Tuesday, 1 March 2011

I'm not a digital hater, I just prefer printed.

E-Book on an iPad
Credit Here
When e-books and digital readers first came out I was horrified. Who on earth would trade in a trusty paperback for a computer screen? How are you supposed to get comfortable in front of a computer? And what about bookstores and libraries? Are my days of spending hours drifting happily between stacks of books, running my hands across the spines of volumes of untold secrets and knowledge on their way out? Panic rose up and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up when I imagined this world without printed books. It was not a pretty vision.

Luckily this was all a bit of a wild overreaction but not without cause, it must be said. The way some folks were talking this nightmare vision I had seemed imminent. But just like the television did not kill off radio and internet has not made everyone unsocial hermits who sit at home all day in their underpants and have no idea how to interact with each other, digital readers aren't going to replace printed books. It has merely added a new, convenient and lightweight way to read - one with a multitude of benefits, for sure.

Being 28, I'm not quite a digital native but was a young enough digital migrant so that living with and using technology seems like second nature. So why haven't I run out and bought myself some kind of digital reader yet? Surely it seems like the next logical step but truthfully I have zero desire to have one and today it finally dawned on me while I was reading this blog post on Accidental Moments this morning why this is. It's not just the act of reading words that form a narrative that I love about books. It's the whole experience of it.

My bookshelves
Photo by Kath Liu
My book experience starts, ideally, in a good bookstore. Quite often I have a mental list of books I want to buy as well as a sub-list of "If I find them that'd be nice" books. But I'm not really there just to buy a product and get out. It's not the purchase, it's the browsing. The smell of the pages of new books. The muted silence punctuated only by the sound of a page being turned or a book being slotted back into a shelf. The feeling of being surrounded by one of the things I love most in the world. I swear that if heaven is your happy place, my heaven is going to be an immense bookstore with a cosy coffee shop with massive sofas overlooking the ocean.

Once the book comes home with me, it's time to find it a place on my bookshelves. I don't have a massive collection of books as my bookshelf space is necessarily limited by the fact that I live in an apartment in Taiwan but with a bit of 'creative stacking' I've managed thus far. I love the way my bookshelves look, stuffed full of all of the different coloured spines. It looks inviting and friendly. It makes me happy looking at them. It's nothing impressive but it's my own little library.

Which brings me to my favourite part of the experience: sharing books. On average about 7 of my books can at any time be found floating around various locations in Taiwan, being read and enjoyed by other people. It's one of the best feelings to recommend a book to someone and have them absolutely love it. The love of sharing reading experiences is why I love Bookcrossing, book clubs and book blogging so much. Passing a much-loved book around to be enjoyed by others feels like sharing a slice of happiness. You just can't do that with a book downloaded to a digital reader unless you're willing to surrender your reader to someone for a space of time.... not something people are typically willing to do, understandably!

Me, reading.
Photo by Kath Liu
So aside from the fact that I don't think there's anything quite like curling up on the couch with a hot cup of tea, a biscuit or four and a trusty paperback, it's not only the actual reading of a book that makes me prefer the printed book to the digital books. From bookstore to shelf to my lap to someone else's and back again - it's the love of this whole process that makes me choose printed every time. Call me old-fashioned if you like. It's just my personal preference.

Which do you prefer? Printed or digital? Why? Does it change according to situation? Let me know!


  1. I received a Kindle as a gift, even though I was kind of opposed to them. But I found myself kind of enjoying it. I love being able to read one-handed, and the access to free classics is amazing. I love physical books. LOVE them. And will never give them up. But sometimes, the convenience of the Kindle is good.

    Except now my purse has two books and a Kindle. Negating the idea that a Kindle makes it easier to carry your books around.

  2. I understand the hesitant response but when I look at the leaning stack of books sitting next to my bed, table, and office I realize the space and mess they create...I have a change of mind.

  3. I don't have an e-reader, and I don't mind at all. I love holding the book and turning the physical pages.

    The only reason I might get one eventually, is for convenience. I travel quite a bit so it would save some space in my luggage if I brought an e-reader instead of four or five books! :)

  4. At one point in time I was being resistant to the idea of reading a book on an e-reader. However, my tune has changed somewhat due to the amount of space my books are taking up these days. I don't like to go through and get rid of books, much to my wife's chagrin at times!

    More often than not, I find it difficult to make it to the bookstore these days, and we have been buying our books from amazon for some time now, mainly because of the cost savings as opposed to going to Barnes and Noble.

    We're actually going to take the plunge and get Kindles in a few weeks. It's the only thing, other than a real book, that I would actually consider reading a book on. As I sit behind a computer all day, I really don't want to read on a iPad or NookColor. But I don't think I'd ever give up physical books.

