I didn’t really convert to an eReader – specifically a 3rd iteration Kindle paperwhite – until about 2016. I held onto paper books out of a romantic attachment to the look/feel/smell, and the satisfaction of seeing my collection arranged on a shelf. I still have those feelings (and many overflowing shelves), but over time the arguments in favor of eBooks became too great for me to ignore.
I’d like to discuss these arguments and the evidence that has forced to admit that eBooks are fundamentally a better way to read – at least for me. Presented in order of decreasing obviousness:
All your books on one device – This is the most commonly invoked argument in favor of eBooks. You can fit your entire library in your pocket! And it’s a good argument! It’s really cool that I can switch around between several titles and only carry around a single device. If you go on a long vacation, you only have to pack a single item.
More subtly though, I want to point out that when you use an eReader all your books are reduced to the size of the eReader. This mean that no matter what you’re reading, you’ll be able to stash it in your pocket. No more lugging around a great weighty tome when you’re in line at the DMV or cramming someone’s magnum opus into your carryon when going on vacation.
Ease of acquisition – With an eReader, getting a new book is usually as simple as a few button clicks. You can even buy books directly from your device. The best part? The books are ready for you to read immediately! Gratification has never been more instantaneous! Buying paper books has also gotten much easier, but you still have wait for the book to ship to you or – God forbid – drive to a store. To be clear, I could spend days wandering around bookstores and never get bored. But when I have a pressing need to read the next volume in some series TODAY I don’t want to have to buckle three children into the car to make that happen.
Most people don’t know this but you can also get eBooks from your local library, usually through Overdrive. They download straight to your device and you have them in your possession until the loan expires. Just like buying eBooks, it’s much more convenient way to access the resources of your local library. The best part? They return themselves automatically! That awkward shame of overdue notices piling up in your inbox? Banished with the mighty power of technology! I’m married to someone who literally got a new library card to avoid facing the accumulated disgrace brought on by years of overdue books.
Integrated Reading Light – Ever been in bed with your spouse and one of you wants to go to sleep and the other wants to stay up and keep reading? Or been camping and had to put your book down because the sun set and you didn’t want to struggle with reading by flashlight? Well guess what? Ereaders have built in illumination! Those problems just…aren’t problems anymore when you’re reading eBooks.
Easily Searchable – Being unable to find a particular passage in a book is a uniquely frustrating experience. It was right there! In the upper left, about midway through the second section! AAAAHHGH!!! Just like ctrl+f has completely changed the way we navigate electronic documents, being able to search through an eBook is a a breath of fresh air after a lifetime spent fruitlessly flipping through pages to find that one particular sentence.
In addition to being a more pleasant experience, search has also improved my reading abilities. Occasionally, I’ll stumble across a passage in a novel and wonder if it was foreshadowed earlier on. With a paper book, it’s basically impossible to quickly look back through the earlier chapters and locate a specific word that might have been mentioned. With a search function the task takes about 5 seconds.
Note Taking / Highlights – I’ve never been much of a note taker while reading; I figured I would either write stuff in the margins that I’d never see again or I’d have to hump around a noteBook every time I wanted to read something. Too much work for almost no payoff.
But lately – again in my quest to be a better reader – I’ve been judiciously highlighting parts of books that I want to remember, and making small notes any time something happens that seems important or odd. On my Kindle, I can pull up all my notes and highlights for a book and have them be neatly organized, in a single place.
Built in Dictionary – As I continue to atone for all the sins I committed in AP English, I’m trying to avoid skimming over words I don’t recognize and look them up instead. An eReader makes this as simple as tapping the word, and up pops the definition. No more guessing from context clues and limping along with a vague understanding of the author’s intent. Mr. Christian would be proud.
The Downsides of Ebooks
Of course, eBooks and eReaders aren’t all upside – everything has some drawbacks. Here’s what I’ve noticed with eBooks.
Batteries – The most obvious downside: you have to remember to keep you eReader charged. The battery lasts a long time, especially if you disable Wifi and the backlight, but it won’t last forever, especially if you’re a voracious reader. Good news is that we’ve all been conditioned to charge our devices every day, so adding an eReader into the mix isn’t that great of a burden. The newer models even have usb-C ports, so you can use the phone charger that you already have on hand.
Sharing – The biggest reason I still have paper books is so that I can share them with other people. It is much more work to share an eBook, even if it has had the DRM removed. Sending files, sideloading books – it’s all a huge hassle, especially if the other person isn’t very technically adept. I expect that publishers love this, but it’s a pretty big turnoff to the whole eBook ecosystem.
Page Flipping – Searching might be easier on an eBook, but flipping back and forth between two set points is still better done in paper. This is relevant for books that have a glossary of terms, or a map that you might want to often refer to while reading. It’s much more of a chore to quickly jump back and forth in an eBook.
Screen Size and Resolution – A small device is great when you’re traveling, but kinda sucks when you’re trying to look at anything that isn’t text. Many fantasy novels have maps that are close to impossible to read on an eReader, owing to the small screen size and worse-than-print resolution. Figures in non-fiction books (graphs, illustrations) suffer the same way. Usually you can find a full size map somewhere online, but it’s still unpleasant to need to pull up another device when you’re reading.
No Color – Like the small screen, this is not usually relevant, especially for fiction. Occasionally though, there will be a book that has some color figures or illustrations that just don’t present well on a black and white device. This is one drawback that I think will eventually get solved, but for the time being we’re stuck with it.
Impressive Bookshelves – Having shelves full of books is really fun and cool! I love looking at my collection and reminiscing about the journey each book took me on. Beyond personal emotional appeals, there’s some evidence that having bookshelves in the background of video calls lends you an air of credibility and authority. None of that should be discounted!