The (Book) Case for Real Books

There are six bookcases in my study, and two of those are arranged so that

I can shelve paperbacks on both sides of them.

On those shelves I still have books that I bought and first read 50 years ago and, as new books enter the house, I periodically have to decide which ones I still feel I need to keep around.

So, yes, I have a fondness for the printed word in physical form, as well as appreciating the convenience of the digital variety.

E-readers succeed to the extent that they manage to mimic the experience of a physical book. Having pages that seem to turn rather than fading and changing like slides is a plus, for instance. Being able to highlight or underline sections is good, as is being able to move the page to one side and make a marginal note.

Lots of people refer to the sterile feel of e-readers. This is true, whether you’re using a dedicated device like a Kindle, Kobo or Nook, or just using the same (but slightly different) software on a pod, pad or phone. They don’t have the tactile or olfactory sense of a book.

Other things are more important to me, though.

Every time you pick up a book, you are reminded of its title and who wrote it. This is not the case when you turn on your e-reader. Some versions display the title, but many don’t.

With a physical book, you are always aware of how much of it you have read, and how much is left to read. Because screen counts are wildly different depending on the device and the font size you’ve chosen, that’s harder to tell with an e-book. I am currently reading Shelagh Plunkett’s The Water Here is Never Blue. The Kindle app on my iPhone tells me that I have read 10% of it and that I am at “Loc 375 of 3341,” whatever that means.

Some other e-book might tell me I have about five minutes left to read in a particular chapter, but not the whole book, though a display line at the bottom of the screen might give me an indication of overall progress.

With real books I have only to walk to the bookcase where a particular genre or type is stored to find the book I want to refer to. With e-books I have to recall which of the three major vendors I bought it from, and then check the library listings (either on the device itself or in the cloud) for each one to find what I want. Because of that previously mentioned lack of constant exposure to the author’s name, this can sometimes be a challenge.

Finally, for today, there’s the matter of searching in a book for something you want to check on or quote. With a real book you will probably remember pretty well how far through the book you have to go to find what you want. You also probably have a sense that it can be found on either the right or left hand page, and roughly where on that page.

E-books simply can’t duplicate that blend of visual and tactile memory.

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