books – ebook vs dead-tree

This week’s Weekly Writing Challenge: Mind the Gap: (from

How do you prefer to read, with an eReader like a Kindle or Nook, or with an old school paperback in hand?

Now, there’s an interesting question. Subtly different to ‘do you prefer ebooks over paperbacks?’

For a long time I thought about getting an eReader. The ability to carry many books in a small space really appealed – often I’d go on holiday or on a business trip with a selection of books to read, just in case one didn’t take my fancy or I finished one and needed another one whilst I was away.

Finally, for a birthday a couple of years ago, I got a Kindle. I became a shameless convert, loading it up with a wide variety of books. Fiction, non-fiction, some I’d already read in paperback, some new. I probably read more that first year with the Kindle than I had done for a long time beforehand. The convenience, the size, weight were all perfect. The lovely e-ink screen, readable in full sunlight on a beach. It had (still has) a case with a built-in light, so I could read at night. Brilliant. I thought I’d also solved the problem of running out of bookshelf space at home too – after all, my virtual bookshelf was as long as I needed it to be.

Books, pre-ordered weeks or months ago would automagically appear on my Kindle on the day of release. I remember the first time I pre-ordered something, switching the Kindle on at midnight and hitting Sync. There it was – a fresh book, ready to be enjoyed. Bargains to be had too – Amazon often had offers on with books for £1.99 or less. I stocked up for a rainy day. My ebookshelf was getting longer and longer…

There were niggles, of course. Remembering to make sure it was charged up (a minor problem, given the astonishing battery life of the Kindle). The page refresh, which was *just* a shade slower than I’d like it to be. The slightly clunky user interface, and the fingermarks from the kids who expected it to be a touchscreen. 🙂

The biggest problem for me? Sharing books. One of the true joys of reading a dead-tree book is that moment you finish it and want to press it into a friend’s hands, urging them to read it as you just *know* they’ll love it. My brother and I would see each other occasionally and do a book swap – half a dozen paperbacks picked up across the intervening months that we knew each other would enjoy. With the Kindle, that wasn’t possible. Sure, we could recommend books to each other, but both had to buy a copy. Which, I’m sure the publishers (and Amazon) loved. (Yes, I hear Amazon is doing a lending library thing, but having an ebook for 2 weeks just isn’t enough.) We’d lost the discovery, the book that you wouldn’t have bought, but having read one, would happily go and acquire the author’s back catalogue.

The other thing I’ve found is that I missed reading a ‘proper’ book. Knowing how much you had left to read by the ever-decreasing pile of pages under your right thumb. Sorry Amazon, but a ‘percentage read’ just doesn’t give you the same feel. The ability to flick back a few pages to refresh your memory on a scene or plot point – again, the Kindle lets you do that, but frankly, it’s a faff.

And also there’s something just brilliant about holding and reading a physical book. The tactile sensation of flicking through the pages, or peeling back the covers on an unread book is something I don’t ever want to be without.

So, these days I split my time between the ebook and the dead-tree versions. They both have their place, and I wouldn’t be without either.

How about you, dear reader? Are you an ebook convert, or an old-school die-hard? Or, like me, somewhere inbetween?

Author: dave

Book reviewer, occasional writer, photographer, coffee-lover, cyclist, spoon carver and stationery geek.

12 thoughts on “books – ebook vs dead-tree”

  1. I’m a bit like you – I have a Kindle (actually I have two – a bog standard basic one and a Kindle fire), both of which I find extremely useful. However, nothing beats the joy and comfort that of a well-thumbed book offers. I’m reminded of this great letter by Harper Lee every time this subject is discussed. I think she’s hit the nail bang on the head: :

    Great blog post 🙂

    1. Actually, I’ve also got a Fire, but don’t use it for reading ebooks. Similarly with the iPad Kindle app, reading stuff on-screen is something I’ll do if I’ve no other option. I do use the Kindle app on my phone though – usually in post office queues or on the train if it’s really packed and I can’t get my book/kindle out.

      That’s a brilliant letter from Harper Lee, thanks for sharing it. I can feel another blog post about learning to read (and teaching my kids to read) coming up.

  2. I went over to an android pad about 18 months ago for reading purposes. I wanted the flexibility that it offered in terms of changing colours, background lighting, fonts and sizes, the internet, the usual greedy justifications. It’s been great: I have the beautiful Kindle emulator app, Aldiko and my utter fave, Moonreader, depending on my whim as well as whatever general app I need, or think I do.I wouldn’t be without it now, a brilliant piece of kit.

