E-readers vs. Real Books

14 Mar


I like books. I like to buy books, read them, line them up on my book case, stand back and gaze at them as if they’re trophies. I’m kind of a twat like that. I also own and frequently use a Kindle and believe that it is possible to enjoy both, that eBooks aren’t a replacement for real books, just a different option.

 When you ask people their opinions regarding e-readers vs. real books you find that there is a small section of society that can only be described as the Complete Collection of Literary Dickheads. They will talk about printed novels in an over-romanticised way and for some reason tend to focus on the physical act of turning the pages, the smell of books and how these can’t be replicated by digital versions. That may be true, but turning the pages of a novel isn’t an integral part of the story, it’s just something that you have to do. No one watches Citizen Kane and says the best part was turning on the DVD player. And if your favourite thing about reading books is the smell, you need to read some better books.

 I would never replace all my physical books with digital versions, and I still visit bookshops, but I can’t deny that the Kindle has proved itself to be very useful, especially when it comes to public transport. I have been working my way through the A Song of Ice and Fire series, all of which are big books, and when you’re standing on the Tube they get uncomfortable to hold after a while. They’re also pretty difficult to heft around. The second in the series was lent to me by a friend (Hi Ben!) and after a few weeks of regularly cramming it into my bag I’d pretty much destroyed it. Having learnt that I cannot be trusted with other people’s personal possessions, he lent me the next one in digital format, which I got through a lot quicker due to the fact that I can pretty much take my Kindle anywhere as it doesn’t have such a restrictive size. It’s because of the sheer convenience of the e-reader that I’m reading more now than I ever have, and surely that’s a good thing?

 Of course, they aren’t completely free of problems. There have been numerous incidents of digital books being deleted from people’s Kindles by Amazon due to copyright issues. One such book was, ironically, George Orwell’s 1984. This did momentarily worry me because of the issues surrounding censorship and whether or not Amazon could potentially gain control over society by deciding what we can and can’t read. Then I realised that if Amazon did want control society they would probably do it through blackmail. Think about it, they have your bank details and they know what you’ve searched for.

 But working on the assumption that Amazon isn’t scheming to become an evil overlord, Kindles still have other downsides: the battery lasts a long time but does have to be recharged eventually and it’s a lot harder to impress people with your chosen reading material as you can’t subtly flash the front cover to anyone that might be watching. This is bad news for anyone reading Finnegans Wake and hating every second of it.

 There will always be people who get a bit precious about books, the novelist Jonathan Franzen recently implied that e-readers aren’t for ‘serious readers,’ as if reading a printed book is worth more than reading a digital book, even if the words are exactly the same. I appreciate that some people just aren’t interested in Kindles, but there’s no reason to turn the whole concept of reading into some kind of elite club of which e-reader users will never be a member. I think that if you’re reading a book you love, it doesn’t matter if you’re reading it from a page or a screen, it’s still the same book. In the words of another novelist, John Green ‘I don’t care how you read, I care whether you read.’

5 Responses to “E-readers vs. Real Books”

  1. Anonymous 07/06/2012 at 19:14 #


    Good post, and I agree with a lot of the points you make. However, your opinion can be easily misinterpreted due to some of the language you use. Toning down your rhetoric will definitely gain more support.

    For example, people who prefer books for the tactile experience of having a book are not literary dickheads. I have no romantic notions regarding real books Vs. E-readers, but here is something to consider: Bibliophilia, as in collecting books (often rare books) has been an activity or hobby practiced for centuries by millions of people, even before the printing press was thought of. There is a big tradition and a huge sub culture related to this, people who see books not only for their contents (which are, in fact, the most important parts) but also the artistic qualities of the book and the history of publishing in general.

    Many of these so-called “literary dickheads” may prefer a book to a kindle because of the smell and feel of a book, but not one reader will tell you that the smell of the book is the most important part. The tactile experience is only part, and even though minor some people may still be attached to that.

    Let me put this a different way: I use an electric razor to shave on a daily basis, but about once a week I go to the corner barber shop and get a straight razor shave and a hair cut when needed, while I have a pleasant chat with the same barber who has been cutting my hair and shaving my face for years and a lot of the regulars. Is there anything wrong with the electric razor? no, nothing at all. Is it wrong to have certain rituals like the one I just described? no, nothing wrong at all. I am not a “shaving dick head” because I go to the barber once/week.

    Beyond this, many, MANY others have different concerns about the kindle or whatever e-reader is out there.. A lot of the new e-readers now come with advertisements. Not only do I have to pay for the machine, not only do I have to BUY books, but I also have to put up with ads? why? If I had to buy the machine but all the books were free that’d be a different story. I do not expect to find a groupon ad when I buy a pay per view movie, and I think neither do you.

    Another issue here is Amazon, for example, accessing your books and taking the liberty to delete what they see fit. I agree and live by copyright laws, but the contents of MY library are mine, what I choose to read is my business and no one else’s, and my reading time is MINE, not some advertiser’s.

    • Jenni Harding 08/06/2012 at 16:55 #

      Thank-you for taking the time to write such an articulate comment.

      The point I was trying to make is that while there is nothing wrong with preferring to read a real book over an ebook, I have seen cases (like the Jonathan Franzen quote) of people kind of implying that reading something from a page is worth more than reading it from a screen, which to me doesn’t make any sense because (as you rightfully said) the most important thing is the content.

      Perhaps ‘literary dickheads’ wasn’t the most mature term to use but I do think that people who have that kind of elitist attitude towards books can come across as slightly pompous. To use your shaving analogy, it would be like someone believing that because they go to the barber everyday and would never use an electric razor, they take shaving more seriously.

      I also understand that for a lot of people, collecting books is a real passion and that’s not something that I was trying to attack. I was just trying to say that some people have attitudes towards e-readers that are (in my opinion) unwarranted.

      To be honest, I wrote this post just after I read the Jonathan Franzen interview which really rubbed me up the wrong way. Perhaps I should have taken a bit more time to make my points clearer.

  2. Anonymous 22/08/2012 at 15:06 #

    You seem to have a beautiful mind, so I want to make sure you don’t think I was attacking you.

    I fully agree that there shouldn’t be an elitist attitude toward books; this intimidates many people to the point where they miss out on some good stuff out there and perhaps don’t develop their minds as they should.

    Books (electronic or otherwise) are always objects of beauty that should be open to everyone. I think our world would be a much better place if more people picked up books, and an elitist attitude doesn’t quite help.

    I truly hope sites like Project Gutenberg proliferate and help get rid of the fear of/aversion to books many experience.

  3. ashlynne lefroncois 19/03/2013 at 20:01 #

    my name is ashlynne and i have to say ldkfjlsdjf


  1. From the Cutty Sark to ereaders » Risky Regencies - 11/02/2013

    [...] the other hand the sentimentality about “real” books can be pretty silly as Paperwork Blog [...]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 37 other followers

%d bloggers like this: