The physical object I love most in the world is a book. I love the smell, the touch of the paper, the amazing promise contained within its pages, the endless variety of covers, and its incredible portability. However, with lots of overseas travel recently, I have found it very convenient to use an e-reader, instead of taking a suitcase of heavy books with me. Generally the e-reader gets put away when I get home and I return to the real thing, but sometimes it comes out again and is used between journeys. Do you have an e-reader? Do you stick to the traditional book, or do you find that, like most people now, you are working out a balance between the two?
E-readers have some great advantages – so many books can be stored on one light device which will never grow heavier even when it holds hundreds of books, the device is back-lit (perfect for reading next to a sleeping husband, or on a flight when they turn down the lights at midday and expect you to sleep), you can get hold of a book instantly so long as you have a Wi-fi connection and credit card, e-books are usually cheaper than their paper equivalents (while many classics are actually free), you do not need to find bookshelf room for them in a house already full of books, and you can change the size of the type if your eyes are not what they used to be. Young people are reading more thanks to e-readers, and there is some evidence to show that more people are now reading the classics because they are free and easy to download onto a Kindle or Kobo.
However, there are also disadvantages – you end up turning pages more often than with a physical book and this is a distraction, you go through a book with far less sense of both title and author because you are not constantly noting the cover (I have sometimes read a murder mystery and realised that I have totally forgotten what it is called). If I have loved a book, I like to lend it to friends, but lending from an e-reader is not possible, unless you lend the whole device. There are no 2nd hand books in the world of e-readers, so no chance of suddenly finding a battered copy of a book you have long wanted to own. Nor can you ever treasure a signed copy of an e-book – I love to get a book signed if I meet the author, and have done my share of signing my books too.
Studies are all showing that memory retention and comprehension are much better with a paper book than with an electronic one, and I like to know that I will remember details of a novel I have invested time in reading. Someone reading an e-reader, according to research, absorbs “significantly” less than a reader of a book. Studies also show that e-readers are interfering more with an ability to sleep and creating more eye strain because of their back lighting. And there is nothing to put on a book shelf afterwards so that every time you see that cover wonderful memories of that book come back to you. I love having a bit of sand fall out to remind me that I had a happy afternoon at the beach reading that book, or a coffee ring from a café in Vienna to bring back memories not only of the book’s content but also of a holiday. No e-reader offers such tangible satisfaction as a physical book. I also find it far harder to flick back to check on a name or detail in a story, and there also seems to be less sense of how far along in the story I am. I know the little bar tells me I am 85% finished, but often there are so many pages of acknowledgements, a chapter advertising the next novel in that series etc placed at the end that I come upon the ending at 92% with a slight sense of shock (while those extras are of course often placed in physical books too, you have a greater awareness of them being there and it is very simple to do a quick check as to what the last page number of the actual story is). And you can’t read an e-book in direct sunlight.
There is also the issue of anonymity, which can be a plus or a minus. If you are reading porn or taking a trip down memory lane by reading Enid Blyton, you may be glad nobody else can see what you are reading on the bus. But in my experience, seeing someone’s cover has resulted in many interesting chats on public transport, and a sense of being part of a community of taste. The founder of the Jane Austen Society of Australia recruited several new members when she spotted people reading Jane Austen on the train.
We are lucky to live in a world that offers us both ways of reading, and goodness knows what other methods might be developed in the near future. I have found a nice balance – some e-reading, plenty of physical books, and audio books both on I-pod and in the form of CDs. So long as my life is filled with books in some form or another, I am happy.
Which do you prefer? Have you worked out your reading format to your satisfaction? Do share your views on this debate by clicking below to post a comment.
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