E-reader, Kindle, and Nook, let me read my freaking book

October 28, 2010

When I read a really great book, “smaller, lighter, faster” are not the first words that come to mind. I don’t love my favorite stories because they come with high quality, built-in WiFi. In short, e-readers aren’t for me.
My least favorite thing about e-readers is that in Kindle-land, all books are created equal. That’s great when you’re furtively reading Danielle Steele or L.A. Candy, but finishing Infinite Jest just isn’t as impressive when you don’t have to lug around all 1079 pages of it for the three years it takes to read them. And how am I supposed to get hot French men to introduce themselves to me if they can’t tell I’m reading Du côté de chez Swann? There’s really only one way to start a conversation with someone who’s holding a Kindle—“What are you reading?” Meanwhile, when I sit down on the train next to someone reading The Picture of Dorian Gray, not only do I know that I want to talk to that person, I also have the chance for a witty introduction (“You look so good right now that you must be hiding your rapidly aging portrait somewhere in your attic.”)
A lot of people speculate that e-readers could offer relief for students with too many textbooks. But last year, when my professor gave my Intro to Sociology class the option of using an online text or sending away for a free paper copy, 90 percent of the class opted to use the physical book. When I talked to my classmates about why we all opted for the paper text, the overall response was that students like to read a tangible book. We like to mark and dog-ear and highlight—it’s part of our learning process. I can also sell a textbook when I’ve finished the class. There are some books that, once I’ve finished them, I have no desire to look at ever again—getting some cash for them is the only thing that will ever redeem them.
Furthermore most of the books you need for class, excluding the classics, aren’t even sold in e-reader formats. Your professors’ rants that were published and assigned out of self-indulgence are outside of an e-reader’s content scope. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Sony (the three largest e-reader brands) favor the popular works of Stieg Larsson or whoever currently sits atop the bestseller list over works published by Georgetown academia. And even when the book is miraculously sold in the proper format, you still have to read it from a screen. If we can’t even stay focused enough to read past the first paragraph of our University emails, how are we supposed to read a 300-page novel on a subject we care little about on a tiny screen?
I understand that if you want to lighten your travel load or be more environmentally friendly or consolidate your Organic Chemistry textbook with your Gossip Girl books an e-reader is a logical purchase. But I don’t think that e-readers will ever replace books the way the mp3 has replaced CDs. There’s nothing sentimental about an electronic tablet the way a used copy of Catcher in the Rye—marked with notes and doodles from when I read it my freshman year of high school—makes me think of more than just Holden’s hunting hat and the ducks. Remembering who I was when I scrawled “phony bologna” into the margin is a priceless sensation that no e-book can reproduce.
And personally, my favorite thing about books is books. I like buying them, touching them, collecting them, and lining my bookshelves with them. They’re like trophies from the classes and intellectual trips I’ve taken. I understand that the electronic and paper formats are not mutually exclusive; there can be a peaceful co-existence of hardbacks, paperbacks, and lithiumbacks. However, it is time for our generation to take a stand on the future of reading. I hope that in our flashy, compact, convenience-driven society, the magic of reading isn’t lost in a mass-conversion to a technological format. As a college student, I say, “Give me paperback or give me death!”


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Personally, I prefer erudition be demonstrated through conversation rather than a shelf display, but I guess that’s why I own an e-reader and you don’t.


Physical books will co-exist with my e-reader for the rest of my life. Much like my mp3 collection co-exists with my CD collection – one just sounds better than the other – so how can I replace the quality stuff for compressed stuff? I don’t.


Yeah you said it! Books and physically flipping pages is SO much better… Although I must say that using a nook would greener due to less paper being used.