To E, Or Not to E, That Is The Question

Whether ‘tis nobler on paper to read about outrageous fortunes. . . All right, enough of that.

I’ll read anything anywhere. Whether or not I’ll read something has never been an issue, and neither is the format. I’ve read lots of books on my Kindle e-reader, which is a third generation paperwhite, lots on my iPad, and I still read paperbacks and hardbound copies.

What’s best? I can’t say one is the clear winner, although each has strong, very strong, arguments both pro and con.

Print copies take a lot of room when you read as much as I do. Add other avid readers into the household, especially avid readers whose taste diverges from yours, and you get a huge storage problem that builds and builds and builds.

My husband and I both have at least one book going at all times. He’s more likely to read non-fiction like history and biography, and the memoirs of politicians (shudder). I’m mostly into fiction, however, we do have some we both read, like anything by Tracy Kidder, Malcolm Gladwell, and Oliver Sacks, who are wonderful storytellers about things that are real.

Neither one of us gets books at the library anymore -- we buy them. And they pile up and collect dust, which I’m a bit allergic to. Neatly organized bookshelves quickly devolve into visual messes with books placed horizontally across the tops of other books. Nothing can be found because we don’t take the time to reorganize all the shelves as the collection continues to grow.

Out of a sense of self-preservation I decided years ago to get rid of most of my books. Gasp! Yes, it’s true. I only keep ones I know I will want to read again one day. That’s still a lot of books. I’ve read some favorites books as often as 7 times (so far). But all those other books, the fairly good and the so-so, either went to charity or were given to a friend who I thought might like them.

Then along came electronic books. They seem like the perfect solution. No new additions to the crowded bookshelves! Nothing to dust! I never have to get rid of them! And if I finish a book without another one waiting in my to-be-read pile it doesn’t involve a panicky trip to the store to get a new book, any new book. I just need to go online.

Yes, I said panicky. True bookaholics know what I’m talking about.

But it’s not such a perfect solution. Our brains don’t interact the same way with e-books as they do with print copies.

Mine sure doesn’t. I seem to need to see the cover every time I pick it up, with the title and the author’s name. I’ve actually forgotten the name of what I was reading because I just pick up the tablet and start where I left off. White page, black letters.

My mind wants to use the title, author’s name, and usually the cover art as a peg that everything else hangs on.

I’ve forgotten, when asked, whether or not I’ve read a book. In order for me to remember the person has to say, “that’s the one where . . .” Because I remember what happened, just not which book it was.

You can read what the scientists are finding out about it here.

I’m really glad it’s not just me. I was wondering if I've started getting memory problems.

How much e-books are contributing to the sad closure of brick and mortar bookstores I can’t say.

With the biggest pros and cons out of the way, let me break it down a little further.

Hardbound books – They last a hundred years, but are expensive and take a lot of room. If you read in bed like I do it can be a little harder to get comfortable. There’s something about owning a hardbound copy that makes you feel like you’ve given the book a vote of approval.

Paperback books – These are my favorite way to read. After a few decades they fall apart at the binding, which is only glue, so as long as you don’t think of them as a permanent collection of some sort, they are fine to keep for a while.

E-readers – It costs a lot less to buy a digital copy of a book. If you’re going to go digital these are a lot more comfortable to read than the all-purpose tablets both because they weigh a lot less and because a paperwhite screen is easy on the eyes. The battery length is greater. I’ve been disappointed at what a pain it can be to download books from Amazon. Seems like I always have to do a hard reboot just to see what I bought. It could be that my Kindle is fairly old, but still.

Tablets – I’m sort of married to my iPad. I love it to pieces. If I’m going to take it on vacations, use it as a camera, play games, and stay in touch with everyone on it, I may as well read books on it, right? I think that’s the mindset of not only me but most tablet fans. The screen goes to white on black in low light situations, which helps with nighttime eyestrain. The fact that you see a bookshelf of color thumbnails of all your books helps you remember what you read. They’re heavy with sharp corners, which makes them surprisingly uncomfortable to read in bed. I believe there are accessories to mitigate this (a case with soft edges) but I haven’t gotten one.

So bottom line, which is better? E-books or print?

Just read stuff.

BONNIE BALLOU'S

Thoughts on a half century of omnivorous reading