The debate between reading books physically (you know, to have the actual thing in your hand so that you can feel it, smell it, see it) vs electronically has become a non-starter for me. To my mind, it’s similar to conversations about which is better, reading a book vs watching the movie based on said book. Either way, each one is an experience with its own merits.
From the moment I knew it was possible, I dived into reading books electronically and my choice was in no way a diss against physical books. Given the opportunity, I will still stick my nose in one and hanging out in a bookstore, surrounded by all manner of reading material, remains one of my favourite pastimes. It is precisely because I am such an avid reader that ebooks actually work for me.
You see, I am very precious about my books, the physical ones. I like to keep them pristine – even after I have read them they should still look like they did when I first bought them. No markups, dog-ears or coffee/wine/food stains will be tolerated. Invariably, because I am in the habit of reading anywhere and everywhere, one of these travesties is likely to occur to any physical book that is my keeping. Add to that friends who like to borrow and not return in the same condition in which it was received or a certain young man who is still learning simple life rules like don’t touch mama’s stuff or scribble in/on her things.
Because I so often have to put my case forward as to why the bulk of my books are now electronic, I thought I’d put it down in writing and share it with the world. I get the feeling that for some it still feels like a less authentic reading experience. For others, I think, it’s more of a mindset challenge; they just can’t compute going through an entire book on a device, never mind the fact that many spend hours combing through texts and emails on those very same devices. A lot of people are also just so conditioned to one way of reading, that is through physical books, they really can’t conceive of any other way of enjoying the book experience.
I do not use a specific device that is exclusively for books. AlI I have is an app that is downloaded on to all the normal devices that have become the staple in many households – smartphone, laptop and tablet. That means I have virtually my entire library with me at any given time and wherever I am I can choose whichever book I want to start/continue with, depending on my mood – not just the one I happen to have with me, assuming I remembered to bring it with me in the first place. Another bonus is that my books are synchronised across all the devices so that I can very easily and quickly pick up where I left off from one device to the other. If worse comes to worse and I am using a device that’s not mine, I can still log in to my account and access my library that way.
As much as I have an aversion to marring physical books in anyway, I have no such hangups with ebooks. All of them are filled with highlights of quotes that I want to remember, thoughts and ideas sparked by whatever I am reading and need to remember for further exploration at a later date. In fact, I’ve been known to screenshot and share passages that I have highlighted with friends – sometimes it’s something that made me laugh/cry or it somehow alludes to something we had talked about at one time or another. My absolute favourite thing about markups is that they are all stored in a virtual notebook where I can filter them according to my own notes (thoughts, comments, questions) that I’ve created, bookmarks or highlights. And by the way, they are transferrable into an editable format for when I want to include something in a presentation, speech or article.
Often, deep into a particular book experience, I will need to go back and find a reference to something in a different part of the book. All I need to do is pop over to the search function and put in the relevant keyword and up pops each iteration of that word or phrase.
Sometimes the way something is stated in a book is new, unfamiliar or I just don’t get it. Enter the handy features that give you access to further information. Right on the app, I can look up words, explore concepts further through Wikipedia and Google and even find images of what the thing actually looks like. There’s even a translation capability, but this doesn’t excite me since 9 of South Africa’s official languages don’t feature. Neither does slang or words/concepts that are recent additions to everyday lexicon.
Shopping on an online bookstore opens up scope in terms of the range of books that are available. These are books that local book dealers may deem unsalable and therefore will not keep in stock or they’re no longer in print. And if you order the ebook it is in your hands literally within minutes – no 7 to 21 day eating period. Yes, this is one way I feed my instant gratification fix.
So, what’s your take? When it comes to books and anything else that you have to read, which works better for you, analogue or digital? Does it even matter, just as long as you get to enjoy and assimilate the experience of what you’re reading? Share your thoughts in the comments below.