On E-books and paper-books

Recent bump in popularity of e-readers and particularly Kindle has given rise to a debate, or rather left an old argument newly ablaze–e-books or paper-books?

I’m using Kindle since a decent amount of time now–enough, I think, to make a judgement as to whether an e-reader is worth it or not and whether the e-ink technology itself is preferable to paper or not. Truth is, the question is wrong: E-books or paper-books? I emphatically say I need both. Why, you might ask? Read on.

Kindle did much to create an unquenchable desire to read in me, but I’ve always been an eager reader. I owe this habit to primarily J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. I read this little (relatively) fantasy book when I couldn’t read properly. My dad gave a prettily illustrated paperback to me as a gift. I was instantly hooked, though I had a real hard time with its complex sentence structures (it was my first proper novel, you understand), words which simply had no meaning (“confusticate” and “bebother” come to mind; I was much vexed to find out that even dictionary wouldn’t explain the meaning of some words) and long-winded prose. Mainly, I admit, I liked the pictures. I couldn’t comprehend the minor, subtle plot-points, of course, but I got the essence–that a furry-toed and curly-haired little man goes to an adventure with his uninvited guests. If I say that I loved it, it would be an understatement of epic proportions. I lived it, I breathed it, I daydreamed it. “Adventure” became my favourite word in the language and I genuinely wished I could take part in adventures myself in real life and fight cunning, fire-breathing dragons.

My adoration for the book was so much that I started keeping it beside my pillow every night. I liked the very feel of it. By that time I’d read it several times and the book had acquired what I would call the “overused” look. The cover page featuring Bilbo Baggins (the titular character) was tattered and smudged almost beyond recognition, pages had yellowed and even its binding had begun to come apart. Still, I cherished it. You know why? Because many of my sweetest childhood memories were associated with it. I found it hard to relinquish it and forget my childhood.

So… Are you beginning to see the point? My biggest problem with eBooks is also their greatest advantage—they are not physical, they don’t actually exist, thus you don’t get fond with them like you do with good-old paper-books. But it also makes carrying your favourite books with you a piece of cake. After all, it’s just one device.

Every book (the paper ones) in my personal library is different, every book has its own unique appearance–a personality, as it were. And I love every book for what it is, like you love your siblings or lover for all their inherent flaws.

Let me make it more clear: a classic you read in your childhood might be so moth-eaten as to be almost unreadable, while a new book you purchased a week before would be all flashy and glossy. These two books are totally different in terms of appearance and likely their content is quite dissimilar too. But you care for both of them—first book, because it is like that childhood friend you played with, grew up with, and you can’t just let go of something precious like that; second book, because it is an exciting read and it’s nice to have a new friend.

This familiar bond is what I’m primarily missing whilst reading on Kindle. In Kindle, a book is a just an entry in the list of books—nothing else to tell them apart. No personality here. In May last year, I wrote a piece in which I listed the advantages and disadvantages of Kindle (and pretty much every other e-ink based reader) over good ol’ paper-books.

I think e-ink and paper can and should co-exist. I use both eBooks and paper-books extensively. When in home, I prefer paper-books almost always. There the question of portability does not arise, as I can sit and leaf about whole day in my “library room”. Whilst travelling, though, Kindle becomes invaluable. It is diminutive, wonderfully light and well-built. I can squeeze it in my laptop bag and read any book I like among hundreds of pre-downloaded eBooks on the device.

Hmm. But there is a matter of environment and all that—paper books are, obviously, less environment-friendly than ebooks. But if paper-books and, indeed, paper itself disappears altogether in future, as many people have predicted, I’m going to mourn its death. I’ve even got a lament ready in case it happens in my lifetime.


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