Why I keep buying print books

<i></i>

Photo: trait2lumiere

Yesterday, I got home after a long day at work and read a book in the bath. It was Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5, which turned out to be fairly harrowing, dealing as it does with the harrowing impact of the bombing of Dresden in World War II. But then again, it has plunger-shaped aliens from the planet Tralfamadore in it, so that’s something.

It was a wonderful read, and kept me in the water long after my skin had turned wrinkly. And it occurred to me that there’s simply no way to enjoy the great pleasure of bath-reading with a tablet, unless you’re rich enough to have a few dozen of them on hand. It’s best done with a paperback, one that you don’t mind getting slightly damp just in case you can’t quite manage to keep one hand dry. (Keep a towel within reach is my tip.)

At a time when the publishing industry has been struggling with the sales of books that aren’t about angst-ridden vampires, problematic sado-masochistic relationships or celebrity chefs, and even those few who make time to read nowadays have been gravitating towards e-books, it’s worth remembering what’s great about reading printed books.

Our media consumption is becoming internet based, as we increasingly stream music and download television. It doesn’t really matter whether a programme is downloaded or watched off the air - you’re still viewing it on the same screen. And while there are subtle differences between playing vinyl and streaming from Spotify, you’re still listening to the same recording through the same speakers.

Advertisement

But a printed book (“p-book”, for the purposes of this article) and an e-book offer different experiences when you consume them. Both have their place, and I certainly love taking my e-reader when I travel, but I doubt I’ll ever stop buying and reading printed books, even out of the bath.

Every book on my shelf has a memory attached to it. I remember where I bought them, who I was with, what kind of a day it was. Which is another thing that’s wonderful about p-books – the experience of buying them from bookshops, a pleasure that no website “recommendations engine” can hope to replicate. When I’m browsing in a bookshop, I’ll discover titles that the bookshop’s staff recommend not because they’re bestsellers, not because they’ve profiled me, but because they love them. That’s an irreplaceable service, and while the days of mega-chain bookshops have already gone forever, and I miss the scale and range of those massive Borders that were only with us for a decade or so, I’m sure that smaller, local, independent bookshops will survive. I certainly plan to keep supporting them.

I love a brand new book, with that unique freshly-printed smell, but I also love second-hand books. Browsing through an emporium of musty tomes is a pleasure that an e-reader cannot hope to replicate – and second-hand is cheaper than buying e-books, too. You can’t resell e-books – in fact, you may not even be able to pass them on to your children, unless they’re going to juggle multiple Amazon accounts, for instance. And what happens if Amazon goes broke?

I loved reading books for school that my parents had once enjoyed, and if I ever have children, I hope they’ll go on to plunder my own collection someday. P-books also turn satisfyingly yellow as they age. I love the tactility of books, too – their covers, often with brilliant graphic design, the beautiful layout and fontography. E-books all look and feel the same, a one-font-size-fits-all approach.

 

One day I plan to have a study lined with bookshelves, containing the perfect easy chair and reading lamp, but I already have a few bookshelves in my living room that form an enticing wall of colour, bulging with pleasure and potential. While e-readers usefully save space for those who live in small apartments, as Anthony Powell observed, books do furnish a room. E-readers do not.

Even if we don’t always find time to read nowadays, exploring a bookshelf lets you imagine long, lazy days of reclining and becoming immersed in a book. Sometimes a friend will notice a title on my shelf and borrow it, a pleasure that e-books cannot afford. You can get a p-book signed by the author, or give it as a Christmas present, and while gifting e-books is wonderfully convenient for friends who live overseas, you can’t stash them under the tree on Christmas morning.

Of course, they have their place. I read A Song of Ice and Fire (the source for Game of Thrones) on one while travelling, and lugging the thousands of pages of sci-fi around would have been a huge hassle. Uni textbooks were an annoying burden back in the day as well. The ease and convenience of online purchasing is a huge plus, but whenever I buy an e-book, I feel like I don’t really own it, and can’t get the maximum enjoyment from it.

What I’d like to see happen is what happens with vinyl albums nowadays, whereby if you buy a physical book, you also get a code for a bundled e-book copy. I’d like to be able to read a book in print when at home, and keep reading on a tablet while away. And I’d feel more comfortable with the print copy sitting on my shelf in perpetuity.

So while I’m actively adding to my e-book library, I’d still rather read a book in print. It’s simply a more pleasurable experience, and I like being able to slot them into my bookshelf when I’m done, where I can simply glance at the spine and remember the enjoyment I got from reading it. So while e-books have their place, especially when travelling, I’m a p-book man for life. At least until they invent a submersible e-reader.

Dom swears his latest novel, Man vs Child, is slightly more entertaining in print form.

 

15 comments

  • I completely agree Dom. As I am in my mid twenties, you would assume that e-readers would be my main source of literature, however nothing compares to having a book in your hand. I enjoy my iPad for some e-books while I am travelling, however am somewhat limited when you also have lots of music and a few movies loaded to pass the time in airports. I too love wandering around bookstores and small independent book stores are infinitely more pleasurable than a big shain bookstore. More people should consider picking up a good book (ie not Fifty Shades) as a way of transporting themselves to another world in a way that doesn't require technology, especially these days, where everything we do relies on technology

    Commenter
    Reader
    Date and time
    September 13, 2013, 8:41AM
    • +1 to this. Especially the bundled books.

