This week’s Mind the Gap writing challenge on The Daily Post asks, “How do you prefer to read, with an eReader like a Kindle or Nook, or with an old school paperback in hand?”
I am a complete fence-sitter on this issue—so much so that after fifteen minutes of contemplation and internal struggle, I gave up on clicking either radio button in The Daily Post’s poll on the subject. If you put a gun to my head and made me choose, I certainly would, but I think it would take the click of the safety being released for me to actually commit.
I am a staunch supporter of reading old-fashioned paper books. Nothing beats going into a bookstore or library and wandering amongst the shelves, pulling down this volume or that, looking at the cover art, pondering the title, reading the dust jacket, and deciding with those three simple actions whether or not you’ll devote a few irretrievable hours of your life to the words contained within. I love the crackle of the dried glue in the spine when I open a book for the first time, and the smell of the ink that wafts so easily from whatever paper they use in today’s mass-produced paperbacks. I like the hardcover library books that have those ruffly, unevenly cut pages, and appreciate them even more if there’s sand stuck under the clear protective cover. If someone cared enough to read that book while relaxing on the beach, it’s surely worth my time as well. At home, a bookcase full of texts, their neatly aligned spines marching along the shelves until they collide with a family photo or personal keepsake, makes an office or living room warm and inviting. If an author’s words make a deep enough impression for me to purchase my own hardcover copy, the book becomes a treasure on those shelves, part of the art and ambience of the room.
However, now that I’ve defended my love of real books, I do have to admit to owning an eReader (well, four if you count the free Kindle apps on my iPad, desktop, and laptop in addition to the actual Kindle). I travel, and with the increasingly unrealistic airline baggage restrictions, the eReader eliminates the need to figure out how to transport a week’s worth of paperbacks and still have enough room to pack a swimsuit and some clean knickers when I go on vacation. I like having multiple books on my Kindle, so if I finish John Campbell’s biography of Margaret Thatcher while I’m waiting at the DMV, I can flip over to the latest novel by Maeve Binchy without skipping a beat. The anonymity of the Kindle is also refreshing…I don’t have to explain to anyone why I’m just now getting around to reading Pride and Prejudice or endure any judgmental glances while I’m working my way through the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. It’s amazing that so many classics are available for free download to eReaders…the benefits of having a library card but without the due dates (two weeks is not long enough to tackle some of those classics, and knowing there’s no pressure to finish a book on someone else’s schedule makes it much more likely that I’ll choose to read it).
I find the Kindle easier to prop up than a chunky hardcover novel when I’m reading in bed, but there’s no way I’m taking my eReader anywhere near the bathtub, one of my top three reading locales. I’d not think twice about leaving a paperback in the car to read whenever I’m waiting to pick up my husband, but possible theft or baking/freezing of the electronics would dissuade me from keeping an eReader in the glove box. A good storyteller can leave me sobbing—tears are absorbed (almost) harmlessly into the pages of a paperback, but what does a salty torrent do to the inner workings of an eReader?
Deep down, I harbor a secret longing to one day own a used-book store—a place with big comfy chairs, maybe some cakes and coffee—where people can bring the books that didn’t rate high enough to grace the shelves of their personal libraries and trade them in for someone else’s cast-offs, in hopes that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. I feel I’d be killing my own dream before it has a chance to come to fruition if I come down squarely on the eReader side of the fence. I can’t throw my full support behind traditional books, either; as an aspiring writer, I believe eReaders have increased my odds of eventually getting a work in front of a reader’s eyes compared to when traditional kill-a-tree publishing houses were the only option. Now, even if I am rejected by any number of reputable agents, I can still self-publish electronically (and comparatively cheaply) in the hopes of attracting an audience from the public who troll Amazon’s Kindle Store looking for free or almost-free novels by unknown (temporarily!!) authors. Going that route, I may never achieve the fame and fortune of J.K. Rowling, but there’s a certain satisfaction knowing my words could be scrolling across the screen of some faceless commuter’s Nook as the 6:45 train rumbles toward his downtown office.
My eReader is convenient and I’d hate to give it up; traditional books are my first love, to have and to hold till death do us part. I have different, but not totally unrelated, dreams for my future that count on both paper books and electronic books being widely desired and available. I am hoping that by reading an equal number of books in both formats now, both industries will see demand for their products and I won’t contribute to the demise of either. Bottom line is I love words, and will pick up a book in whatever format I can, so I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t force me to get off the fence.