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The Siren Song of the E-Book

Well, I finally did it. I ordered my first e-book. And it was an agonizing decision. I’m sure I’m not the only person on this blog for “bookish, clever women” who has been faced with this same dilemma, so I thought I’d walk us all through the stages of grief together.

I’ve loved books since I was tiny. I’ve collected them lovingly over the years. Admittedly, I don’t keep as pristine care of them as some people ““ a broken spine to me is a sign of a well-read story ““ but they hold weight with me.  The weight of stories, the weight of knowledge, the weight of fantastic adventures of the mind; the weight of holidays with my grandmother where the options were reading her collection of Virginia Andrews novels or bust, the weight of long summer afternoons lying on the swing on the veranda devouring the latest teen mystery. And, not insubstantially, they have weight. As a friend once told me, it’s not until you have to move a box of books that you remember they’re made from trees. They’re heavy. In my memories, my arms get tired. I struggle to keep the book open as I’m lying on my side as I’m lying on my grandmother’s spare bed. But the weight, metaphorical and physical, is an integral part of what, to me, makes a book a book.

Part of my love of books has been a long-cherished fantasy of one day having my own personal library. A room all of my own, with plush leather armchairs and dark wood panelling and wall to wall books. Maybe even one of those ladders on wheels. The smell of musty paper, that smell of learning and of endless possibilities, would be heavy in the air. I attributed some sense of value to the impressive number of books I would one day acquire.

And then came e-books.

I resisted for a long time, especially since I usually love to have my hands on the latest gadget. But I thought, if I just avoided buying, handling or even looking at an e-reader of any flavour, I would be safe. Then my boyfriend bought a Kindle and I was on the slippery slope to godless, heretic thoughts. At first I just had a casual play with it. It was so light! And the screen was so easy to read in the ambient light. I turned it this way and that, admiring the simplicity, the lines, the contrast. And then I put it down and backed away. Down this road, madness lie. But the Kindle called to me.

Soon I was borrowing it more and more. The battery life was so good as to be a non-issue ““ like a book! I could take a pile of books with me on a long plane flight ““ and add less than a pound to my carry-on.  And then I reached the crossroad. One of my favourite authors published a new book. I could order the hardback, pay for the book and the shipping, wait a week for it to arrive, and after I was done, cram it onto the shelf bulging with unwieldy hardbacks by the same author (I do not have my room dedicated to books yet, so for now they must contain themselves to two bookcases). Or, I could pay less for the book, skip the shipping costs, wait as long as it took to download to the Kindle, and not deal with the space crunch that is two 20-somethings and a cat living in a one bedroom apartment.

It was a hard fight. But pragmatism won over romanticism. And part of me, the book-loving idealistic child, is heartbroken. Instead of browsing a library smelling of old paper, leather and wood polish, I’ll be browsing a screen. Instead of leafing through an old favourite, I’ll be clicking through it. Somehow, collecting different editions of a beloved classic won’t have the same appeal in e-books. And here I’ve just about convinced myself that I was wrong, wrong, wrong, and that paper books are the only option. But, e-books are just so convenient. And fast. And cheap. And compact. And light. And the stories themselves ““ they still have the same weight they always did.

Now, I’m interested to hear on what side of the argument our readers come down ““ are you still buying exclusively paper books? Exclusively e-books? Or some combination?

19 replies on “The Siren Song of the E-Book”

Are you my twin and we were separated at birth? I have always loved books and I have always fantasized about having my own library; floor to ceiling built-in shelves, the rolling ladder, a fireplace and a big comfy chair.
I agonized over the decision as well. I thought I would miss the weight and smell of a book. I thought about all the independent booksellers that would go out of business because of ebooks.
I live about 40 miles from the nearest Barnes and Noble. I hated waiting for shipping from online retailers. I love the convenience of my Nook. I like that I can stick in my purse. And, it is saving trees.
I will probably continue to buy paper books, but it will be first additions or to continue a series I have. I have always like to look through used books stores for different printings of the The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.

Kindle Convert! I’ve had one for a few years, and even the penny-pincher in me is glad that I didn’t wait for the prices to go down. I LOVE IT. I do spend more money though, since I buy books instead of getting them from the library. Added awesomeness, everything can be large print! It’s great.

I’ve had a Kindle since the first absurdly expensive version (I’ve since updated), and I love it. I definitely read far more now than I did with paper books, and having it for trips is a revelation. I read really fast, so having one thin little Kindle as opposed to having to pack half a dozen books makes such a difference.

In this whole debate, I come down firmly on the side of “I love stories.” I don’t much care what medium they’re in. E-books are more accessible and more convenient for me, so that’s how I read. I’m probably the only person who loves to read who hates how books smell. That musty, woody smell everyone always waxes philosopical about? Makes me sneeze.

