I'm not the only one who remembers where things are on the page.  When Joe Schmoe appeared the first time, I will probably remember that it was on the bottom of the left-hand side of the page, which makes it simple to flip back and find him.  On an eReader, the position of text on the screen is variable, and it can be in a different place every time you read it-- especially if you mess with the size of the font. 

And another thing.  On a plane, all electronic devices must be turned off for takeoff and landing.  Depending on the flight and how early they make the announcement, that can be 20-30 minutes (or more) on either end of the flight.  Which leaves you with nearly an hour to fill for each flight you're on.  If you're not ADD-ish, this may not be a problem, but it's enough to make me nuts.  The prohibition includes phones, iPods and eReaders of all varieties, whether or not you have the wireless turned off or even if it doesn't have wireless.  So I always have a "real" book with me for the plane.

People who underline or make notes in the margin while they read will be frustrated-- you can annotate and highlight with an eReader, but it's not nearly as easy to do as having a pencil in your hand and just jotting something down.  And when I was studying this past spring, I found it much easier to find handwritten annotations in the margin of a book than to find a highlighted section of text on a eReader.

And then there's the whole "feel of a book" thing which made yesterday's blogger was so contemptuous.  He's older than I am, so it's apparently not age-related, which is what I would have guessed.  I'm not sure why he's so excited about sitting down with an electronic device, but it just doesn't have the same feel.  On a winter night when it's dark and a little stormy out, I want to sit down in front of the fire with a cup of tea and a book.  It's old fashioned, I know.  But there you go.

And finally, one of the main things you lose with an eReader is the row of books on the shelf.  Which is endlessly entertaining to me.  One of the reasons we bought the house we've lived in for 12 years now is because there is an office downstairs with two walls of bookshelves.  I can be happy for an hour down there, puttering around, rearranging books on the shelves, remembering old favorites, making a pile of books I've yet to read, culling a few to take to the library used book sale.  I'll even confess to having bought a couple of books after having read them on the Kindle just so I could have a copy on the shelf down in the office.  and that is just a little bit neurotic, I know.  But whoever said that personal preferences have to make sense?

I'm trying to think of ways that eReaders are better than books (besides their enormous capacity).  You can have games on them, and a "notepad" for typing your to-do list, so they offer more than one kind of usefulness.  They're lighter than many books, especially hardbacks (but I rarely buy hardbacks).  And with a Kindle, you have the instant gratification of hearing about a book and being able to buy it and start reading it practically immediately, which is addictive and disturbingly (for the sake of my book budget) easy to do.

We're off to the beach next week for our annual reunion with dh's side of the family.  I'll take both eReaders (because dh and the kids use them, too), and several physical books, too.  Whatever the format, there's nothing better than reading on vacation!  What about you?  which format do you prefer, and why?


  1. Two things I found that we have in common. One is the books packed all around your clothes in your suitcase. Me, too.
    The second is this:
    "I know I'm not the only one who remembers where things are on the page. When Joe Schmoe appeared the first time, I will probably remember that it was on the bottom of the left-hand side of the page, which makes it simple to flip back and find him."
    Me,too. I don't have an ereader yet. I suspect I'll like one when I get it. But not more than books.

  2. I'm with you and Judy, I recall things physically that way as well.

    Did this opinionated blow-hard happen to address the matter of how not every freaking person on the planet is actually able to run right out and BUY the newest gadget? Because they can't afford to? THAT pisses me off. A. Lot. Libraries are FREE!

    (Good run-down of pros and cons though, and very polite of you not to rip that idiot a new one. I would have.
    (who is here, holding a REAL book, most nights)

  3. Thank you, Julie, for bringing that up (the expense). I meant to as I was planning it in my head, but then forgot. Not only is there the expense of buying the gizmo, but then you have to pay for books, too. You can download ebooks from your library for free (or at least we can from ours, and ours is so small that I'm sure that must mean most libraries do this), but so far my library hasn't had any of the ones I've checked on.

    Actually (Julie and Judy), I don't think you'll be sorry you waited to get one. They're pretty nice as they are, but there are some odd little things about them that I'm sure will get better with later versions.

  4. Ah we are so alike! As I recall growing up I always wanted to hang with you cuz you had the books.

    I have an ereader (Nook) which I love. The convenience when traveling is marvelous. And I can read library books on it as well which is an added benefit. But I am right with you when it comes to having to turn it off on take off and I always have a book as well. I am a "belt and suspenders" kind of gal.

    But I also agree that I will never lose my love for the feel and smell of books.

    Darn it, now I am going to have to blog about this.

  5. I loved this post. :)

    I totally agree with you. There's room for both and I believe writers should still write for both.