Decor and collections
Real books make great coffee table decor (but then they have to be dusted), and look pretty when arranged nicely on a shelf (ditto about the dusting). However, that means you have to have nice books, and a nice coffee table, nice bookshelves and a very good dusting habit to support the "niceness" of the whole effect. Real books are nice to share with a friend, sitting side-by-side, peering at gorgeous photos, or illustrations (yes, Calvin & Hobbes cartoons count), but are very hard to share with a buddy who lives across the country, across the street, or is just sitting more than a few feet away. On a Kindle (and probably other e-books, but it's the only one I've used), you can highlight part of your e-book and share it with your entire Facebook "world".
You might have a great sense of accomplishment when staring at a wall-full or shelf-full of books thinking "I read every one of those books!". And again, you can collect quite a bit of dust and (heaven forbid) mold in those books unless you regularly dust and maybe even vacuum then. Great book collections are just that--limited or collectors editions of real books. E-books can't even try to compete with them.
Voracious readers can plow through book upon book every week. I have a friend who has a storage space to hold her books. Yes, the type of storage that you have to rent! That's a recurring expense, and I wonder how many books (e-books or paper books) can be bought for the price of her monthly rental fees. And if you're a voracious reader or just really caught up in a great dime-store novel, you typically want your book of choice to be with you at all times. A real book can add a significant amount of bulk to your purse, backpack, or other daily baggage. Therein lie two cases for e-books. You can hold tomes upon tomes in the space of one e-book, which might take up the footprint of one paperback novel, and perhaps be 1/2" thick, or less. I don't know how many books exactly, but I know it's about a metric ton of them. Getting back to the idea of wanting your reading selection with you at all times--I can think of a couple of times where that real dime-store novel wins out. If you're one of those people who likes to read while taking a bubble bath, or sunbathing at the beach, paper is key. Granted, the book will swell and wrinkle if you drop it in the bath, or get full of sand if you drop in at the beach, particularly when it slips out of your sunscreen slathered hands, your e-book will mostly likely be ruined after a dip in the water (not to mention--could that thing hold enough power to electrocute the bather? I'd rather not find out). Sand in the buttons of an e-book reader? I shudder at the thought of that. Paper will dry, and survive.
E-books can often cost less than their real counterparts, and while a case can be made for the economics of borrowing books at your local library, initial investment in the electronic reading device aside, e-book purchases (and on some e-readers library e-books are available for check-out) can save a reader quite a few bucks over the cost of a just-released hardback book. As for the purchase of a real book vs. e-book, well, e-books usually win that one hands-down. You can typically find a book to buy, and download it into your reading device in about the time it takes to find your keys, put some slippers on and get in your car--never mind driving to the bookstore or library--if it's open.
What's greener? An e-book would probably win that one hands-down, aside from the tiny amount of electricity needed to power an e-book. I'm no expert on this, but I'm pretty sure that the carbon footprint of an e-book is WAY smaller than that of a real book. Just the trip to the bookstore or library required to obtain a paper-based book is a big expense. Then again, in 50 years will a plastic e-reader still be languishing in a rubbish pile somewhere, while the paper book will have broken down into some very educated compost? It takes paper manufacturing, printing, bookbinding, warehousing, and shipping to create a real book. That's all eliminated in an e-book.
I can think of several different types of books, and what I think would be the best format of book to have for each:
General reading: I prefer e-books for this. I like the fact that my book is with me in my iPhone and I can read it on the go. If I'm reading in bed, I don't need to worry about leaving my bedside lamp light on. The iPhone is self-lit (but I know that Kindles are not), and turns itself off if I fall asleep. Given the choice between accidentally dropping my little iPod Touch or 600+ pages of Twilight, possibly on my head, as I fall asleep, I choose the iPod.
Cookbooks: I like to jot down notes in my cookbooks, and I also like to have them sitting on the kitchen counter when I cook. I do have recipes stored on my iPhone and have cooked from them (they are much handier than dragging the whole cookbook to someone else's house if I need to cook "on the go"). If I spill something on my cookbook, hopefully it will survive (especially if it's sitting on my cookbook stand which covers the book with glass). However, if I were to spill on my iPhone or e-book reader, the result could be disastrous.
Crafting books: If you can't tell from the title of my blog, I like to knit. I often use pattern books. Granted, it's usually acceptable to make one photocopy of a pattern in order to carry it around with you but again, I like to jot down notes and tend to write straight in my pattern books. I opt for the extra weight of the book over the photocopy so that I can reduce unnecessary use of paper. With an e-book, you can probably print out a pattern on a computer, but there again is the paper waste issue. Finally, it's quite handy to plop a "sticky note" down on a paper book to mark my place in a knitting chart or directions so I know where I am. That doesn't work very well once the e-book gets turned off.
Magazines: I don't read many magazines, but when I do, they are usually knitting ones. I like a paper magazine for the same reason I like a paper book over an e-book. And my small collection of knitting magazines and books have a place in my knitting cabinet that is relatively dust-free and hidden from view. If it's not a crafting magazine, maybe it's something I picked up in line at the grocery store to read on a plane ride or again, at the beach (ironically, I rarely go to the beach, but I've got to have something to read while I'm there!). Paper is key for those types of magazines for me, for the same reasons that a paper book wins out at the beach.
Gifts: Have you ever found the perfect book of poems, short stories or a picture book that you want to give to your favorite someone for their birthday? I'm not sure how my nieces & nephews feel about paper books I've given them, but can you imagine giving them an e-book of say, Shel Silverstein poems? How would you inscribe that special message on the inside cover of an e-book for the recipient to remember you by? I still have books that my Dad inscribed for me when he bought them way back and when I was too young to be able to read his scrawl. I may not remember exactly the title of the books, but I do know that my Dad bought them for me and of course, he made sure that the date he presented the books to me was also inscribed in the books. They are a precious "collection" for me. Hands-down, paper books are the way to go for me in the gift category.
Since I'm talking about books vs. e-books, it bears mentioning that there are tons of formats in which e-books can be read. Some are free, such as apps for iPhone, Android, etc. on which you can read iBooks, Kindle books, and the like on devices that you already own. I do quite a bit of reading on my iPhone and/or iPod Touch. I'm fortunate that I can still read very small formats such as those. There are bigger, but less portable formats such as iPad (still pretty portable), and apps to read e-books of all sorts on laptop and desktop computers. And of course there are those actual e-readers such as Kindle, Nook, Boko, and the list goes on. I'm not endorsing one over the other. I don't even own a true e-book reader. But there is one feature that's probably on more than just the Kindle, that I like for knitting purposes: it will read aloud to you. The text-to-speech capability is only enabled on some books (it's the author's choice), and sounds slightly robotic, but I bet I'd use it quite a bit while knitting. I know some people read and knit simultaneously. I can, but I'd prefer to listen and knit. Since I don't have a Kindle, I do the next best thing--I listen to audio in the form of podcasts and audiobooks that I can check out at the library or acquire (usually Libriovox books for free) from iTunes. But that could be a whole post on its own.
What do you think? Paper book, or e-book?
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