Oh how timely! My Kindle just arrived this morning – it’s sitting in RahBoy’s office now charging (which is killing me because I want to play with it immediately)! I too am someone who loves the tactile experience of books and like others I expect that I’ll continue to buy some paper versions. However many more volumes Terry Pratchett is able to write, for example, I’m sure RahBoy and I will want them so we can complete our Everything Pratchett Ever Wrote collection. I know I will read *so much more* now that I can get books easily, as well; I often see things (like ‘Bossypants’ for example) that I’d love to read but never get around to buying or ordering off Amazon. Plus, we are completely out of space for books, despite our several huge bookshelves. On top of that, RahBoy’s parents are clearing out their work warehouse, which has all of RahBoy’s old books in it. He refuses to give ANY books away to charity or second hand shops, so we’re about to get a whole load more that we have no space to store.

The portability is also a huge plus, particularly as I tend to gravitate to enormous volumes about wars and Soviet dictators. I can’t count the number of times I’ve wanted some giant history book to take on holiday, but couldn’t carry the weight of it around. I’ll be travelling a lot for my new job, and heading to New Zealand in the autumn, so it just makes sense to have a really light, portable e-reader with me.

Ha! are you me?

I also have a Kindle only because my boyfriend bought it for me. And I have to say – I love it. It’s so frigging portable. But yes, I will still buy paper books (most recently at a book signing), especially special editions. For example, whenever the full Song of Ice & Fire series comes out, I’ll buy the box set. And in the meantime I’m pre-ordering them on my Kindle.

I will hop on the e-book bandwagon the second academic presses start publishing e-books too. I think it would be the perfect thing for me, as someone who is starting the diss. process, and lugging books between opposite ends of the country, one end where I go to school and the other where my significant other lives.
But, like you, the tactile experience and the memories associated with reading books are really important to me. I grew up devouring Nancy Drew, Narnia, Madeline L’Engle etc partly because I was nerdy mc-nerd nerd with extra nerd sauce when I was growing up. To a degree, hiding my nose in a book as a kid made me who I am today.

I don’t know if this helps, but the Kindles also read PDFs, and I know a lot of scientists in my field who download a bunch of papers to read onto their Kindles before a flight or a conference. Sometimes the figures aren’t great but plots and graphs are usually fine. I don’t know if that applies to textbooks though.

Here’s the thing. When the zombie apocalypse comes (which inevitably it will, it’s science), we won’t have electricity because infrastructure collapses in times of devastating crisis (that’s social science, and uh, economics). So there’s no way to recharge a battery. Nor will there be TV or internet. So what will a person do in the down times between fleeing flesh-eating zombies, scrounging for canned food and having wonton the-end-is-nigh sexytimes (assuming there still are others to have said sexytimes with)?

I think I’ve made my point.

I don’t have a Nook or Kindle, but not because of an extreme love of books or anything like that. Just financially it makes more sense to me to not have one. I also am an avid reader but I like checking books out from the library instead. It does still look weird to me to see people with e-books, though. But I’m too cheap, so I’ll hold out until one gets gifted or handed-down to me by someone else.

I still only buy books. My mother has a Nook, and I was going to borrow it because she had downloaded “Bossypants” and it seemed pointless to buy it twice. I got through one page reading off that thing before my eyes were in agony. I was in the same light I use to read paper books and I couldn’t see a thing off that screen without straining. So no e-readers for me. I just can’t stand reading off one.

I got a nice sized Barnes and Nobel gift card for Christmas and I marched into that store with a list of books I wanted. I had three in my hand before I had the thought: “where am I going to put all these?” I live in a tiny one bedroom and have a strict policy about bringing new things into my space. So I put the books back and got a Nook. I love it so, so, so much, but I still regularly lecture on the importance of “real” books. I love how a book feels, I love touching pages I’ve read and re-read countless times, and thinking about where I was in my life last time I turned the pages. The Nook doesn’t have the same emotional connection, for sure, but if you think of it in terms of the ideas and story being distinct from the experience of reading a physical book, it kind of makes it easier maybe? I don’t know. Sometimes I feel like I did the wrong thing, too, but then I throw my Nook in my beach bag and head out the door and I feel a little better.

Whoa, are you me? Because this is my life. Seriously, my whole childhood was spent with books, and books alone. I came to consider them a refuge. Yeah, I was (am) a superdork. But now, here are the e-books. I have been wrestling with the same complicated emotions. I haven’t yet sprung for an e-reader, but it’s begun to feel inevitable, partly for the transport and also because I’m filling up my shelves. At the moment, I can’t really afford to spring for one, so I have a bit of a reprieve… but I know that at some point I will have to break down and buy one.
I still plan to buy books, however; maybe books that I know I’ll read more than once, and maybe confine the random paperbacks to the e-reader. Sigh. I don’t know. But I appreciate your sharing your struggle.

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