Which do you prefer: traditional paper books or e-books? Perhaps you are a traditionalist who feels the magic of a good novel is somehow missing in an e-book, or perhaps you prefer the space efficiency of an entire library which (almost) fits in your pocket. On the other hand, you might share my tendency to read both without guilt or shame, recognising the unique joy of each one. Whatever your position, it won’t take you more than a casual search of the internet to discover that there are more people out there who share or oppose your point of view than you can shake a stick at – and some of them get pretty passionate about the whole thing.
Anyone who is an advocate of the traditional paper book will tell you that there is more to reading than simply consuming words. Reading a book is a whole experience in and of itself. The book which has not yet been read is neat, tidy and clean with a mild but intoxicating smell about its pages. There’s a delicate and almost virginal quality to an unopened book. Once it has been opened, its spine will never be quite that smooth again, its pages will never fully shut as neatly as they once did; yet it will bring you a lifetime of joy, if only you treat it like a lady (don’t go breaking its spine or using it as a coaster; ladies just hate it when you do that and so will your book). To the lover of paper books, the book is an almost sacred thing. Treat it properly and your future readings will be every bit as rewarding as the first.
Paper books also have the added perk of being undeleteable and pass-onable. A paper book is yours forever; even if the internet disappears, the electricity cuts out and you are forced to spend eternity in a cave, you can still read your book again and again (assuming you have a lifetime supply of candles). When you die, it can be passed on to your relatives with all the other items you care about (nobody wants to inherit an e-book reader you bought fifty years ago and there’s a bit of a question mark hanging over if and how your non-physical possessions can possibly be passed on). On a less morbid note, you can easily buy lots of books and wrap them up nicely and give them to me for my birthday. I received no less than eight books on my last birthday (my family know me well) but no one has ever given me an e-book as a gift. I’m not even sure if it’s possible(?).
Unlike paper, e-books really are just a collection of digitised words and that may mean that it cheapens the overall experience of reading for some. E-books are brutally efficient. You don’t get the sacred pleasure of entering the bookshop or library where you are surrounded on every side by an endless myriad of tomes to numerous to count; you don’t get that new book smell when you first open it; you don’t get to give it pride of place on your bookshelf like a trophy when you finally finish it; you can’t wrap it up and one must wonder if it was ever truly yours to begin with.
On the other hand, the more pragmatic reader might argue that with e-books, you get to carry the whole bookshop with you wherever you go; that while an e-book may lack the new book smell, it is also not likely to develop that fusty old book smell and that it is more space efficient not to clutter up your whole room with bookshelves (just ask my wife!). Books, they might argue, are nothing more than a convenient way to record a story but it is the story itself – not the smell of the paper or any other such nonsense – that really matters. Why, then, attach so much ritual to something as simple as consuming a story? It’s only a book! You don’t need to court it, marry it or pick out curtains with it! Just download the text, enjoy it and move on!
Another perk e-books have over their paper counterparts is that they’re often cheaper (most of the time anyway), assuming that you read enough of them to make it worthwhile forking out a hundred or so quid for an e-book reader. In that sense, value for money is somewhat relative to how many e-books you download and how often you actually read them. On top of that, there are plenty of e-books out there that are completely free if you have the patience to hunt for them and the wisdom to sift the wheat from the chaff. On the plus side, if you do accidentally download a really bad free e-book, at least you’re not going to be out of pocket. It’s easy to abandon an e-book you hate without guilt or remorse.
Personally, I’ve been able to find a place for both in my life. I am the proud owner of a Kindle Keyboard (which was very high-tech when I got it but is now starting to show its age) and the equally proud owner of more paperbacks and hardbacks than I care to count. I don’t know about you but I read for the story, not for the binding (or lack thereof). The convenience of the e-book or the familiar comforts of the paper book are both perks to be enjoyed, but neither matter as much as being stimulated intellectually or emotionally by a good story (that’s why I don’t like audio-books incidentally; it whizzes past too quickly and I like time to chew over the words I’m reading but that’s just me). Considering that e-books are a relatively new phenomenon, I can’t help thinking that this sibling rivalry between paper books and e-books is already getting really old.
To be honest, I don’t really care how a book gets presented to me. I just love reading.