Five by five by all the books

Reading paper books over breakfast can be problematic.

I was having the usual ‘physical books versus e-books’ discussion with someone on the weekend, and I came to my usual conclusion: that the worst book in the world cannot be made better by being made of paper, and the best book in the world isn’t diminished by being electronic. I think I always end up sounding like I don’t like regular ol’ books, when I’m really very fond of them. It’s just that I also like e-books. I’m fond of them, too. They suit aspects of my life admirably, moreso than ink and dead trees. Yet. Ink and dead trees can be SO LOVELY.

So here’s my top 5 reasons for loving e-books; and my top 5 reasons for loving paper books.

Traditional papery paper books with shiny covers? I’ll give you five reasons why you make my heart go pitter-pat.

  1. SHINY COVERS. Not all covers are lovely of course, but oh, those little artists’ impressions of what your innards are like? I adore them. I like to look at you and guess if I’m going to love you from your wrapping. Or if you’re going to disappoint me terribly. Or if you’re going to be an ugly ducking that grows up, by page 87, to be the bestest, most beautiful swan in the ‘verse. You’re tricky, cover art, but I love you.
  2. THICK PAPER. Some books, usually those with hard covers, have gloriously thick paper. It’s lush. It’s gorgeously tactile. I love the feel of turning a page of thick, textured paper. It takes reading from an intellectual and emotional exercise to one of physical sensation as well. Most books don’t have really lovely paper like this, but those that do… it’s a sensual experience. Even when the book sucks (which is a bit like fancying someone who dresses beautifully but turns out to be an arse, sadly).
  3. I CAN SPY ON WHAT YOU’RE READING. I confess, I’m a snoop. My husband tells me it’s perfectly natural, because I’m a writer. He sometimes threatens to make me a License To Be Nosy to flash around on the tram. Maybe I could use it to find out what people are reading on their sneaky e-readers. Hilarious erotica, possibly. I like peeking at what people are reading, though, either at the cover or, if I’m well positioned on the tram, over their shoulder to see what’s in the header. Maybe a couple of paragraphs. Yes, I know. I’m creepy. But I love how paper books conspire with me in public places like that.
  4. TANGIBLE PROGRESS. It’s quite nice to see my bookmark moving along the pages in that steadfast, inexorable fashion. My e-reader shows me a little dotted line; sometimes a percentage. Doesn’t seem quite so satisfying, somehow. Which leads me on to…
  5. BOOKMARKS! I have a nice little selection of bookmarks. Some of them I’ve had for years. Some of them I even remember to USE, instead of the bus tickets, cafe receipts, chopsticks wrappers and occasional bits of torn envelope.

E-books, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways!

  1. I CAN READ YOU WHILE EATING. I can open you to a page and pick up my knife and fork and you will not flow determinedly shut from the force of your excellent binding. You will allow me to rend my eggs and bacon into bite-sized pieces and simultaneously get on with the awesomeness of the story I am currently so steeped in that frankly, it’s lucky I remembered I need to eat. And I can change pages with a press of a button that only takes one finger! No more having to lay down arms, move the glasses case/travel guide/brick/cat I’ve been using to hold the pages down so I can either see the obscured paragraph or turn the page!
  2. YOU ARE SPLASH RESISTANT! And no sauce stains on The Hunger Games, or the Return of Sherlock Holmes, or anything by Lois McMaster Bujold, because I can wipe away the evidence of my grubbiness.  Take that, inability to eat tidily!
  3. DICTIONARY! So that when I’m reading, and there’s a new word, I can just highlight you (or tap on you if I’m reading on my iPhone) and my vocabulary E-X-P-A-N-D-S with hardly any effort. Ah, little e-book, whisper brand new words into my ear as often as you like. I can’t get enough of you. I sometimes find myself tapping at words on a printed page in vain, and then I get pouty. Paper books should have inbuilt dictionaries too. *sulk*
  4. E-BOOKS, LIKE GOD, ARE EVERYWHERE AT ONCE! I start reading a book on my Kindle at home! The battery goes flat while I’m out, OH NOES! but hello there, little iPhone, with your synchronised Kindle cloud, remembering where I am up to! Bless you! When I’ve recharged my Kindle, LO! the synch has spoken to you and you take me to the right place again. And if I give up on both of you and turn on my computer – WELL HELLO KINDLE APP ON MY DESKTOP.  So versatile.
  5. A HUNDRED BOOKS WEIGH THE SAME AS ONE. When I travel, I can take every book I want to read. EVERY SINGLE ONE. Even though I only ever travel with a small backback and a handbag. Because all the books fit into my one, petite, handy-dandy, purple-case-wrapped lovely little Kindle. I love you, compact little Kindle!

