In Praise of the E-Reader
Sep 28, 2016
In the great e-readers vs. real books debate, I have always stood quite firmly on the paper and ink side of things. I didn't own an e-reader (and never read on my phone) and had no desire to acquire one. I loved the feel of a real book in my hands and couldn't imagine that holding a slim plastic screen could ever bring me the same kind of pleasure.
But as life goes, I suppose it was only a matter of time before I had a legitimate reason to want, and even need, an e-reader. That reason was our summer trip to Europe. Mike informed me in no uncertain terms that I would not be able to bring a whole bag of books on the plane. As loyal as I am to paper books, I'm more loyal to just reading in whatever format I can get it, so I buckled and agreed this was maybe an appropriate time for an e-reader.
Mike got me a Kindle Paperwhite for Mother's Day, and I forced myself to read one book on it before we left on our trip so that I didn't have to adjust to it while we were traveling. That first experience wasn't awesome, but luckily, two weeks of traveling followed closely on the heels of it, and I soon discovered a multitude of reasons not only to tolerate it, but to, dare I say it?, love it.
First of all, and probably most obvious, is that it is just so portable. Before the trip, I kept a close watch on Modern Mrs. Darcy's kindle deals page and stocked up on books that were already on my to-read list. By the time we left, I had a nice little stack . . . except it wasn't an actual stack. I didn't have to agonize over a single book decision before we left. In fact, it was the easiest part of my packing. I just put the kindle in my purse, and I was set for whatever sort of reading mood I found myself in.
I usually love the weight and heft of a real book, but sometimes the compact size and lightness of the kindle can be very appealing. For example, I was so excited to read Sense and Sensibility because I'd purchased the Penguin clothbound edition, and it was just so pretty. But the spine was stiff, so it wouldn't lay open very easily (and I didn't want to crack it!), and it was thick enough that it was difficult to hold open with one hand. So I got the kindle edition and read most of the book that way (although I would sometimes switch to the paper copy for the fun of it). As another example, I'm debating including Cheryl Mendelson's Home Comforts on my reading goals for 2017, but it is massive (like, 900 pages massive--who knew keeping your house clean could be such an intense subject?). I knew that I would be much more likely to read it if I didn't have to deal with such an unwieldy size, so when the kindle edition recently went on sale for $3.99, I snagged it.
And can I talk about reading in bed for a minute? Because that was one of the advantages of the kindle I was not prepared for. The first night I read it in bed and didn't have to turn over from side to side depending on which side of the page I was on was like a miraculous discovery. I also love that if I accidentally fall asleep, I don't club myself in the face with a behemoth of a book.
And then there are the "pages" themselves. When I'm reading on my kindle, I do miss rubbing the page between my fingers and absently rifling through the edges and feeling how much I've read and how much I have left. I love the act of turning over the page and dog-earing the corners. And of course, the sweet, aged, sometimes dusty, smell of paper just can't be beat. Reading can be such a tactile experience for me, and I miss it when it's not there.
However, I will say, I've been super impressed with the way the kindle page looks. The Kindle Paperwhite's screen doesn't have a glare, and Mike pointed out that when you go into the sun, you can actually see the page better, just like a real book, not worse like you would if you were reading on a phone or tablet. But it also has a built-in light so that if it does get dark all of a sudden (like if you drive into a 15-mile long tunnel in Norway), you can keep right on reading without missing a beat. I've found that I actually don't need the light turned up much at all to see it just fine in the dark. (And of course, this is another plus for reading at night or when I'm rocking my two-year-old to sleep . . . shhhhh, I didn't just admit that I do that.) So yes, the page doesn't feel the same, but really, essentially, it looks the same.
I'm a very visual person, and one thing that was difficult for me with the kindle at the beginning was that I couldn't flip back through the book to refresh my memory about a particular scene or character. I can often remember the general location (left or right side, top or bottom of page), and so it's fairly easy to find info if I need it again. But of course, with a kindle, this is impossible. This frustrated me so much at first, but I've started to employ two different features that have countered this quite well.
First, I use the highlighting tool to mark anything I want to remember or come back to. This actually works quite a bit better than my traditional dog-earing method because I can add a little note and mention why I highlighted that particular passage (you'd be surprised how often I come back to sections, only to wonder what struck me about them the first time). I also use the search tool to help me find a specific passage. This is especially helpful if I want to reread the first scene with a specific character or if I can't place where I've already heard about a particular object or place. In other words, it doesn't help so much if I'm searching for something about the protagonist, but if it's something that has had only infrequent mentions, it can be a really efficient way to go back.
I know some people really love the statistics that run along the bottom of the kindle page--76% complete, 3 minutes left in chapter, 1 hour 17 minutes left in book, etc.--but I often turn them off because I get distracted by them (plus, the time left in the chapter/book is usually not anywhere close to being accurate, so it's not even helpful). I find that I get lost more easily in the story if I'm not worried about when that darn percent is going to go up again. However, without page numbers or the feel of the pages in my hand, I tend to feel a little adrift without some type of gauge for how much I've read, so I usually check in with the stats when I'm done reading for right then.
I've also become a fan of digital checkouts from the library. As far as brand-new releases go, it's not usually that helpful because you have to wait a really long time for your turn (although, I reserve them anyway and just hope that when they come up six months later, I still want to read them). However, for backlist books, digital checkouts are great because you can usually download them instantly without any need to go to the library and then they automatically return themselves when they're due. What service.
One other thing I wanted to mention is that I use my kindle for reading and reading only. I don't know how to use the Wi-Fi on it (and I don't want to). I don't have games or apps or anything else on it. When I'm reading on it, my only option is to read. I'm not distracted by anything else, and I love that. My kids have no idea that it has any capabilities beyond holding books, so they know if I'm looking at it, it's because I'm reading. This was something that was really important to me. I didn't want it to just become a kind of tablet, and it hasn't.
Of course, my experience with an e-reader hasn't been one hundred percent positive (and I've mentioned a few minor drawbacks already). The first book I read on my kindle was Heart of a Samurai. The overall reading experience was okay, although it seemed to feel a little more tedious than a traditional book. However, when I got to the end of it, I found a glossary of definitions for Japanese words and a pronunciation guide and a couple of author's notes about the social and economic impact of some of the events. I was so disappointed to find these helpful guides after I was done with the book because it would have been so nice to have while I was reading it, but I didn't even know they existed because I was reading it on my kindle.
But overall, my transition to an e-reader has been smooth and painless and overwhelmingly, and surprisingly, positive. I've learned to embrace both digital reading and traditional reading. I can candidly acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of both and select the appropriate format for the book and/or situation. And having more options is incredibly freeing.
What do you think? Do you own an e-reader? How and when do you use it? What do you like/not like about it? Please share your opinion!