Thursday, 11 April 2013

#350: To e or Not To e

Now that we have decided grandmothers (and all older people) are perfectly capable of using e-readers, I'm wondering why more of us don't own them.  Their many advantages make them perfect for older book-lovers. 

E-readers and tablets are:
Lightweight.  I've just finished the hard-bound copy of Stephen King's 11/22/63, and at almost 900 pages this tome gave new meaning to the phrase "heavy reading". I could have also read the equally massive London by Edward Rutherfurd (preparation for my up-coming trip) as a "real" book but have opted for the Kindle edition.

London:  all the words, but none of the weight.
London:  900 pages

Compact.  Every e-reader or tablet is different, but most are the size of a very skinny hardcover. Or perhaps the cover without the book. Nine hundred pages of London will slip into my purse or suitcase with ease. 

Dark adaptedSome e-readers and all tablets have lighted screens--great for airplanes and half-lit bedrooms.

Font-friendly.  Regular print is usually fine for me.  But my 83 year-old client Hetty is using a Kobo from the library, and she is happy to ramp up the print size. Reading a large-print story on an e-reader doesn't make you look vision-impaired -- just cool.

CapaciousI have a suitcase full of books, including London, on my Kindle and that is enough for me. But if I get desperate, I have room for at least 2,000 more.

And, in addition, the e-contents-- the books-- are:
Inexpensive.  Overdrive downloads from the public library are free, and may other sites such as Project Gutenberg offer free older titles.  If you buy an e-book, the price varies: some are as much as $20,  but most are comparable to a paperback.  (My London e-book was $10.00.) 

Forever.  Overdrive books disappear from your e-reader or tablet after 3 weeks.  (No fines, no book!)  But books that you buy are yours until you choose to delete them.  This is great for slow readers -- like me.

Disposable.  For many people, throwing out hard-backed books is just slightly less traumatic than euthanizing a pet. But no-one will be calling the public library to have a hand-wringing conversation with a librarian about the resting place of deleted e-books. Easy-come, easy-go. 

Still not convinced?  I think I know why. If you have an abiding love for real books, it feels a bit cheap and sordid to fool around with a flashy substitute.  And the genuine article has much to love:  I especially appreciate their:

Physicality. It's that tactile thing.  I am seduced by the feel and heft and smell of a bound book. (Although I no longer need to hold a new book in order to breathe in its scent.  I can just cuddle my e-reader and spritz the air with a little Eau de Paperback)

Appearance. Printed books are good-looking.  They have pretty covers and end papers.  They are like a present waiting to be unwrapped.

Shareable-ness.  You can be generous with a real book. You can loan it to a friend and talk about it later.

Permanence. It is hard to love an ephemeral bit of softwear, but a real book has presence.  You can write on the flyleaf or in the margins; you can turn down the corners to mark your place or tuck in the special bookmark a friend gave you.  No-one will ever press flowers between the pages of an e-book. A real book--the Bible, poetry, a cookbook--is a piece of family history.

Power.  I am currently reading a hard-back copy of  The End of Your Life Book Club, a remarkably uplifting homage to reading, family and loss.  The author Will Schwalbe is a book lover, and he makes another point about the physicality of bound books which he expresses beautifully.  He notes that when we encounter books in the spot where we left (and perhaps forgot) them, they demand our attention once again.  He explains:  I often seek electronic books, but they never come after me.  They make me feel, but I cannot feel them.  They are all soul, with no flesh, no texture and no weight.  They can get in your head, but cannot whack you upside it.




  1. I have some extra traits to add to your list:

    e-books let you look up words very easily which I love.

    I also like the non-backlit one I have fine--I can still read it in most light plus it uses the battery only very slowly.

    Regular books seem less scary to have when there is a very slight drizzle (and it's not a library book). Regular books do not require electricity--they always work.

    Also, some regular books have ugly covers (Penguin, I'm talking to you about your flight-jacket-colored, headache-inducing spines) or embarrassing covers (do you really need that much bosom showing on a mystery--not romance--book that has females in it?

    And they don't crack when you drop them.

  2. Good points. Your comments about the heaving bosom also remind me that you can read whatever you want in perfect privacy on an e-reader.