World of Books: E-Readers

E-Reader
A look at my current e-reader.

Today I am adding a new type of post: “world of books”. These posts will include anything that has to do with books that isn’t a specific book review. Today I am “reviewing” e-readers.

When most people review a wonderful new discovery, it’s quite commonplace to hear “It’s the best thing since sliced bread!” (which, by the way, was invented by fellow Iowan Otto Frederick Rohwedder in 1928). And as far as technological revolutions go, e-readers have probably had the biggest impact on the world of books since, well…since the printing press was invented in 1452. But are e-readers the world of books’ “best thing since sliced bread?”

I suppose that depends on your perspective. Before we get into the pros and cons of them, however, lets take a moment to talk about what they are:

According to the definition found on www.merriamwebster.com, an e-reader is a handheld electronic device designed to be used for reading e-books and similar material. For a history on the development of electronic books and e-readers, check out this article by The Guardian. Today, this can be a device that is made solely for e-reading (such as the Kindle Paperwhite), a tablet, or even your smartphone. You are even able to sync your location in a single book across multiple devices. Which brings us back to the question: are hard-copy “book books” or e-books and e-readers the superior format?

E-Reader Pros:

  • Portability: E-readers, by their very nature, are slim and lightweight. If you use your smartphone as your e-reader, it is even smaller than the vast majority of books. And the real pro here is that no matter how many books you download to your e-reader, it maintains the same size and weight. Want to carry one of these 10 behemoths with you in your carry-on luggage? No problem. Your Kindle is still a slim .36 inches thick and 5.7 ounces in weight. Want to carry an entire library on your next vacation? No problem. Your Nook is still a slim .39 inches thick and 8.8 ounces in weight.
  • Convenience: An e-reader packs a lot of punch in the convenience category. You have instant gratification when you purchase a book (depending on the download speed of your internet connection, of course) and you have access to thousands of free books. Since you can carry your books with you where ever you go, you can also read where ever you are. Have a few minutes in the waiting room of your doctor’s office (and who doesn’t)? Pull out your e-reader and get in a few more pages of that Stephen King novel. Have a commute to work in a standing-room only subway car? You can easily read and turn pages with one hand while maintaining your balance with your other hand. Having trouble reading the font size? Well, e-readers will allow you to change things like the size of the type and the contrast of the screen. It even provides you the convenience of heightened privacy: without a book cover to share your secrets, you can read that trashy romance novel, the steamy erotic thriller, or the somewhat silly, but entirely relaxing, middle-grade graphic novel your son’s been talking about non-stop.

E-Reader Cons:

  • Nostalgia: For those of us who have hard copy books taking center stage in some of our fondest memories and our most revered relaxation techniques, the plain and simple fact of the matter is that e-reader’s Just. Aren’t. Books. They don’t feel the same, they don’t smell the same. They don’t allow our oldest friends (otherwise known as our favorite books) to catch our eye as we walk by. We don’t get to gush exuberantly as we hand over a new favorite to our closest friends–after all, lending books on an e-reader is hard work, and even if we do get it figured out, all we are sharing with our friends is an electronic file. There won’t be a moment of physically exchanging the book, passing possession and care off to another warm body. It’s not different than shooting off a quick email or text. Since there’s no such thing as a “used” e-book, there’s also no triumphant victory of finding that perfect new afternoon companion (known as a novel to the rest of the world) after a long search through used book stores, garage sales, or Goodwill book shelves.
  • Lower Retention: Reading books on an e-reader lowers the readers ability to retain what they are reading. This is because e-readers can only provide weak facsimiles of the things we do to print books–folding dog ears, underlining, writing notes, feeling the pages read get thicker as the pages to read gets thinner–to help our brain create sign-posts for recalling what we were reading. Most e-books also provide that ever tantalizing connection to the internet, providing ample opportunity for us to get distracted. This keeps us from really “listening” to what we are reading and prevents us from truly mulling over and processing the new information, whether it be the latest battle in our epic fantasy novel or the newest scientific research on climate change.
  • Health Repercussions: The light from e-readers can cause eye-strain, headaches, and, when read at night, even interfere with our body’s sleep mechanisms.
  • Authors Make Less: In most cases, the amount per book that an author makes in a contract with a publishing house will be lower for an e-book than for a hard copy, print version.
  • Higher Theft Rate: Unless you run across an eccentric thief, or carry rare books, a thief is much more likely to steal the e-reader that you left on your towel while you took a dip in the ocean than he or she is to steal that book book that your best friend left right next to it.
  • No Signatures: It’s very, very hard to build up a collection of books signed by the author when all you have for them to sign is the hard metal case of an e-reader.

So…are e-readers the world of books’s “sliced bread”? For me, the question is simple. I love hard copy books. I always have and always will. You don’t become a Book Wyrm with a hoard of books by hating them. But e-readers have their place. Long trips with limited luggage space? I’ll be downloading books onto my smartphone apps and reading them that way. Need a book that I don’t anticipate reading more than once or twice? I’ll get that as an e-book for my husband’s sake (he’s not at the hoarding level, unfortunately). But my favorites? Those are going to be given honored space on my bookshelves, in hard copy form, and will be visited and revisited many, many times. Because for me, even though the pros of e-readers are really big positives, when I am reading from a hard copy book book, the world around me begins to fall away as soon as I feel and smell the book. With an e-reader, I have to wait those few extra moments longer before I get my escape.

E-reader: 4 stars
Book Book: 5 stars

Question for the reader: Where do you fall in this debate? Is your hoard primarily electronic or hard copy?