Paper or Plastic?

One of the great debates among readers is, paper or plastic? That is to say, “real” books or e-readers such as the Kindle?

I absolutely love books. I love their weight, their bindings, and the feel and smell of the paper. I love different printings and dust jacket art. I love to hold and sometimes smell a used book and think about the people who have held and read that book before me. Where were they when they read it? What was going on in their lives? Reading books that have been owned, read, and loved by family members is particularly wonderful. I also can’t overstate how much I love to just look at my books, allowing my eyes to wander over the spines randomly focusing on titles and reminiscing about their contents. As a close friend of mine says, “they’re like old friends.”

And yet, I do own a Kindle. I’m on my third one in fact (Kindle Oasis). No, it doesn’t have the feel or romance of a physical book. On the other hand, it’s extraordinarily convenient. Before I owned a Kindle I vividly remember hauling more than a dozen books at a time on vacation. Having a Kindle allows me to take literally hundreds, if not thousands of books with me anywhere I go. As a serious reader this is an important benefit for me.

I also like to underline and write in my books, at least the non-fiction ones that I’m trying to learn from. I think spatially, so I often remember where a given passage is physically located in the book, even many years later, and that helps me to find that passage when I try and relocate it again. Die hard e-book readers will scoff at that, citing ease of search with their devices. As true as that is, the notes function in the Kindle is a far cry from true marginalia. Maybe it’s user error, but my fat fingers make typing notes into a Kindle a chore and I have yet to find a way to easily access those notes once I’ve finished the book.

I tend to buy many more books that I can read, both physical and e-books, and find joy in continually stumbling over books that are on a shelf or my desk that I haven’t yet read. The Kindle filing system is so efficient that I’ve bought physical copies of books that were on my Kindle, but had forgotten I owned them.

The Kindle does have a lovely font and I like the backlight function making it comfortable to read in any quality ambient light, but as I alluded to before, I really love the art of the bookbinder. A great example is the books produced by Lost Art Press. Yes, I’m (almost) always interested in the contents of their books, but part of the reason I buy nearly every title they produce is the high level of care and quality with which they publish books. To hold one of LAP’s books is to hold a work of craftsmanship that is apparent before you ever open the cover. I have other books, a particularly special copy of the Lord of the Rings for example, that I bought because I loved the binding and gave a way a prior copy.

That brings me to children’s picture books. Really well written and illustrated picture books hold a very special place in my heart. Yes, I read them with my kids but don’t be mistaken. These are my books. Books like The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce, Bats at the Library by Brian Lies, or Old Turtle and the Broken Truth by Douglas Wood. These are books that must be experienced in a visual and tactile way and the large format of most picture books improves the ability to share the stories with kids. Reading these books on an e-reader or even an iPad is a diminished experience that I don’t enjoy.

That brings me to another aspect of physical books that I love. I love to give them away as gifts. In general, I’ve long since stopped loaning books to friends. It sets up a bad dynamic for both of us as many people don’t feel about books the way that I do. Dog eared pages, water stains, or worse are enough to try even the closest of relationships. But a gift? The gift of a book strengthens a relationship every time. The gift of a book says, “I was thinking about you.” A gift of a book says, “we share something in common.” A gift of a book also says, “I’m revealing part of myself to you.” The gift of a book creates intimacy and friendship. How do you do that with an e-book?

Finally, I’ve raised my kids to be serious readers too. Hopefully I have many, many more years of reading ahead of me but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to thinking about my library as a future legacy and gift to my kids. I think about and curate my library as something they will inherit that will both enrich their lives and remind them of me. How does that work with a Kindle?

All of that said, I will not give up my Kindle and there are two things Amazon could do to deepen the Kindle’s place in my life and probably in yours too. First, the marginalia/notes function really is atrocious. Please put a keyboard back onto the Kindle and find a way to improve the notes functions. I want improved abilities to see my notes as I’m reading and to know that a given book has more or less notes that another. Add a line underneath the progress bar that includes a tick mark for each note, thinner or thicker pending on the length of the note.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, don’t make me choose between a physical book and a Kindle version. Many, many times I evaluate the price of a physical book versus the e-version. There may be good reasons for an e-book to have a price approaching a physical copy, but I don’t know what it is and so, if the prices are within a few dollars of one another I’m going physical instead of e-book. If the e-book price is very cheap, then I may do that. It’s always an attempt to balance the benefits and costs of one versus the other. Amazon, please simplify my life and when I buy a physical book add a $5 e-book option as an add-on. I promise you I will add that option every…single…time. Seems like a win for both of us.

Yes, I do love my Kindle and it has earned its place in my reading life but I will never give up physical, real books.

What about you? Paper or plastic?

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4 thoughts on “Paper or Plastic?

  1. As someone who doesn’t own a kindle I wouldn’t know the ease of having thousands of books at my disposal. I have always loved having a physical book since I was a child. When my mom would take me to a book store it would be hours at a time so I could just sit there and read the backs of books until I became found something that peaked my interest. I also have to say there is something special about the way you have to strategically pack books for vacation. You can’t just throw them in a suitcase and call it a day, there is preparation in packing the right number of books that will last you through vacation.

    1. I agree totally. I love the whole process of packing books for a trip. It usually starts a week or two before. A stack forms and then gets edited over the succeeding days.

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