An Argument With Myself Over E-Readers

A few months ago, my good friend Kelcey posted on Facebook a frantic plea for anybody to loan her a copy of Gregory Maguire’s Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (1995).  The library did not have any available copies, the waiting list for one was long, and she needed to read it now!  I offered her my copy, a heavy leather-bound number with Elphaba on the front, sporting beautiful metallic green skin.  She took the copy gratefully, promising to take good care of it.  (Honestly, I had no qualms about letting her borrow it, because I trust her.  Also, I haven’t read it and I never plan to.  I tried once.  It was boring.)

wicked cover

My friend needed this book so desperately because she had just purchased tickets to the Broadway production of Wicked, which was playing in Salt Lake City, and she wanted to read it, and possibly read it to her daughters, before they went to see the show.  I, too, had tickets to the show and have seen it before.  It’s fantastic.  I could understand her excitement and urge to read the book before they attended.  I’m glad to have been of service.

My daughter Olivia and I at a performance of Wicked this summer.
At a performance of Wicked with my daughter Olivia

Now, imagine for a moment that I had gotten rid of all of my books, and instead of having a ridiculous amount of shelves in my home collecting dust and showcasing my greatest love, I had downloaded copies of everything to an e-reader.  This, my dear friends, is my argument against e-readers.  They are nontransferable.  They prevent book exchanges.  They make reading sterile.

I would not have let my friend, although a good friend, take my iPad for a few weeks so she could read one of my books.  Actual books are the only way this sort of swapping and sharing can occur.  I saved THE DAY for her because I had a hard copy of the book.  Beat that!

Okay.  Okay.  You’re not buying it.  Neither am I.  I’m glad to have hard copies.  I’m glad I was able to come to the “rescue,” but I like e-readers, too.  Here’s why.

They make annotating easy and fun.  I like to mark up my books by underlining, highlighting, and writing notes in the margins and on the blank pages at the end.  I also like to do this on my iPad because it’s fun to swipe my finger over the words and see everything turn green, pink, yellow, blue, or red (depending on my mood).  The color-coding is fantastic.

I found this to be the best feature of my e-reader.  But wait!  In order to look back over my notes for blogging or sharing with my hubby, I had to swipe through every single page of that darned book.  No way.  E-readers are no longer cool.

Then I discovered a great function.  There’s a table of contents on each e-book.  On that page, one can choose “notes” and voila, all of the markings, highlightings, and notes made are at the tips of one’s fingers.  I was hooked again.  (And now you know how slow I am to discover the neat features of technology.)

So, I’m converted and convinced.  But, I still love the feel of holding a real book.  Nothing beats the creamy texture of the pages, the beautiful smell of new (or old) paper, and the smoothness of the front cover.  The art of the covers makes each book beautiful without having actually perused its pages.  The heft of it in my hand or resting on my lap or stomach is a familiar and comfortable feeling.

So, no.  I’m not convinced.  I prefer actual books.

Which do you prefer?

64 thoughts on “An Argument With Myself Over E-Readers

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  1. I’ll always prefer real books. Sure the technology is cool and convenient, but I already spend more than 8 hours a day at work, straining my eyes at a glowing computer screen. Reading real books has never given me a tension headache… I wish I could say the same for kindles, ipads, laptops and iphones.

    1. I always insisted that I would never use an e-book reader. I love the real thing, the feel, the smell, all the reasons to have printed matter. My husband insisted he get me a Kindle since I, too am in college, and ‘I might need one.’ I discovered just how convenient, in a pinch, an e-reader could be. I had to have a book for a class in the newest version, and none of the stores had that version. I didn’t have mailing time, so I downloaded the book on my kindle. Great! I solved one problem, but then there were no page numbers, and I had no idea what matched my assignment. Printed books are still better. I ended up ordering it, afterall.

  2. I have yet to succumb to an e-reader, in my head I’ve been justifying it by saying that I could never give up the feel and smell and substantialness of a real book in my hands but your post is making me think maybe finally I should give an e-reader a try…

  3. I prefer both, which I know sounds like a political answer.

    But I like that I can keep my Kindle with me, and not have to tote a 1,000 page book, if I’m feasting on some King.

