How do you prefer to read books these days? Digital or hardcopy? Paper or screen? Ink or pixels? These days, some people seem to have very strong opinions on the “proper” way to read a book. Screens are bad. Paper is wasteful. E-readers are destroying the way we read/publish/write/think. And so on.
I once had a pretty strong opinion too. I was a book reader, I thought. Paperbacks, hardcovers, used books, old musty books, dog-eared books… I loved them all: loved the paper, the covers, the print, holding them in my hands. After all, I grew up with bookshelves and book clubs (yes, kids: we used to order books via snail mail and get them mailed to our mailboxes), and visits to the library that always ended with me dragging home some ridiculously heavy bag of reading. I brought paperbacks on trips and flights, I brought books to the beach, I crammed them into my backpack when I traveled through Europe and Egypt in my younger days, and I dragged many of them across the world when I moved from Sweden to Canada in the 1990s. Every time I’ve moved to a new place, there have always been some mega-heavy, back-breaking boxes to get on the moving truck thanks to all my books.
A couple of years ago when my husband asked me if I was interested in getting a Kindle, I told him no. No, why would I need an e-reader? Just another new-fangled contraption to lug around and charge and bring cables for. Not for me, nope, nuh-uh, not at all. Books had always been good enough for me, and they were still good enough for me. Then he bought me a Kindle anyway, for my birthday.
I was still skeptical. Why would I want to read books on this thing? But then something happened: I started reading books on “that thing”. I got hooked up to Amazon and discovered I could get books instantly – like genie-delivery – and many old books and amazing classics were all free, or dirt cheap (and I do love my classics!). Slowly, or rather: not so slowly at all, my reading habits and preferences changed as I discovered some of the very good things about ebooks:
- they can be cheaper than regular books, sometimes even free if they’re in the public domain
- they are easy to pack: I can stuff my Kindle full of books for me and the kids when we travel, and they won’t weigh me down
- they are easy to read in the dark: when the kids were little and I would read with them in bed with me, I didn’t even have to turn on the light when using my e-reader
I find that my reading habits have actually changed somewhat after going ebook: because the prices are somewhat lower (usually!), and because the books don’t take up any physical space, I’ve become a bit more adventurous: I’ll take a chance on a new book and a new writer because it feels like less of a commitment and expense to pick up an ebook than a hardcover. That kind of adventure is a good thing. The convenience of shopping for ebooks online and having them delivered wirelessly is also a big deal: I just don’t have time to browse the book stores the same as I used to once upon a time.
Since becoming a self-published author I can see even more advantages of ebooks, first and foremost that the digital format makes it cheaper and easier for writers to get out there and reach their readers. (Of course, this also means that the market is flooded with product, but hey, them’s the breaks!) Of course, there is no denying the continuing allure of real paper: when I recently held the paperback copy of my book Odin’s Eye in my hands, it did feel special, even though it had already been out as an ebook for a while.
I still read books, but I find that I definitely favour my Kindle these days. It’s just so darn convenient. When I started reading books on the Kindle, I would sometimes try to turn the “pages” without thinking: usually this happened when I was tired and my brain forgot that we were not reading a paperback after all. These days, I occasionally find myself trying to “swipe” the next page into view on a regular book when I’m reading-while-tired. I guess even my brain has become a convert.
I don’t really think there is a right or wrong preference when it comes to books vs ebooks. I love my ebooks, and I love my books (old paperbacks, and used-bookstore-finds can carry a lot of memories, after all), but what I really, really love is reading, and right now, ebooks are making it easier for me to read. Score one for the pixels, I guess, but definitely score one for the joy of reading.