As someone who uses and in fact, promotes e-readers and e-books on this site, it’s not, strictly speaking, very bright of me to publish this post.
But I just got home from taking my little daughter to the library, for probably the 100th time in her life, and I was smacked in the face — again — but the ultimate superiority of actual, physical, books over e-readers.
Just a few reasons why a real book will always be better than even the best ereader:
1. Books — actual, physical books — are always part of magic rituals. Look no farther than Harry Potter. There are more than 50 magical books mentioned in the Harry Potter series, many with magical powers of their own (find a partial list here). One in particular, The Monster Book of Monsters, will physically attack anyone who touches it. 450 million J.K. Rowling fans can’t be wrong. Books, literally, have power.
2. Can you imagine a Catholic priest walking down the center pew at the beginning of mass holding an iPad? Me neither. From the Catholic code of canon law:
an. 1171 Sacred objects, which are designated for divine worship by dedication or blessing, are to be treated reverently and are not to be employed for profane or inappropriate use even if they are owned by private persons.
Guess I better delete that copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas from my ereader before I take it to mass.
3. There is something about the words printed on organic matter — paper — that was once part of a living thing, a tree — that holds the imprint and emotions of the reader. That is why books are considered sacred by nearly all spiritual traditions in the world. They hold more than words and information. They hold energy. The very vibrations of life are suspended in each page.
4. If you are a bibliophile, you know there are some books that you just need to keep. The physical act of holding such books, feeling their weight, smelling the binding, remind you of when you first read them. They are powerful memory anchors from a singular time, place, or event. Throwing that particular book away would be like discarding a photograph. Case in point: On the night of a romantic breakup, I was cooling off in another room from my boyfriend, reading a book. I have never finished that book because every time I look at it, or pick it up, my thoughts are flooded with memories from that one night. Even though the sting of that breakup is wholly absent from my present life, the book brings it back. (The book? The Crimson Petal and the White).
5. Annotations! I know that e-readers have devised a system to annotate e-books, but typing out something to stay in an electronic file is not the same as physically imprinting your own thoughts and emotions next to the author’s. Also, when you do underline or annotate a section, there is no physical frame of reference to figure out later WHERE exactly in the book the annotation occurred.
6. And speaking of books that are read and reread, how can you easily find your favorite parts — where the binding is bent open permanently — on an e-reader? You can’t. Unlike in a well-loved book, every page in an e-reader is exactly the same, like some post-apocolyptic Atwood-esque robot.
7. In books with photographs in them, like autobiographies, it is difficult (or nearly impossible) to flip to the photo section to put a face to the character about which you’re reading.
8. Skipping to the end! I know I’m not the only person who does this. It is unwieldly and cumbersome to glance at the last pages of a novel while using an e-reader. This also means there is no frame of reference for where you are in the story. Imagine my disappointment, when, thinking I had 30 pages to go for the denouement of the novel I was reading, it abruptly ended. A glitch in my Nook miscalculated the pagination, leaving me annoyed and disappointed.
9. J.J. Abrams (the mastermind behind LOST) wrote this book that offers proof that books are better. His new book, S., is a novel that has handwritten-like notes inside, underlining, and faux-age-stained letters. Apparently it’s coming out in Kindle edition but I have no idea how they’ll manage it.
10. Do it for the kids. In a study on children and e-books, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center (a division of Sesame Workshop) determined that kids’ comprehension was better when reading a print book, perhaps because the focus was on the actual book and not device function or enhanced features.
I think Gutenberg had it right over 500 years ago, and while e-books and e-readers absolutely have their place in the 21st century, I do not, and will not, believe that the human race is ready to give up the solid, tactile pleasure of a genuine book.