    But I also love paper, so if the cheaper e-Book from an author has earned my love, I’ll go buy the hardback to keep.

    In the end, I think ebook sales will dominate the market and paper books will be more for special editions and super-loved books. (That’s just my take though!)

    Oh, and I think on many — or at least some — ebook titles, you can loan them electronically for up to 14 days if the author enabled it.

  4. Real books can’t ever be replaced by e-books, as well as that feeling you get when you hold them, I share this point with you. I’ve always been agains e-books. But as an obsessive reader and a person who has to read much for studies, I now see the advantage of reading on iPads and stuff – I don’t have to carry heavy books and buy the ones I don’t want or need.

  5. I love the actual, physical books! Always have, always will. And I shop at a Book Exchange where I can trade my old books for someone else’s old books. I browse, I talk books with the folks who work there, — can’t do that with e-books. And bargain books are $1 — just because they are overstocked — some are quite new.
    I’m not even tempted to change a very satisfying life-long habit!

  6. I am also torn and share the same reasons for both. I guess I would say I would always prefer an actual book..unless I feel like I need to read something RIGHT NOW. Which happens a lot…
    I guess that is the biggest draw for me, the instant access to something I am dying to read about. And the highlighting. The ipad highlighting is super fun…

    It’s a conundrum!

  7. I love real books and they will always be my first choice. But I don’t hate e-readers at all (I have an iPad with some e-books): I love that they have given a place for indie writers to publish their work, and I think they will, hopefully, replace those heavy textbooks that children are lugging around everywhere!

    I love your story of sharing your book, and your daughter is just adorable!

  8. Give me the real thing! I want to write notes in the margins and underline important passages so when I go back later I can scratch my head and wonder why I thought that passage was worth noting!

  9. The independent book store is a mecca of calm, comfort, and community so I can’t imagine giving up my sense of church for a computerized read. However, I’m currently packing for a trip…what book to bring? No not that one, it’s humongous! So just now, I’m also seeing the convenience point of view but still have yet to purchase an e-reader.

    I think when the e-reader first came out there was all this talk about replacing the book, which it turns out, it will never fully do because people are in love with paper & print. I don’t see why it has to be either/or, but both!

  10. I can’t tell you how many times I have rummaged through a box of books, one at a time, telling who ever will listen, the story of why I read the book and my thoughts on the story. Just like songs, I associate those books to various moments of time in my life. Each book makes those memories something I can hold and smell. It’s the physical nostalgia I can’t bring myself to give up.

  11. I love the highlighting function on my I-Pad too!It’s got just the right amount of roughness on the edges to make it look like a real marker. I’m an ambidextrous e-reader/physical book reader- I fully appreciate both options.

  12. My preference will always be for an actual book. However, I like being able to instantly download something instead of waiting on a list at the library or packing up my kids, leaving my house and hoping the nearest bookstore has it or (if they don’t) waiting for one to ship from across the country (currently experiencing that scenario).

  13. Right now my Kindle is my life saver. I am on a Senior LDS Mission with my wife in Texas and do not have access to my personal library at home, but I have been able to continue reading because of the Kindle. Also I have have two books I desperately needed to consult that are on my shelf at home. However, I was able to place the U of U library’s digital versions on my my U e-shelf and page through them to answer the questions that I was asked by my co-authors on a manuscript we are writing. What I do for highlights on my Kindle, is print them out and that is so wonderful. They are called clippings.. And now I have been able to check out digital books from both Salt Lake and Corpus Christi public libraries (they have arrangements with Amazon). I get them for 2 or 3 weeks, so I don’t have to be continually purchasing books. Just some random thought from Uncle Ken..

  14. I don’t like only one thing about real books. They become yellow and unreadable with age, and become tattered and unreadable. Have I just mentioned two things? No, I think they fall in the same ageing category. I have not got an e-reader yet, but I am wanting to get one, it will make my life much easier. But on the whole I like books. Unless they are heavy and difficult to hold and turn pages when lying at awkward angles to read them.

    In the meantime, As far as I know, the book and the musical (Wicked) are very different. My daughter saw the musical and I read the book (almost) and when we discuss it, I feel like we are discussing two different tales. Please, correct me if I am wrong.

