Why My Bookshelf Will Outlive My E-reader

One of the best gifts I ever received was a Kobo Touch e-reader. I’m a book nut: I’m frequently reading, and I often have multiple books on the go at once. The e-reader makes it possible to read more often and in more locations than I can with traditional books. Previously, even a short weekend away meant packing an assortment of books, adding weight and taking space. Now, one slim e-reader?about the size of a Reader’s Digest magazine and weighing less than a pound?provides me with all the reading I need on my travels.

The e-reader has been easy to incorporate into my reading life. Not only does it travel well, but it fits in my purse. I take it with me most places to make sure I can put unexpected slack time to good use. But I still read hard-copy books and expect that I always will (including textbooks, which I will only read in hard copy.) While e-books have some advantages, they also have a downside. Here’s a look at what I like and dislike about using an e-reader.

The upside of e-readers:
– Portability. My Kobo e-reader is my library-to-go. Right now I’ve got 200 books loaded that can go anywhere at any time. A battery charge lasts two weeks or more, so one book-sized e-reader covers all my vacation reading needs.
– Convenience. A five-minute bank line-up or a 30-minute wait for an appointment instantly turns into valuable reading time.
– Definitions at my fingertips. Whenever I come across a word I don’t recognize or only have a vague sense of its meaning, I just touch it and a short dictionary definition pops up. This is so addicting, I sometimes try to do this with real books.
– Free books available. Project Gutenberg and other online outlets provide access to thousands of free books. Many classics are now in the public domain and can be legally downloaded for free. Additionally, I can borrow books from my local public library, although their selection is limited.

The downside of e-readers:
– Poor graphics. Any book with illustrations, charts, or any other graphic doesn’t translate appealingly to my Kobo Touch (although this may not be the case with other e-reader types.) I select only those e-books with no graphics or limited ones. Definitely I would never try to read an e-text on my Kobo!
– Awkward navigation. With a real book, I often flip to other pages to refer to the table of contents, the bibliography, or the author bio. This can be done on an e-reader, too, but the process is cumbersome. I feel restricted to reading each page in the order presented.
– Inhibits sharing. I’m not even sure if It’s legal to share a purchased e-book, but I do know It’s impossible to share with someone who doesn’t have an e-reader. None of the three people I regularly loan books to, or borrow books from, have a Kobo, so any e-book I buy or borrow is for my use only.
– Increasing prices. When you consider what goes into the manufacture and shipping of paper books, you’d think that the equivalent e-books would be significantly cheaper. E-books were inexpensive for a time, but now I often find that the e-book is priced higher than the paper book. (Take note, AU, this will happen to e-texts, too!) I always compare, and usually limit my e-book uploads to free or heavily discounted titles.

Do I love my e-reader? Absolutely! Do I see it as a replacement for paper books? Never! Despite using an e-reader for almost three years, I still read most books in their traditional format. My Kobo e-reader is generally reserved for reading on the go, which means lighter reading such as fiction and books with snack-sized chapters.

I can’t imagine e-books ever overtaking paper books. Part of the appeal of books is their physical presence; not just the feel of the book in hand, but the ability to pass it into another’s hands and make or reinforce a human connection. The environmentalist in me understands that e-books have a smaller footprint than paper books, but I counter that by speculating that the hundreds of books lining our walls provide a degree of insulation and reduce our energy consumption.

My bookshelves will outlive my e-reader. When I die, my books will find new homes on other shelves. My e-reader, if it lasts that long, will probably find a different type of home: at the bottom of an e-waste bin.

Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer, photographer, and AU student. She lives on a windswept rural road in Eastern Ontario

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