As someone who’s dropped a Wheel of Time novel on my face, I can tell you the debate on reading experience is well over. Modern e-readers hold thousands of novels, weigh next to nothing, have built in lights, high resolution screens and don’t give you a concussion when they hit your nose. Books hold a single novel (or occasionally a couple of shorter ones), weigh way more, have to be angled towards a light, rely on manual screen refresh and can give you a black eye for weeks.
A few years ago there was an argument to be had — older Kindles had lower resolution screens that were more dark-grey and light-grey than black and white — but the rapid march of technology has overcome these short-fallings. There is only one defence left to physical book lovers.
They won’t do that though, because vinyl feels better.
The same arguments happened when tapes, and then CDs, and then iTunes and now, finally, Spotify, have come along. No improvements in technology will ever convince a vinyl aficionado that they’re wrong. We’re seeing the exact same thing with ebooks.
Judging Books By Their Insides
You don’t pick up a Terry Pratchett novel because it’s a well bound book — most paperbacks are really poorly bound anyway. You pick one up because you know it’s going to contain a great story, hilarious characters and a cutting satire of pop culture. No one goes, “I love Terry Pratchett, all his books use such high quality paper — and the font choices? Oh my…”
You love Terry Pratchett because of how his words make you feel. When you’re being drawn into Ankh-Morpork you don’t want to be distracted by whatever you’re reading the story on — whether it’s a paperback, e-reader or smartphone. You want it to just fade into the background unnoticed. Books for years have been great at this. E-readers are now even better. (Smartphones though, suck at it).
You can sit for hours with a Kindle and never think about it for a second — all your focus is where it should be: in the story, on the streets of Ankh-Morpork or wherever else you like to be drawn.
On The Emotional Nature Of Kindles
So where does the love of physical books come from? In all my conversations on the subject, two things come up time and time again. People love that a book is theirs — the battered tea-stained pages remind them of where they were at in their life when they read it — and they love the smell.
The first point I get. Physical objects trigger emotional memories. But you know what else is a physical object? My Kindle.
If I pick my Kindle up and sit quietly for a moment memories come flooding back to me. Echoes of emotions once felt are tied inextricably with what I was reading at the time. I instantly remember what I was reading to distract myself in the weeks following a breakup and the escape it brought me. I know what books I’ve picked up to celebrate a pay cheque, or were bought when I really couldn’t afford them but desperately wanted something to read. Faint tendrils of my excitement (and guilt-tinged excitement) cling tight to my Kindle. Every time I pick it up I touch them.
While a paperback might be able to trigger three or four memories, my Kindle holds hundreds.
As for the people who love the smell of paper books? They’re just strange!
The Last Chapter
I’m not some tech-loving writer who can’t stand books because they’re old. I’m a tech-loving writer who can’t stand books because they’re awful. Ten years ago, I loved books because the alternative was scrolls. Now that there are e-readers, it’s time to move on, accept the advances of modernity and realise just because something is old, doesn’t mean it’s good.