Few things divide the reading community so heavily as e-readers versus physical books. Many will claim that real readers avoid these little screens and instead bulk-buy at their local bookstore. But others will argue that an e-reader is the only way to efficiently and economically read enough books in a year. Moreover, it unlocks advantages that allow you to enjoy your passion for reading to a greater extent.
As someone who gave into temptation and purchased an e-reader but still has bookshelves of novels waiting to be read, I decided to look into the root of this divide. Why do those who consider themselves ‘real’ readers hate e-readers so much and do they have a point?
When you consider the most popular scents, you’ll likely come to the traditional smells of freshly cut grass, rain, firewood and more. You’ll have the oddball who enjoys sniffing the oily aroma of petrol stations or someone who concerningly claims cherry vanilla to be their favourite. It’s rare for us to add the smell of a new book and fresh pages to this list, and yet it is a commonly listed reason why readers don’t like e-readers. We yearn for that fresh scent of a book, the history of travelling from the author’s mind to the factory to the bookstore to your home, with a few extra stops in-between.
But not to be the party pooper of this library, I’ve actually found that the majority of my new books don’t have this smell. Perhaps it’s the rigorous sanitation processes, or the distances travelled, but paper doesn’t smell, and neither do the majority of my books.
Many readers fear that using an e-reader will increase their chances of distraction. Maybe it’s because the focus muscle we’ve built for reading is dependent on the physical entity of the book, and so a screen causes us to slip into a similar mode as watching a film or being on our phone. Maybe being on an electronic device encourages us to stray over to our other ones. Either way, many readers feel that e-readers will reduce their focus on a book and make it harder to commit to memory. Research has shown that readers take in information and store it better from a physical book than an e-reader.
Bookstores have been a part of society for centuries now and serve more purpose than simply retail. They are a collection of words, thoughts and memories. They are a haven for readers, a place with something for everyone. The rise in e-readers can be linked to the decline of bookstores, but to make such a correlation would also be false, as it is also websites like Amazon that contribute to this. Individuals buy physical books from huge corporations, which also impacts the success of a local bookstore.
Whilst I purchase books for my Kindle, I also try to regularly visit a local bookstore for specific titles or simply to find something new. I ensure that any physical book purchased is done locally to at least feel like I’m doing something to help.
But many bookstores are now working to join the online medium, with some offering e-books as well. Additionally, there are movements to help bookstores join online delivery, such as the excellent initiative Bookshop, which connects bookstores on one platform for mail delivery.
There is a sense of pride that comes from reaching the final page of a novel. When all that lies between you and the back cover are acknowledgements and publishers logos. But that sense of accomplishment also fuels you whilst reading the book, as you watch the pages flick away and creep closer to the end of the novel.
This is something you don’t have with e-readers, as you aren’t as aware of the progression as you read. Instead, there is a little percentage in the corner, which is interesting but doesn’t catch your attention in the same way.
Personally, I prefer this. I’m one of those strange beings that grow fearful as I grow closer to the end of a book I’m enjoying. I’ll begin delaying reading sessions and urging myself to read slower as I don’t want to lose this character from my life. So not knowing how far I am in the book allows me to be properly immersed and only mourn it once it’s over. But for others, it’s frustrating and doesn’t allow you to read as efficiently as you would like.
I find e-readers to be particularly useful when travelling, as you pack one thing instead of several books. There is a unique kind of pain to finishing your novel before the end of your trip and not having anything new to read. With an e-reader, you’ll never have this unless you’re away from all internet connection.
Many of those against e-readers cite the battery life to be a potential issue, as you have to charge something in a way that you never would a book. E-readers have impressive battery lives, as my Kindle will easily take me through three good-sized books without issue. But others may see it as an additional hassle, the charger is something else to remember to pack, and it’s a hassle to lose the cable.
One particularly frustrating aspect of e-readers is going back and forth. I remembered something from an earlier page of the story and wanted to flick back to find it. This is something that would take seconds with a physical book but instead became a huge commotion and ultimately not worth the effort.
An e-reader isn’t the cheapest purchase, so damaging one would be a more painful experience than a book. E-readers are sturdy little things and even water-resistant lately, but still, they have their limitations. It can make readers feel uncomfortable taking it out of the house or reading in public. Many also fear the theft of their e-reader if they’re using it openly in public.
For years we’ve been hearing about the dangers of electronics, how we shouldn’t use them first thing in the morning or last thing in the evening. Then comes the glorious e-reader, which is supposed to replace your morning read alongside a cup of coffee, or your evening wind-down with a book. Even though e-readers don’t use blue light and are adapted for optimum eye health, it’s a disconcerting feeling and one that puts many off using e-readers.
Many of us spend the majority of our day in front of a screen, and so we like to use our off-time to move away from them. This can be hard given the temptation of Netflix or a good TV show, and so it feels like reading is our only private solace without a screen. Even though we rationally know that e-readers are different, it doesn’t feel that way in practice.
Humans thrive off habits; we live in our comfort. We like to do things a certain way and keep it at that, as routines provide a sense of security and success. I believe that readers embody this more than non-readers, as we often view books as a source of consistency and a haven from the busy world. We like to read at certain times, we like to read certain genres, and we usually like to read in a certain way. If you were raised with physical books, as we all were, then the transition to an e-reader feels threatening. It feels like throwing out your old habits and love when really it’s about adapting them for the new world. I genuinely hope that physical books are always available and possible, and I don’t doubt that they will be, but that doesn’t mean we can’t move with the times as well.
At the end of the day, it’s about doing what’s right for you. I recommend trying an e-reader, just by borrowing someone’s for a few days or so, just to know what you’re not going for. I’ll continue to use my kindle and continue to buy way too many books from my local store, and that’s what works for me. I love having physical books to lend to friends, to share something that brought me such excitement or emotion. But I also love that whenever I leave the house, I can slip my kindle into my bag and catch a few pages in the waiting room or on the bus. So maybe it isn’t a choice that has to be made, but instead designing it as you go.
Curious about e-readers? This is the Kindle that I have.
Why do you need to read more fiction?
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Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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