In Favor of the Physical Book
January 15, 2013 § 7 Comments
One of the big discussions in publishing over the last few years has been about e-books and how they’re going to destroy paper books, or how paper books are naturally better and more readerly than e-books. I love a good argument, and I also love playing the devil’s advocate. So today starts a two-part series in which I look at the pros and cons of hard copies and their e-book counterparts.
These are what I think of when I think of books–bound pages, that nice papery-ink smell, arranged in rows on bookshelves. In fact, I’m always tempted to say “a real book” when comparing hard copies to e-books. Somehow having something to touch and smell makes it seem more real.
Of course, that could just be my own bias from growing up with physical books as the only option. (Note: I also don’t listen to audio books very often.) A few more reasons why I prefer hard copies:
1. Cover Art
Okay, they say never to judge a book by its cover. But cover design can be truly unique and beautiful. It’s an introduction to the book even before you read the first word. And it can connect you to a particular edition of that book. For example, when I was in eighth grade, I read my classroom library’s version of The Outsiders. It was the movie tie-in edition, but somehow the cover, with its sunset and the fading faces of actors, felt right. I asked for my own copy for Christmas and got a version with a different cover. I still read the book about a hundred times, but I never got used to this different cover image. This might be different for some of the more impressive e-readers, but mine only includes a hazy black-and-white image of a book’s cover–not nearly as appealing or as evocative of a book’s content.
2. The Ease of Turning Pages
I tend to be a fast reader, especially when I’m in the middle of a book I’m really invested in and I can’t wait to see what happens at the end. But sometimes that means I need to flip back to check on a particular detail. That’s way easier to do with a physical book than an e-book. It’s also easier to immediately see where you are in a book–”more than halfway there!”–and track your reading progress. And there’s something satisfying in physically turning that last page–not quite the same as clicking a button.
If I go to a friend’s house and they have bookshelves in full view, you can bet that’s where I’ll be. And similarly, bookshelves have a prominent place in my home. A personal library in full view can tell you so much about the person who has read the books, and can spark all sorts of conversations. Having books in plain sight can also be a good reminder of what you’ve read and inspire you to reread a particular book.
4. Sharing and Giving
Sometimes you finish a book and don’t necessarily need to have it on your bookshelves forever–but maybe your friend wants to read it. Although I’m sure there are ways to do it for e-readers, I find it much easier to share physical books. (Granted, I also hoard my books a lot; I’ve been burned by borrowers who become keepers.) Books also make the perfect gift–they’re easy to buy and (bonus) easy to wrap. This year, Walt gave me a copy of Our Town (because I need to cry some more) and inscribed a quote from Thornton Wilder in the front. That’s certainly not something you can do with a e-book.
5. Book Spying
One of my greatest complains about e-readers is that they don’t allow you to see what someone else is reading. I love seeing what people are reading on public transportation/at the doctor’s office/in line at the grocery store/etc. Once I was on the T and I saw someone reading Tuck Everlasting. I didn’t say anything, but it felt like I had an instant connection to my fellow T-rider. If that reader had gotten the e-book version, I would never have felt that readerly bond.
When I was young, my family took trips to the library and the bookstore. Most of the books I read were books I stumbled across. Maybe I’d heard about them beforehand, but a lot of times I’d find an interesting title, flip through the first few pages, and give it a whirl. Maybe they didn’t all end up as my favorite books ever, but the sense of discovery was exciting. I don’t tend to browse through Amazon or other online booksellers that much, even with lists of recommended or similar titles.
7. No On/Off Switch
E-readers are great if you’re traveling (more on that tomorrow) but hard copies don’t require you to charge them or turn them off while your plane takes off (an essential time to have a book, in case your seat partner feels chatty).
A couple times I’ve gotten an e-book and later seen that the author would be at a local bookstore or library for a signing. Bringing a Kindle and asking an author to sign that? Not as cool.
If you’re not convinced, check out these posts about the awesomeness of the printed book:
- The Argument for Books—‘Heavy, Smelly, Cumbersome, Perfect Bound Books’
- Will Your Children Inherit Your E-Books?
- Happy Accidents in the Library
Other reasons you love physical books? Share in the comments!