      Commenter
      KittyKat
      Date and time
      September 13, 2013, 9:35AM
      • Books, like radio before TV, aren't going to go out of fashion just because something new has come along.

        My issue with print books, mainly here in Australia, is the ridiculous amount of money they cost. $30 for a paperback is just simply not acceptable when i can download an epub from the UK for $15 equivalent for my Kobo.

        eReaders (Not tablets or anything else requiring a back light) also have the benefit of being small, portable and the battery can last months. You can fit heaps of books on them, and some even come with 100 classics for free. You can also download out of copy write for free and view at your leisure.

        Saying that at least you can dry a book off when you drop it in the bath. Not so much an eReader :)

        Commenter
        Yeah Yeah Yeah
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        September 13, 2013, 11:24AM
        • Books, like radio before TV, aren't going to go out of fashion just because something new has come along.

          My issue with print books, mainly here in Australia, is the ridiculous amount of money they cost. $30 for a paperback is just simply not acceptable when i can download an epub from the UK for $15 equivalent for my Kobo.

          eReaders (Not tablets or anything else requiring a back light) also have the benefit of being small, portable and the battery can last months. You can fit heaps of books on them, and some even come with 100 classics for free. You can also download out of copy write for free and view at your leisure.

          Saying that at least you can dry a book off when you drop it in the bath. Not so much an eReader :)

          Commenter
          Yeah Yeah Yeah
          Location
          Melbourne
          Date and time
          September 13, 2013, 11:39AM
          • Dom, somebody is already selling waterproofed Kindle Paperwhites... http://waterfi.com/waterproof-kindle :-)

            Commenter
            itgrrl
            Location
            Canberra
            Date and time
            September 13, 2013, 12:04PM
            • There's a limit to how much space you can reasonably expect to devote to books in your home. Once I hit six bulging bookcases I realized I had to switch to e-books or start getting rid of my collection. Since I'd already pared down my collection when we moved house I wasn't willing to get rid of any more. So it's e-books for me.

              Commenter
              TK
              Date and time
              September 13, 2013, 12:12PM
              • Great article. I agree that the purchasing and reading experience is a lot more enjoyable with a "P-book" and love the bundled idea.
                I do think e-books have significant advantages in some cases. I have really appreciated my family's e-book library when we moved house recently and there were fewer heavy boxes to deal with. E-books also win if a number of family members want to read a new release as soon as it comes out. One purchase, multiple readers. I also feel better about e-books when considering the environmental impact of large stacks of p-books as in the picture accompanying this article. I realise that there are high environmental costs in manufacturing e-readers and that there are also ongoing operational costs so I'm not really sure which wins in the end. Lastly, there is the cost factor to consider. As much as I like to support local bookshops, buying a p-book in Australia is an expensive way to read.

                Commenter
                Otto7
                Date and time
                September 13, 2013, 12:13PM
                • Physical books, like horses, blacksmithing and hand-glassblowing, is something that is steadily moving to a boutique industry, rather than being a mass-market product. They are replaced by a different, more efficient technology, but still retain a smaller, more specialised niche among fans.

                  Instead of being a fundamental thing that everybody had and needed, they move to being more specialised, being purchased and consumed for specific purposes and by specific people. Rather than piles of cheap paperbacks everywhere, you'll start to see a few for specific situations (such as reading in the bath), and the rest of the collection will be just that - collector's items and items to be individually valued.

                  Commenter
                  DM
                  Date and time
                  September 13, 2013, 12:18PM
                  • Totally agree, I love running my eye over my bookshelves and finding an old friend I haven't read in a while!

                    Dom I have just bought my wall to wall shelves with a ladder and have had them installed in my room, the chair is next!!

                    Commenter
                    Jenny
                    Location
                    Hawthorn
                    Date and time
                    September 13, 2013, 1:02PM
                    • Great article Dom. I recently had to cull my collection built up over some 45 years, after succumbing to increasingly more strident demands from my wife. The collection was a little sad, having been dispatched to the garage in boxes by the older two of my three kids as they increased the size of their teenagers' retreat. Neither inherited my love of reading.
                      It took me a week to determine what would go and what would stay. That process brought floods of memories, and proved very difficult. In the end, I delivered about 500 pre-loved tomes, mostly novels, but with some school texts thrown in, to the local St Vinnies. The parting was made a little easier when I caught sight of two of the St V's staff excitedly opening the first box and showing a couple of literary gems to their colleagues. They will be loved again, and assist a good cause in the meantime.
                      My youngest daughter does share my love of books and reading, but as luck would have it, lost her sight at 13, and now relies on talking e-books, except when I am home to read to her from a "real" book.
                      She alone in the home understands the trauma of what I have just done, and is now a keen creative writer.
                      Long live p-bookshops!

                      Commenter
                      A grieving reader
                      Date and time
                      September 13, 2013, 1:21PM

                      More comments

                      Comments are now closed