Got any loves of your own, for either format? Share the delight!

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, iPhone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.

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Posted on March 27, 2012, in e-books, writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. That’s the most rational argument for the written word in whatever form that I’ve come across. I must confess that being able to eat while reading an e-book hadn’t occured to me but what an advantage. The only thing I fear is the demise of bookshops – something magical about them.

    • I do love me a bookshop, too, but not all of them. The bloom of Borders soon passed for me. I love the shops where the people who own, manage and work in them really love the written word and love being a conduit for their clients to find great books. I think some of those will survive, but yes, I think it may become an artisan thing. Still, if all these ridiculous cupcake shops can find a home, a decent bookshop or two will surely remain.

  2. naturallydotty

    You forgot the joy of sinking your nose in the middle of a paper book and inhaling. Ahhh, the smell of a new book. On the other side, instant buying! No more waiting for a book to arrive.

    • Oh, I didn’t forget that one. Book-snorting isn’t in my repertoire. Most modern books just smell a bit chemically to me and are likely to make me sneeze. The smell of old libraries, with the whiff of leather and parchment and wood polish and mold, are another matter.

      • naturallydotty

        Yes, I should have said the joy of smelling some books….but also the memory that comes when you open a book that smells like something from your childhood. I’m thinking of Enid Blyton books for Christmas, and the like. *sigh*

        • I will concede that old books often do smell very nostalgic. Though, in the case of this messy eater-while-reading, sometimes they also smell of sauce.

  3. oh yes. the adoration of the cover art – does it actually have any reference to the story inside. Bookmarks to are a wonder. I love mine to pieces and happily buy more – even tho’ like you the rarely see the inside of a book. Bookplates are magical too and like bookmarks I covert many of them and e-readers only have so much space to cover.
    Also the ‘SIGNING’ – I don’t care what people say about getting an electronic signature I want to watch my favourite authors sign a beloved book as I gush about how much I love it, them etc…
    But I think i’m coming round to getting an e-reader – just the fact that I can have hundreds of books with me all the time. WOW it boggles the mind.

  4. Excellent article and reasons.

    I have a lot of books on a bookshelf at home that I would now only buy in e-book form. These books aren’t “keepers ” or “hand-me-downs” in a sense.

    They were only temporarily useful or entertaining and I wish I didn’t have them filling space.

    The existence of e-books should mean that my physical bookshelf contains onlyconcentrated goodness.

    PS: I also like the ability to take notes and highlight in e-books.

    • Oh, I do like that highlight function, especially as I’ve never been able to bring myself to write in the margins of paper books.

      Actually, I forgot other points on each of my love lists.

      Paper books can be given or lent to friends! It’s not something you can easily do with an ebook (in Australia at least). Though I suppose encouraging people to buy books from my recommendations is good for author royalties, yes?

      And I love that I can so easily change the size of the font in ebooks, for those days when my eyes seem really tired or (more likely) I’ve left my glasses behind. I don’t have to buy special Large Print Editions, so I can pretend more easily that my eyes are still young!

      • You can strip out the digital rights protection in ebooks. It’s a bit tricky to set up first time, but then it works a treat. I try and “unlock” all my ebooks, because of the famous 1984 incident (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazon_Kindle#cite_ref-george_103-0). I’ll only share with a friend if I think they would be interested but wouldn’t buy their own copy, and my motive is to get them interested in the author and future purchases.

        • Oh yes, I remember that incident well. With e-books, if I think someone will like it, I encourage them to download the sample, and then they can buy it if they like the look of it. At home, Tim and I just swap devices. 🙂

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