The Great E-Book Debate; or Why I Still Read Paperbacks

Strap in folks, this is going to be a long one, because I realize I have a lot to say about e-books and e-readers and now that I’ve got a forum (thanks for giving me full reign of the blog Owen), I’m going to use it.  These are all my own thoughts based on my own usage of e-readers, my observations of others using e-readers and my reading about e-readers.

Over the Christmas holiday I got more reading time than usual and I gluttonously took it! I devoured several of the books my Mom got for Christmas (thanks Dad!) and finished a couple of novels that had been kicking around my nightstand for a while.  I also read a few things on, to name names, my parents’ Kobo and because I could compare the two forms of reading so easily, I realized a few things about the differences between e-reading and reading real books.

This may seem like sacrilege for a bookseller at a bricks and mortar, independent bookstore to say, but on principal, I’m not against e-readers.  I think that anything that encourages people to read for pleasure should be celebrated and in certain circumstances I can see their appeal.  It’s much easier to take a Kobo or Kindle on a trip than the equivalent number of paperbacks and if you’re reading something you’re not particularly proud of (say something that may have a bright pink cupcake on its real cover) you might not want other people to know about it (although I would never judge your book just by its cover), but in other places and for other purposes, I find e-readers inconvenient or even dangerous.

I’ll explain the dangerous part first.  I think e-readers are dangerous for beginning readers, for kids who are just starting out on their path to literacy.  I firmly believe that e-readers should not be given to kids below the age of 8 or so because the “children’s books” available in electronic format are little more than primitive video games.  Filled with moving pictures and sounds, I think kids’ e-books rob beginning readers of the essential imaginative process of reading a real book.  They give kids too much, and ultimately all of the added content detracts from the act of actually reading.

I’ve seen my extremely intelligent 6-year-old niece (who reads well above grade level in both French and English, she’s amazing) become enamored with a “book” on her mother’s iPhone and I was reminded of her interaction with a handheld video game and not how I’ve seen her entranced by an actual book.  For children, I think e-readers and e-books are dangerous and will help continue the trend of decreased attention spans and ultimately decreased literacy.

In terms of inconvenience, my own experience with e-reading is one of irritation.  I read fast, very fast, a paperback a day fast and when I’m reading a novel or a biography or any other kind of actual book, I don’t notice when my eyes move from one page to the next or when I have to turn the page, but the interface of the Kobo I read on this Christmas kept pulling me out of the narrative.  Turning the pages felt excruciatingly slow and getting from one chapter to the next was like torture, I wanted to be immersed in the text the way I can be with an actual book and I was continually pulled away.  It took me 3 or 4 times as long to read an e-book on the Kobo as it would have done to read the real book.

Now, I can almost hear e-book lovers say, “well it was the fact it’s an older Kobo, the new touch screen Kobos are much faster,” or “you should have had a Kindle,” or “an iPad is really the way to go.” I will agree, technology has advanced since the Kobo I was using came out, but I’ve used other e-readers and I found they couldn’t keep up with my page speed, that they don’t have as many words on the page as a regular book which means more page flipping.  I also found that I couldn’t go back and check something as readily as I could in a regular book.  So, until turning an e-page becomes as unobtrusive as turning a real page, I’m not going to be switching to an e-reader anytime soon.

People are starting to call bookstores and real books “quaint” as if they exist as mementos of a bygone era like typewriters or fedoras, as if they are on their way out and only eccentrics will be reading real books in the future, but I just don’t think technology has reached a point where it will replace the book yet.  I haven’t even gotten into the e-bookstores versus real bookstore debate about how lovely it is to browse actual bookshelves and be transported by a book you’ve never heard of simply because you found the title or the cover intriguing or a bookseller recommended it to you. Things are changing in publishing and bookselling and e-books and e-readers are part of that, but they still have a long way to go before they replace the 1000 year old technology that is the book.


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