  5. I heard the other day that ebooks are now a bigger seller on Amazon than physical books. I'm so hoping that's because you're buying online anyway. But one of the reasons I read books is to escape from screens so I'm hesitant to jump on board.

  6. Printed books, but not for the warm-fuzzies of cuddling up with one. I like knowing that I *own* my book, and that nobody can take it away from me, and that I can sell it, trade it or give it away because after paying the price to own it, it is MINE.

    I refuse to even consider e-books until it is guaranteed and understood as a general social concept that once you buy it, you own it just like a regular book. None of this "oh there was a copyright issue so we're erasing it from your reader" BS like with the "1984" hubbub. None of this "no you can't lend or give it to friends, they have to buy their own". Until that changes, I am simply not interested in digital books.

    (And like you, I'm a "young digital migrant" - I am too old to have known things like the Internet and cell phones since childhood, but young enough to be fluent in modern technology).

  7. Wrote a whole essay and then deleted it realizing that there are basically four things I wanted to say:
    1) I love digital
    2) I love books
    3) I love the Environment and digital helps me ease my conscience of 12 years working in publishing...
    4) I love the fact that greater choice bring more people in contact with the joy that is the written word...

  8. I love physical books. Really, nothing can replace the feel and smell of an actual book in your hand. And I do hate that I can't lend ebooks to friends. That said, my main problem lately is I need to be able to read in the dark when I'm putting my baby to sleep (a rather long, drawn out process but I love it so I'm not complaining). I haven't found a good way to read one-handed in near total darkness (the glow of a computer screen is okay), so because of that I've been reading more blogs on my laptop lately, and the occasional ebook on my Kindle for Mac. If I could find a way around this I'd much prefer reading an actual book!

  9. @Roxanne - I love that you're carrying a Kindle AND books around. That's my definition of awesome!!

    @Valerie - That's totally fair. I absolutely see the benefits of digital readers and I'm not in any way opposed to them. I predict one of these days I'm going to get overrun with books. We'll see how I feel then ;)

    @Kristi - If I get one it'll be for travelling. At this point I don't travel an awful lot and when I do I don't get much time for reading. I have one of those drag-me-around-everywhere-what-is-this-relaxing-you-speak-of husbands ;)

    @Jeremy - I'd love to know how the Kindles go for you! They simulate the printed page pretty well, I have to admit. I doubt that any book lover would ever give up on books entirely. This piece was more me sorting out in my own head why on earth I have this irrational resistance to digital readers.

    @Lisa - Most of my book club are digital now. The main reasons are that it's (usually) cheaper and more instantaneous. I totally understand- we're in Taiwan so buying English books isn't as easy and postage costs a fair whack plus waiting for the book can take time. I think everyone's secretly glad some of us still have physical copies though so they can be borrowed out.

    @Jenna - Now that is another excellent point and I agree. There's something very physical about the ownership of a book. Having a file on a reader feels too flimsy in a way, even though a book could easily get something spilled on it/dropped in a bath/burned. And the ability to share a book really gets me.

    @Steve - Four excellent points! I agree with all of them. On the environmental issue -it's akin to the fact that I'd be a vegetarian if I didn't love bacon so darned much. I just can't resist a paper book. I'm such a moral failure sometimes!!

    @Cahleen - That's so cool that the digital reader works so nicely for you! I know a few people who say that the backlit screen is a life-saver especially when they want to read in bed and their hub/wife wants to sleep. Happily, I have a husband who could sleep through me practicing drums with floodlights on so at this point I don't have to worry..... come back to me on this point when I have kids!

  10. I'm a print girl all the way. My husband got me a Kindle for Christmas and I know I'll eventually use it for travel and such, but I haven't been able to bring myself to use it yet.

  11. I love physical books, but will read the occasional ebook. I don't mind. It's all dependent on mood. Sometimes I just have to smell the book and feel it in my hands.

    I'm your newest follower.

  12. @Steve and Kath -

    Apparently (I am currently looking for studies not sponsored by vested interests in any industry) - at least so I have heard - digital anything is not necessarily more environmentally friendly than paper.

    Most paper comes from dedicated paper farms, from trees that wouldn't be grown at all if not for paper - it's not (at least not mostly) from trees illegally logged or from threes that would still be standing if it were not for consumer paper demand. So in a way paper can help *create* biomass and be eco-friendly.

    The Internet, digital books, e-readers etc. all require factories and mining operations to produce, including high-environmentally-impacting mining for rare earth to produce the semiconductors and other chips that run our devices, as well as the production of plastic ('but each person only needs one, whereas they would by lots of books!" - not really, because electronics break and need to be replaced fairly often). Servers to run the Internet and to store the data from which you buy your books require both space, factory production (there is physical storage out there for all those bits floating around in cyberspace you know) and power, and electricity is probably the most eco-harmful thing of the whole lot. It takes a lot less electricity to produce and read a book than it does to produce, operate and provide server storage for everything an e-book requires (let's not get into the greater digital and Internet world).

