Booking Through Thursday: E-readers vs. Physical books.
I bought an iPad in June, 2010. It is my constant companion; email, search, facebook, photos, reading The New Yorker, the New York Times and other news media, watching movies, listening to music, taking notes, navigation, calculator, shopping lists, procrastination tools (e.g., games): there are apps for all those and I have and use all of them.
But, I was reluctant, at first, to download the Kindle app. I just wasn’t convinced that reading — although I had been reading other things online for years — would be the same experience.
I took a Journalism class in the future of media when I was in college, way back in 1979. I recall reading the book Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, by Jerry Mander and having lengthy discussions on whether we would eventually be reading newspapers on computers. Few of us in the class could foresee such a future. To us, computers were the large mainframe computers in the labs, or large typesetting machines with blurry, amber glowing text displayed on monitors the size of a desktop. Even envisioning a computer as being something akin to a television that you would use to read was preposterous. Even those who didn’t agree with Mather’s thesis that television would be the end of civilization as we know it, agreed that reading “on computers” was an evil that we didn’t think we catch on.
“I like the feel of a newspaper, being able to fold it over and read an article. To take it with me anywhere”. That was the sentiment of the majority of the class, and I agreed with it.
About eight years ago, I stopped subscribing to our local paper when it was sold to a national outfit that produced thin papers and thinner copy. Not fit to wrap day-old fish in? It wasn’t even worth my while to walk to the end of the driveway each morning if I had had day-old fish. Besides, even with a clunky interface, the online edition was much more up-to-date.
But, I couldn’t imagine that the online news experience could carry over to my pleasure reading. How could I enjoy reading if I didn’t have that smell of paper, the tactile feel of a book, the ability to hear the spine give just slightly as I opened it for the first time? What would I do if there were graphs or photographs, even if only a headshot of the author in a pretentious author pose? How would I find books if everything was electronic and there were no bookstore shelves to peruse?
Eventually, however, at a point where I needed a book immediately and didn’t want to pay for the expedited shipping, I caved, downloaded the Kindle app and began reading.
You know what? The world didn’t stop turning on its axis. Printing presses didn’t stop churning out books immediately. My reading experience wasn’t hampered in any way. In fact, it was enhanced: I could now look up words without having a heavy dictionary nearby; I could mark passages and write notes that I could easily find for later reference; I didn’t find it annoying that I had to swipe my finger across the screen at the end of every page. I found that I finished a few books — ones I had not realized were greater than 500 pages in print — in a record time for me, a notoriously slow reader often discouraged by lengthy tomes. I no longer had to worry that my book weight would put my luggage over the limits at the airport, nor did I need to worry that I wouldn’t have a book that I wanted to read but had left at home. In short, ebooks did not have a negative impact on my reading. And you know what? Sometimes the old books are musty smelling, and, after too much wear, the spines fall apart and you need rubber bands to hold the book together before you reach the final pages.
I still like physical books, and, although I’ve bought fewer this year, I’m waiting for some bookcases to go on sale. (Gotta love that law of supply & demand!) My son recently told me that under no circumstances was I ever to buy him a Kindle. “I’m not reading a book on a little screen. I want to go to bookstores, like the Strand*, and I won’t contribute to their demise, won’t do in my favorite past-time.” He does have a point, but I’m hoping that bookstores, both new and used, chain and independents, find a way to adapt. I want lots of choices, but I don’t think that bookstores have to be bricks and mortar any more than books need to be paper and ink.
So, what do I see as a major drawback to an ebook rather than an physical book? When I’ve been reading while lying on the sofa or in bed and I fall asleep, with a physical book I’m less likely to have a slight bruise or bump on my forehead when I wake up. Dropping an iPad on your head can hurt! But when reading an ebook, I am more likely to know exactly where I stopped reading.
*Both B & I agree, Strand Books is the most awesome bookstore. So awesome that the word ‘awesome’ doesn’t really describe it!