    1. You are right. The book and musical are different, but I’m not an expert on the book since I haven’t actually read all of it. And good point about aging books. They aren’t as pretty.

  15. I love my Kindle Fire. I take it everywhere and when I have a spare minute when I’m kept waiting, I pull it out and read a little of my latest book. I’ve easily doubled the number of books I read since I got it.

    I still like shelf books, though. In fact, I read “Team of Rivals” on my Kindle and then bought the shelf book at a used book store for my bookcase.

    It’s 2012. It doesn’t have to be all one thing or all the other. I love that we can use and appreciate both.

  16. I used to think I could never adjust to an e-reader and then I was gifted with a Kindle. I love it! It is so handy to be able to carry my library with me at all times and if I forget my actual device, I can pick right where I left off in the iPhone app. I am never without something to read and that makes me a very happy bookworm. Plus, it makes getting the next book in a series so much easier as I can buy it with the push of a button.

    The last time I went to Europe, I read through the three novels I took with me and was unable to find the next book in the series. I was completely disappointed and had to settle with buying a book at the airport that had nothing to do with the story I wanted to read. With my Kindle, that is no longer a problem. However, I do still read real books occasionally, but it is very rare and usually from my collection of unread books.

  17. The logical part of me sees the point of having an e-book but the book lover in my loves well..books. I love holding them, smelling them, yes even showing off them. I’ve had people strike up conversations on trains because they’ve seen what I’m reading, and people be amazed by the mass of books I’ve collected over the years. Sure, it’s cheaper and easier to have an e-book but pffffttt.

    Saying that, if I ever planned on doing a big trip overseas, e.g. 6 months at a time, then I may, just may, succumb to an iPad so I can read on the go!

  18. I like both and read my kindle and real books alternately for a few reads. You can share each book up to 5 times with a kindle by deregistering your kindle and then deregistering as the person from whom you wish to take an e book. Then you just download from their archived items. Of course you should only do this with trusted and well known to you people as passwords are involved

  19. Good post!

    I like real books too — I only read ebooks on my phone when I have a few down moments and no real phone. But the issue of not being able to loan books (or able to move them from platform to platform) is not an issue with ebooks, but an issue with Digital Rights Management.

    Platforms that are locked down to prevent us from exercising the same rights we have over physical books are the problem.

  20. Well, it sounds like you concluded that both are great. And I would have to agree. I am asking Santa for the Kindle Paperwhite this Christmas. I used my husband’s old Kindle once at a crucial time and I was sold. It was because the book I wanted was cheaper via Kindle download, I had it ready to read within moments (I was desperate for an immediate, good read), the book was not meant to be a great piece of literature (Stephanie Nielsen’s Heaven is Here) so I didn’t care if I had the actual book to look at on my shelf, and it was amazing to take with me to several long doctor’s appointments.

    I lug a book with me wherever I go and it gets to be a trial when my diaper bag is already filled to the brim. The e-reader is SO awesome for on-the-go reading. But, it’s true, nothing can replace cozying up to a real, creamy-paged (I love that description) book. In fact tonight I started Angle of Repose! And I got it from the good old library! (May libraries never die, another argument for keeping real books in circulation … where would I go with my kids to show them the community of reading?) I know you and many others have raved about the book, so I’m excited!

    1. I can’t wait for you to tell me what you thought of Angle of Repose. Seriously, one of the best books EVER written! It’s up there with Middlemarch, if you ask me. And I love that you carry a book with you everywhere. I used to purchase my purses based on whether or not they would fit a large, hardback book! And now, one of my awesome blogging friends told me about flipback books. I’ll post on that later this month. You may be interested. They are smaller and compact so you can carry them everywhere.

  21. Maybe I’m biased (I’ve never owned an e-reader and can’t justify buying a book I can only read on my phone) But I have already had to put books on my bookshelf in front of other books to save space. The amount of books I have to buy, read, and carry around for school (often having to read 2-3 books at a time) is taking over my room. Being able to put all those books onto an e-reader so I wouldn’t have to lug Mercy Among the Children, Death on the Installment Plan, AND George RR Martin’s A Dance of Dragons (which I am trying to re-read) around with me all the time sounds pretty enticing.

    But as I said, I’ve never owned one so I’m not sure how much I would enjoy that in practice.

