The following is a reprint (very slightly updated) from a Crossing Cultures post from January, 2017. Lately, I’ve noted or participated in discussions on the topic with surprising frequency. I hope you enjoy it. I've had fun revisiting it.
For me, 2017 has started off with a purge. I realize that that’s not exactly unique, but at our house it has been rather extreme this year. We moved my husband’s office to home and it has wonderfully resulted in a lot of tossing out, donating, and rearranging.
In moving so much “stuff”, I had to relocate some paperback books from a cabinet to a bookshelf, creating a double row. Yes, it is unfortunate that there were books in a cabinet in the first place, but having more books than shelf space is not an uncommon situation among bookworms.
It is, however, an uncomfortable situation for a “less is more” person like me (with the notable exception of books and plants) and thus we have arrived at the topic of this post: ereaders. I find myself astonished, exasperated, and sometimes amused when otherwise sensible individuals insist that they just can’t read on them, that they ruin the reading experience. Often, they carry it further, proceeding to question my reading habits and my approach to life in general.
Finally, I protest. Enough of this nonsense! I don’t know how all ereaders work, but I love my Kindle. If you have a different favorite, please feel free to substitute your preferred choice where appropriate. Most ereaders share similar conveniences. Let’s talk about those as opposed to “traditional” or “physical” books. I honestly don’t know which term I like less. There are new traditions as well as old, after all, and I’m not entirely convinced that a digital book is any less physical than a non-digital one (see what I did there).
Multi-device accessibility is awesome. I love that I can read a book on my phone while in line at the grocery store, enjoy a reading break on my iPad when it’s convenient, and pick up right where I left off with my Kindle while relaxing in my garden, at the beach, or tucked in bed at night.
Not all ebooks have an efficient table of contents, but these days, most of them do. Granted, there’s nothing really hard about using a table of contents, but the touch screen makes it easier than ever, especially with big books. Take the Bible, for instance. I confess that I still have to flip pages a bit at times. The book of Hosea is between…? With my e-version of The New American Bible, I merely tap and I’m there. Lazy? Nope, not if my goal is to read. In answer to any lofty observations about the search being good for me (“the journey”), that I might stumble upon more than I was looking for by flipping pages, I say that my Kindle’s ease of use is just as encouraging.
That goes for the built-in dictionary as well; it’s encouraging. Stumble across a word you’re not familiar with? Press on it and the definition pops up. My Kindle offers a great variety of free dictionaries to choose from. I can also highlight passages, bookmark pages, flip back and forth – by touch. Other favorite options are font size, style, and screen brightness.
But what about the tactile aspect? Of feeling the book in your hands? The smell of paper? Okay, so while I’m definitely not as nostalgic as the next guy, I get it to some degree. There’s something particularly magical about old, cherished books. There’s also something particularly dusty about them, not to mention flat-out musty. Achoo! And – oh – the mellow, yellowed pages! Since when is yellowed anything remotely appealing? Personally, I’m not a fan.
And how about the feel of a heavy book collapsing on your face when you fall asleep reading? That’s a tactile experience worth remembering. Consider how nice and light an ereader is. It’s also a lot less awkward and physically more comfortable to hold while reading in bed. That’s not an opinion; it’s an inarguable fact. How about holding an entire library while reading in bed? Why not give that a go?
But you have to charge an ereader! Oh, no! Imagine that, using electricity or a battery for convenience! If you are going someplace where that might not be an option, by all means take a hard copy and read in the light of a lantern or candle and enjoy your time travel.
And back to that purging, that space-saving option. I have over a thousand books on my Kindle with plenty of space left for more. It’s just so easy and convenient. While I probably have about the same number of hardbacks and paperbacks in my home library, space is really tight. But even if I had one of those spectacular, multi-storied libraries requiring a rolling ladder or two, isn’t it easier to just tap my Kindle? Yes, it is! Can’t fall off a Kindle, now can I? What about purses, briefcases, backpacks? An ereader is usually lighter than a single volume and I carry a library wherever I go.
Not only can I buy more books for my Kindle, from my Kindle, I can borrow digital books from the local library as well as other sources. I can read magazines, periodicals, documents --- all on that one wonderfully light, thin device. I can read with all the lights out at night and without worrying about glare during the day.
Disclaimer time, just to be clear. I do know that there are still books as yet unavailable in digital form. There are also some places and situations where electricity really isn’t an option. Obviously, that’s not what I’m talking about. You know what I’m talking about. Yes, you do.
I should also admit that even to me there are some books that are simply better the old-fashioned way. Kindles don’t make for great coffee table books. Books with photos are more easily appreciated in paper or hardback. For me, these would include cookbooks with mouth-watering photos, how-to books, gardening, and travel books. Also books with maps, charts, and/or graphs may or may not be easier to study in a larger format.
But for general reading purposes? For novels? My ereader wins every time.
You could always have both, of course. For example, I’m fond of small, leather-bound prayer books. But even with this dear little exception, I like to have a backup Kindle version if it’s available.
So, all you romantics, old-fashioned hardliners, and under-informed, wake up, lighten up (literally), stop being snobby – or don’t. Go ahead and lug some heavy tome through two or three airports and back because you’re stubborn. Good for you that books and reading mean so much to you. I mean that sincerely. Just don’t try to convince me that it’s a superior, more soulful option. I might heartily agree that you’re a better person than I am, but let’s leave my Kindle out of it.
Be like the flower, turn your face to the sun. – Gibran Khalil Gibran