    So...don't be too hasty in assuming that buying a Kindle is eco-friendly. There's plenty of evidence to show that it isn't.

  13. I'm so glad that I'm not the only book nerd out there. I was also fearing the day, far into the future, where books have been eliminated and everything is read off a screen. Hey, you don't see a lot of libraries in science fiction movies...Thanks for summing up exactly how I feel.

  14. I love bookshops! I could spend days in them, looking around and reading. I get that from my Dad I think because he can spend hours in bookshops and often does!

    Scott however hates them, so if I'm out with him it's usually just a quick trip in and then out.

    I love books. Being able to sit down with them, turning the pages and just relaxing into it.

    I do have the ibook application on my ipod and have a few books there to read and can see that it would be a good idea when you are travelling due to space, but I don't think I could ever use it to replace my actual books.

  15. @Avid Reader - My hubby is a major techno-geek and looooves his gadgets and would love to get me an e-reader too.... if he knew I'd use it!! If I start travelling a lot more, then perhaps. When you do start using your kindle, let me know how you think it stacks up!

    @Jennifer - Thanks for the comment and for following! :) Good to know that both work well for you. Is there any kind of book you prefer to read on an e-reader or as a physical book? Or is it just about how you're feeling and nothing to do with the type of book?

    @Jenna - Interesting points. I wonder which really is the more environmentally friendly option, then? Hmmm, now I'm thinking! Thanks for that feedback.

    @Kim - Book nerds unite!! I got seriously worried when the Kindle was introduced and there was that massive BOOKS ARE DOOMED thing going around the media. And you're so right - not a lot of libraries in sci-fi movies!! Luckily I think it's safe to say that as long as we're around, physical books will be here to stay.

    @Carolyn - Hello! Oh days and days on end could be spent in a bookstore. I secretly harbour a dream of owning a coffee shop/bookstore. One day... I think what I'm hearing here is that pretty much everyone loves their physical books but e-books are awesome for convenience. Which I totally get. Thanks for stopping by!

  16. I am extremely resistant to the concept of ebooks and readers. It is so utterly relaxing to leisurely peruse the shelves at my local libraries and bookstores. I love the feel of a real book, the smell, sound as I turn a page. I like to share books and I also usually buy them used, so I appreciate their history. I also read so quickly that I cannot imagine having to scroll through pages.

    Unfortunately, I know the time will come when I will be forced to break down and buy and e-reader. I will rebel as long as I can though.

  17. I was on the fence about e-readers for a while but then I was given an iPad at a work conference and took it with me on a two week vacation - I have to say - it was perfect because I could take so many books along with weighing down my cases. So, I think both paper and e-books have their place.

  18. @Vinobaby - I totally know what you mean. I love the history of used books too, seeing people's notes in the margin or having an old receipt fall out. It makes reading that book just a little more exciting and fun.

    @BooksNYC - I have read one book on an iPad (not mine) and the reading experience was pretty good - the screen wasn't too glary and the flicking of the pages on the screen was fun. I definitely see the point of taking lots of books for travelling to save space. I might try and read a couple on the husband's iPad when I travel to England next month, but I have a sneaking suspicion I'll still bring a physical book or two... if only or the sake of not fighting over the iPad ;)

  19. Like you, I don't think I can take to kindle kindly lol. It is just not the same, reading on kindle, never can be. I like the feel of a book in the hands, the thicker the better, although I am not a voracious reader. Have you read "Cry Of The Panther" by James P. MCmULLEN? I am lousy at reviews but have written a thumb-nail on 5 books I read and enjoyed recently which really meant a few months ago lah. Check it out http://lifeasanordinarymalaysian.blogspot.com and search for the post "5 Books I Read And Enjoyed Recently" You are fantastic with books and reviews.

  20. I gave my daughter a Nook for a Christmas gift year before last. She was taking a trip to Australia for 6 months, and I thought it would pack better than books. I waited for her response. Although, she took it with her, and uses it occasionally, she just really loves books. Like you, she loves the smell and the feel of books. When she touches a favorite book, she smiles with glee. Her favorite places are libraries and old book stores. You two must be kindred spirits.

  21. Ordinary Malaysian - Thanks for your comment! I haven't read that and even though I'm late seeing this comment I will come over and check your blog out!

    Bea - Sounds very much like your daughter and I have the same book behaviours! I adore the smell of libraries and getting lost in the book stacks. Nothing better. I hope she had safe and enjoyable travels!

  22. I don't have a blog, my daughter does, you commented, and I followed over to your blog, which I really enjoyed, and will revisit.

  23. Bea - Thank you very much for coming by! I love it when I get new visitors :)