    1. You might find it useful as a space saver, but it sounds like you really really love books, which to me says that you would probably prefer actual copies. Let me know how you end up feeling about it if you get one.

  22. Two years ago my mom got me a Nook. Being an English Lit major, she knows of my intimat love of books…and my limited bookshelf space in a tiny apartment. So logic follows that carrying ALL your books on an eReader would be the perfect solution. Unfortunately, I just can’t get into it. For me there is just something about holding the book, smelling the pages, feeling the cover it’s an entire sensory response, and no gadget can give me all that. Plus with all the biz travel, you are never asked to turn off a real book durning take off and landing, sometimes it’s necessary to de-tech yourself. So I vote for the real thing.

  23. Thank you for your insight of e-readers (epub, e-books and other technology reading stuff). I share your disturbing and ambivalent feelings towards this kind of reading, altought you actually made it look like fun. I find this kind of books very useful while i’m waiting for the release of the portuguese translation of some british or american authors, since I can hardly wait for reading some books (sequel or titles) in my vernacular language, so I jump into reading it in english.
    I’d rather read it in some paperback edition, but sometimes those books aren’t available in portuguese book stores and i have to buy them on-line (and I’ve got to wait for some days/weeks, if the books are shipped from england, or weeks/months if they’re shipped from US, according to availability), it seems more immediate and cheaper to buy their technologic editions.
    I’d rather have my shelves full of books, real book, with it beautiful, smooth or rough covers, the lovely smell of their pages and the feeling of their weight in my hands when i’m reading. It’s an intimate and long term relationship… it really is the Love of a life time.
    I truely get it when you say that e-readers “are nontransferable. They prevent book exchanges. They make reading sterile.” and totaly agree. I was thinking about buying my first i-pad last week, amongst other things, because I can read some books on it. Then I found myself thinking about these same topic. With this kind of books, how can I share with a friend a book that I really liked? How can he lend me a book that he think I’ll like? The libraries of e-readers are non-transferable, as well as the playlists of i-pods.
    We can live with and without technology, but we must achieve the balance between it. Otherwise, these technology that we crave might jeopardize friendly and healthy relationships. And the e-readers are just a small portion of the equation.

    1. I like how you extend the issues to a larger context. E-readers aren’t the only technology alienating us from each other. However, technologies also connect us. It’s such a conundrum, and I guess it is a curse of confusion for those of us trying to navigate this new world and the way it’s changing. Thanks for the great comments!

      1. It is, isn’t it? I love the way the technology keeps us connected to the world. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be reading, loving and commenting your posts. But I can see on a dayly basis, how it’s getting harder for the generation of my pupils to grow with other stuffs rather than technology. They are losing social skills and communication competencies. They want everything now, not giving value to the deserved conquests.

  24. Books! By far they bring the most pleasure to me personally. I’ve just obtained a first edition of “Country Churchyards” by Eudora Welty. It is now the latest addition to my “treasures”.

  25. PS. I own a Kindle, came out before all the bells and whistles. It definitely makes travel easier, especially for my husband, who usually ends up toting my book bag, among other things. But I have loved “real” books all my life. I love leather, hardback, old, new, used, falling apart, paperback, you name it. If it’s a book, it gets my attention and respect. Just can’t help it. I’ve just done a fun thing: catalogued my library on One Note. It would not be impressive to most people, but is a source of pride and excitement to me. First, I realized how many books I have yet to read and actually WANT to read them. The list I have would be a lot longer if I had not already gone through and culled some as never needing again. I usually give them to a local charity so they can sell them and be helped in that way. Funny thing is, because of being the advanced age of ___ I lay in bed a couple nights ago and wondered who I would bequeath my library to.

    1. I love that you’ve left your age a mystery. Now you’ve got me wondering… And I’d be happy to be the person you bequeath your library to. 🙂 Although I’m sure you have plenty of grandchildren who deserve it more!

      1. I have one granddaughter who is just turning 18, graduating from home school and dreams of working at the Library of Congress. Of course if she adds any more books to the ones she already has while still living at home, her father will have to build more bookshelves, and they don’t know where they will put them. Meantime, she works at Books-a-Million!! Before that she interned at the local public library. Think she qualifies?

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