    Why is it that I can’t leave the paper world behind and moreover, feel guilty in admitting it? It’s not about the book content at all and I think this is what Amazon as data pushers have missed.

    I adore paper books for several reasons.

    The physical aspect of the object and the pseudo dance that accompanies it, the size to weight ratio, the touch of the paper, the smell of the pages, the sound of the turn of the page, the required movement of my head as I read, the aesthetic familiarity, etc etc.

    For me, books are also an integral part of a room’s architecture. They are reminders of joy (or pain, hey EU Law) that have shaped our lives and could be said to be more illustrative of who we are than a collage of photos on the wall. Whilst I delight in the convenience of having everything filed on my pad, to me there is nothing more welcoming when I am sleepy or ill than a pile of Haldeman, Banks and Baxter work piled up on my nightstand.

    Physicality aside, there is arguably a niche emotional dimension to this. I relish the process of buying second-hand books for the social aspect, odd though it sounds. First the thrill of the chase, the joy at the find, but anticipation is further shaped by the edition itself, both by its artwork, printing date and the physical story the object in front of you tells. By taking possession, you inadvertently enrol yourself into the personal history carried by each copy, shown through its creases, folds, yellowing, the general evidence of its previous life, which promises a form of companionship for the duration. New books are fine but a secondhand book is so much more.

    The sense that someone before you has passed over its pages and you are the next to discover its story, to me, is magical. I once read a dreadful book that made me enormously angry, only to find that previous owners had left a message at the end for those who followed them. Not “Lebeautemps waz ‘ere” either, but insightful comment and best wishes to fellow adventurers before setting the book free into the nearest charity shop. That warmed me more than any library, perhaps due to the randomness, or maybe the personal comments from previous readers, probably both.

    These unseen emotional aspects of readerhood (?) are why I can’t close the door on paper books.

    And this is just my adult view, which ignores the worlds that stretched out before us as children with the maps in the Narnia stories or LOTR that were all the more evocative because of the beautiful materials they were printed on. Sure, future children won’t miss what they never had, but crikey, there is a richness to my memories and a delicious comfort I take in seeing a favourite book from childhood. I assume we’ll be replacing one richness with another, as yet unidentified joy which I can’t appreciate, but the loss of the whole-book-experience is lamentable, surely?

    So, back to an ereader, which is, in comparison to paper books, a cold sterile singular automaton, not a series of unique companions. The joy is further diminished by the loss of thrill in the search and impersonal experience of a perfect copy of the content data. For some reason, I don’t get the same joy from aquiring data as I do from buying something physical either.

    So my guilt for loving books comes in part from being shamefully ungrateful for the work that Kindle and pads represent, and I’m not saying they aren’t good enough, because they are, as I said, technically wonderful. But there is an emotional, unseen and under appreciated aspect to readerhood which ereaders deny me and whilst paper books are still with us, I am going to cling to the comfort they bring for just a little bit longer.

    1. Wow, so much I agree with (and hadn’t thought of). I’m with you on second-hand books – I have an early edition of Fleming’s Casino Royale which dates back to the early sixties, which is wonderful – this book, this collection of words is over fifty years old and still works, is still a beautiful thing. I’ve also got a copy of a book of poetry which my dad liked, which I bought in a second-hand bookshop in Robin Hood’s Bay many years after he died, and the inscription within (which I discovered later) was dated on his birthday, and referred to Bateman’s (Rudyard Kipling’s old home in East Sussex), around the corner from my in-laws.

      Kindle books just don’t compare.

  3. 3 years ago, we grudgingly bought Kindles because we ran out of room for our paper books (and we have a room in the house dedicated to them!!!). Now, Jason and I are addicted to our Kindles. They’re so light and easy to carry. Mine fits in my purse (most hardcovers and many paperbacks won’t). I can get any book I want almost anywhere I go. For those of us getting older, the ability to enlarge the font is almost a necessity. He’s actually reading a paper book for the first time in 3 years, only because he doesn’t want to wait for the ebook version of the last Wheel of Time book. Robert Jordan’s wife specifically delayed the ebook publication, just to make people experience it on paper. Jason’s annoyed by that, and being forced to lug around a 2″ thick hardcover is just reinforcing his love of his Kindle.

    My kids started reading more when we gave them our old Kindles. That in and of itself makes them better for us.

    Oh, but that room full of books? Still there, still full. We may love to do our actual reading on the Kindle, but there’s something about shelves full of books that helps make a house a home.

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