I love books. Who doesn’t, right? Well, lots of people, but those people are silly. Books are the one physical thing I can’t seem to part with without regret and angst and psychological arm-wrenching. I’ve loved books since I understood what they were. Stephen King called them “a uniquely portable magic,” and that’s exactly right.
A few years ago, when I got my Kindle, I was worried that I would be missing a lot of that magic. The comfortable heft of a significant book balanced on the knees. The susurrus of fingers sliding over smooth-rough pages. The glossy dust jacket following the time-honored formula: title, author name, and illustration (usually) on the cover, blurbs on the front flap, author pic and bio on the back flap.
But it turns out I needn’t have worried. As I discovered shortly after downloading my first ebook, when it comes to books, most of the magic is in the words themselves. Not only that, an ebook has many advantages over a paper one. In some ways, ebooks are better than paper books. Let me count the ways.
- An entire library in your purse. When I was a kid, I carted books with me wherever we went. As an adult, I got out of the habit because, well, books are hefty. At least most of the ones I like to read are. Thanks to ebooks, though, I’ve re-adopted that habit. Right now I’ve got well over 100 books on my Kindle with room for many, many more, and it fits very neatly in the outside pocket of my purse. That’s my main requirement for a purse, in fact: that it have a pocket where I can easily stash my Kindle.
- It’s searchable. I’ve gotten into the habit of buying cookbooks and reference books in ebook format because it’s so much easier to find “that one recipe we like” or even how many times the word “PayDay” is used in The Stand.
- There are fewer barriers between you and the author. I hate most paperbacks because of the way they snap shut, the force you have to use to hold them open (if you don’t want to bend the spines, which I don’t). Hardbacks are better, but still, reading one tethers you to your physical space. When I read on my Kindle, I can hold it with one hand or two. My thumb naturally goes on the Next Page button, and after the first few pages, it’s much easier to forget that you are reading; you’re just taking a trip in someone else’s mind.
- Ebooks have more options for the disabled. The large print version of even the nicest library is but a small subset of their catalog. With an ebook, though (depending on your reader), you can change text size, text contrast, brightness, read white text on a black background, or even use the text-to-speech function. And I imagine that for those with arthritis or limited mobility, pushing a button might be easier than physically turning a page.
- You can buy ebooks anywhere. This one depends on your connection, of course; if your ereader is wifi only, you will need to be home or somewhere with a wifi signal to buy books. But you don’t have to be at Barnes & Noble. For many of us, this is just a convenience. For the homebound, however, it is closer to a necessity.
- You can check out ebooks anywhere. Similar to the above point, except checking out books is free. Huzzah! Who doesn’t love free? And more and more libraries are stocking ebooks. (The Mid-Continent Public Library system in the Kansas City area, for example, has a robust-and-growing selection.) If you have a Kindle and an Amazon Prime account, you can also check out a book a month for free. That’s 12 books a year you don’t have to pay for, a great way to get books you can’t find at your library.
- Ebooks are green. They help me have a smaller carbon footprint. I like that.
- Ebooks are a defense against crappy printing. This is something I have felt all along but was only recently able to articulate to a friend. Look at the book in the picture I posted. It’s well over three centuries old. The leather, the gilding, the stitching … it’s beautiful, so beautiful as to be almost sacred. BUT. Not every physical book is a thing of beauty. A paperback or hardbound book assembled as cheaply as possible, one with glued binding not intended to last through more than a few readings, or one with misaligned edges or pages that appear to have been trimmed by a pack of squirrel monkeys brandishing dull razors—yuck. A book assembled like that is a travesty and disrespectful of both the author and the readers. Given the choice between that and an ebook, I’ll take the simple, clean, minimalist ebook every time.
- Finally, ebooks make readers. What do I mean by that? Simply this: anything we can do to make books more accessible and more convenient is by its very nature going to increase the number of readers, however slightly, however slowly (or at least stem the decrease caused by other societal changes).
I don’t mean to suggest that ebooks will come to replace paper books, nor do I think they should; they both fill slightly different needs. I also don’t mean to suggest that ebooks have no disadvantages. They do. Everything does. Nor do I mean to suggest that physical books have no advantages. They do. This is a topic that causes flared nostrils and heated discussions among book lovers, and I think that’s great. In fact, feel free to flare up and fire away in the comments section. Because I love talking about books nearly as much as I love reading them.