Why I Don’t Love Books (But Really I Do)

This post was going to be called “Why I Love My Kindle” until I realised I was really reacting against why some other people don’t like eReaders.

First I have to say that between the time I first blogged about it and gave it a lack-lustre 7/10[1], I have upgraded my original Kindle 2i to a Kindle 3. I’ve had this for a while now (a year?) and the differences – mostly the increased contrast of the eInk, partly the better software – have turned it from a nice gadget to something I love. In fact of the last (…counts) 12 books I read only one was on paper, and that was back in April. Of the last 26, 8 were paper and 18 were ebooks. Of those 18, 8 I had in both formats but chose to read the ebook. Prior to that they were all paper books.

Anyway, enough stats. I like reading on my Kindle, you get that. And the reasons are all the ones that you’ve heard before, basically the practical convenience issues –

  • hundreds of books in a single small object.
  • I can browse, sample and buy online via the Kindle itself
  • it remembers where I left off
  • searchability – this is huge for me, if I haven’t read a book for a few days I often need to flick back to remind myself of an incident or character, being able to search for it is brilliant.

Now of course there are downsides too, and I’ll come to those, but for me the advantages out weigh those hugely.

What I’ve found when discussing this with folks that don’t like Kindles/eReaders (or the idea of them) is that the reasons that emerge often aren’t anything to do with reading per se. Some of you will want to disagree with that statement but read on.

It’s like when cassettes and then CDs supplanted the vinyl record. These things won out (and are themselves replaced largely now by mp3s and streaming services) because of the convenience, the usability. Purists would argue that the sound was inferior but the vast majority of us just liked the fact that you could skip to any track quickly and easily.

It’s like that but different – because ebooks contain the same exact content as their paper counter-parts[2] – Great Expectations on the Kindle has the same words and sentences as it does in the most beautifully bound leather edition. So unlike Vinyl → CD where you give up some quality for convenience, here they are the same.

So the actual content, the stuff you read, is the same. What’s different? What do the non-Kindle-lovers miss?

Well there are still some practical things:

  • you can’t pass on a book easily. In fact you can’t lend, give or sell it to anyone who doesn’t have an ereader (unless you’re prepared to print it out) at all and for those that do you’ll probably be doing something illegal if you were to make a copy for them.
  • You can’t read it in the bath or other place where you’re worried about it being damaged. They’re a lot cheaper than they were but eReaders are still more expensive in themselves than a single paperback.

That’s really all I can think of on the “practical” front. Both are reasonable. Personally I don’t lend out a lot of books though I sometimes miss the ability to pass on a favourite to someone (although it also stops me doing that thing where you try to push a book you loved on someone only to have them dismiss it politely with ‘it was ok…’, or worse find they never read it). I have read in the bath but I find my arms start to ache and/or itch after a few minutes, so it’s not something I really do any more. For other venues well, they really are quite robust and direct sunlight is not an issue (makes it more readable and if anything less glare than the white of a paper book). Get a good cover and you’ll be fine.

The other reasons I’ve had cited are things like the following:

  • the feel of books, the tactile experience of turning the pages.
  • The way books look, especially well-produced hard-back ones
  • the way they look in shelves in a room
  • the smell

These are all real reasons people have given me. What I realised was that whilst I love books, I love them for what’s inside – the words, the ideas, the stories. These people as well as that, love books as objects. Now in many cases I expect that the object-love grows out of the associations, that the sense memory of feeling the paper under your fingers as you stroke it to pick up the page and turn it over with that dry smell of ‘book’ has become wedded to the joy of discovery of characters and worlds and horizons of others’ imaginations.

This is all good and I understand it, I have objects around my home that I love for reasons that have little to do with their “real” purpose, that may never even get used for that – but for the most part I don’t share this when it comes to books. I don’t love books as objects, I love them as the keepers of stories, places I can go in my head when I want to escape the hum-drum or the awful of this world.

A great book can take me away regardless of the physical attributes of its encasing, in fact to be great for me it must. It ought to be able to transcend the reality of this world, including its own physical “wrapper”. If to lose myself in a story the “box” it comes in has to be a particular quality then I’m probably doomed to few such experiences – fortunately that’s not the case.

At least for me.

[1] OK, so I wrote this from memory and as you can see I actually gave it 8/10 – which is pretty good. But my comments are far from a full-throated approval, which is why I think I remembered it as “lack-lustre”. I think that disparity shows I wanted to love it, and by the time I got my Kindle 3 I did.
[2] I confess I’m talking mainly about books without illustrations or pictures, which shows the bias of my reading preferences.
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