Daniel White plays his own version of Rock, Paper, Scissors to try and work out which is better - the traditional paperback or an eBook. There's only one way to find out...
The smell of freshly ground coffee is one of the greatest smells known to man but a close second is the smell of new books, quietly waiting on the shelves for their new owners. Someone obviously agrees with me because now you often find coffee shops in bookshops, the smell of new books mixing happily with coffee. Second hand bookshops have a different smell, it's one of well-readness. It's like when you pick up a second hand book you can feel the experiences of its previous owners in your hands. Like the enjoyment of discovering new worlds, new ideas or new characters is infectious. When I hold a newly purchased book and read it for the first time I am almost reverential with my handling of it. Opening it enough so I can read fully but not carelessly enough as to damage its spine. A book with a broken spine isn't going to last long as its pages start getting loose and lost, if I buy a book I want it to be part of my life for many many years. A bookshelf for me is like a trophy cabinet, showcasing what I have learnt, what I have uncovered and sometimes what I have cried tears over. Do you see where I am going with this? That sense of choosing, the sense of new ownership as you welcome a new arrival into your family is something you only get with a physical 'real' book. So what about Kindle? what about e-books? If you had to choose between proper books and e-books what would your decision be?
Physical books really do look impressive on a bookshelf but, if you read as widely as I like to, they take up a lot of space. Not so much of a problem at home but what about when you are going on holiday? I like to read a lot when I am away; with the busyness of life it can take me a long time to get through one book and it's impossible to read an entire book in one sitting. There is something wonderful about sitting for an entire afternoon just to read a book cover to cover. The sense of escapism is tremendous as you slip into someone else's time stream or life without being dragged kicking and screaming back into the world of children fighting or the dogs needing a walk. So you have to decide what to bring with you, how on earth do you decide what mood you will be in and what genre will suit it? You can't take hardbacks, because of space issues so it's paperbacks. But the sheer weight of choosing is a horrible space to exist in. What if you get it wrong? What if you are sitting on the beach or in the garden and suddenly the realisation dawns on you that you should have brought the latest Dean Koontz book or that Stephen Fry bio you keep meaning to read? No way of righting that wrong now so I guess you will just have to make do ( I have never been any good at making do) Worse still, what if you don't bring enough with you? Second day of the holiday and you have read all of your selected reading material. Oh you could go to the local book store and replenish your supplies but that just feels a little bit like failure doesn't it?
What you lose on physical tactility (it's a word!) and smell you gain with the freedom of choice. Gone is the need for selecting your books before you travel because now you have a choice as wide as a bookstore or library in one device. With kindle apps you don't even need a separate reader as your phone or tablet will do the job. It even looks like you are reading a proper book with the page-turny oojamaflip ( I hate it and never turn it on but it's there if you like it) You can read in the dark as well cos your tablet is back lit and, with portable power banks now a thing, you can read all day wherever you are. Run out of books or want a change of scenery? Not a problem you can just visit the store without leaving your seat and with no queueing or irritating shop assistants trying to sell you the latest bio from celebrities you don't care about. Most e-books now have the option of audio as well so if you are feeling particularly lazy (a lot of my friends are dyslexic and audio books have made life so much easier for them) then you can sit back and hear the author or some celebrity you haven't heard of read to you. What you lose with that sense of personal ownership you gain with a huge amount of flexibility and less requirement to cart your entire bookshelf with you.
The other issue of course is the price. Books are not cheap and as a new paperback could set you back anything from £5 to £10 it can get expensive. With Kindle Unlimited monthly costing £7.99 [or Prime Reading which is FREE if you have Amazon Prime - Ed] and, even without this, a huge number of e-books available at the fraction of the cost of their real cousins, a book purchasing spree doesn't need to break the bank. Then there is the issue of wider reading. I have long been a believer in reading out of our comfort zone, of not just sticking with authors we know and love but taking a risk and reading something from someone you don't know. Selecting a book because the blurb on the back of it interests you is one of life's greatest excitements and whether its a good decision or a bad one the sense that you tried a new thing is wondrous. The pot of gold at the end of the literary rainbow is discovering an author or a book that just fires all of your synapses and you then get to recommend it to everyone you know and ALL of social media. I love that! Going back to my earlier comment about re-reading books that I own is a non issue with an e-book. If you are a member of a subscription service you don't have to worry about only reading it once. You also don't have to worry if you select a book and it turns out to be a fetid pile of dingo's kidneys, nor do you have to lambaste yourself for wasting a fiver. Just delete it and forget it ever even happened! (Unless you are reviewing, then write a stinging critical article and THEN forget it even happened)
My first love will always be a proper book and who doesn't love losing themselves for hours in a second hand bookshop? But, for sheer convenience, when away from the home it's hard to argue against the use of an e-reader. Fence sitting I know but I use both! If you force me to make a choice I would have to choose old fashioned paper books. Nostalgia or otherwise I have grown up with libraries and with shelves groaning under the weight of books crammed in. E-books provide a way to market for emerging authors that would not exist without them but nothing will ever replace a real book for me. In a world where imagination can be hard to keep alive I love recharging my mind with inspiration from authors new and old. In the end, whatever your choice, please choose one of them (or both!) and keep reading new creative scribblings and perhaps discover some of the old classics as well.
Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanielWBmouth
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