E: E-Reader or Physical Books?
This isn’t quite the no-brainer it used to be. I don’t happen to have an e-reader of my own, which prohibits me from making too many vast sweeping judgments for myself in favor or against the things. As a user of Project Gutenberg, I can certainly appreciate the utility of an electronic book: so long as the book is available, it can be yours instantly; presumably it’s easy to highlight and share quotations electronically; and it saves a lot of space in an apartment or house. E-readers take me one step closer to being Hermione Granger: a library can rest in my purse and accompany me everywhere.The advent of e-readers and e-books also changes the publishing game in seemingly positive ways. Publishers who needn’t produce a paper-and-ink copy of a book can apply resources differently: less production, storage, and shipping; more graphic design, cloud storage, and general tech. Or so I suppose. I also suppose this enables publishers to work with more authors than ever before, while authors who prefer to self-publish can also do so more readily.
So: less space, less money spent per book, more authors and ideas available: hurrah!
But, of course, the fact remains that an e-reader costs some $80 to $200 at the outset, requires maintenance of its software and battery, and could lose books without warning. I am also concerned with privacy – would such a device report my reading list to someone? Would companies pay to interrupt me mid-chapter with ads? Ugh. No thank you.
So let us consider physical books. They take up space (I don’t have too many books; I have insufficient bookshelves); they’re heavy to move, especially in bulk; they’re subject to all kinds of damage; they aren’t backlit. You may not be able to find a particular volume through the bookstore or library, and whether you buy a copy or reserve it, you must wait days or weeks to receive it.
But upon receipt, that book opens right up, and no one can take it away (without being present). The book’s tangibility doesn’t change the ideas within it, but it does change how the reader interacts with them. Each volume has unique opportunities for beauty. The heft of the book as a whole, the design of the cover, the margins for easy annotation, the sight and color and smell: all such things render the experience of reading a particular book more distinctive. Opening my Complete Shakespeare is unlike opening my favorite Father Brown book is unlike opening the slender volume of Yeats.