Posted in Of Writingly

Of Books Vs E-Books


Prosecution: I provide experience. I provide a complete, sensory enjoyment – tangible, olfactory, visual and most of all, intellectual and emotional.

Defence: I provide convenience. My guilt is easily swiped, your guilt causes mold on old book-cases. I live, without asking to survive. I give, without asking to be appreciated. Even Amazon ratings are purely optional.

I finished Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch on Saturday after an on, mostly off, slog for one and a half years. I was relieved to find reviews later that dealt with its length. What is curious about this book is, like myself, most people who managed to finish it, or have hopes of doing so in the near-to-distant future, struggled with its pace but couldn’t let it go altogether. The writing is highly self-indulgent, the main character not all-that-likeable, and yet there is such ambition in the book, to make a modern “pilgrimage”, that perhaps reviewers would have been less conflicted had it been an iPhone-free, historical novel. It’s beautiful, but it makes you struggle. One of its themes is procrastination. Another, having an object that is too cumbersome to have, to put it mildly, and too beautiful to get rid of. The Goldfinch has been my goldfinch.

A struggle I’m confident would not have been a struggle if I had read the ebook instead. My copy was a gift, and at the time, I didn’t think anything of its length, weight, thickness, font, writing style etc. I’ve read my share of light and ‘serious’ books in heavy-duty form, never struggling like this before. Like all those who have studied literature at university level, I have my secret catalogue of shame – books, mainly largish tomes, that remain in-completely read, but sufficiently opined over. It comes with the trade, but ebooks, somehow, just make the struggle easier.

Even if they aren’t always in a handy, ebook Reader form. The Kindle wasn’t launched in India when I was in university. And so I did what people did in the good, old days – I bought books from physical shops, borrowed from libraries, including electronic libraries. I read books as .txt and .pdf files on my computer. It was always a struggle, right from haggling over prices and making excuses over ‘late’ books in libraries. There was lending and borrowing books – I am very grateful towards the Kindle for solving that, because I have lost too many books to borrowers in my lifetime. There were too many lost books in general, due to life, moving, and other mysteries. It hurts to lose a .pdf, but losing a book, even one I didn’t like, hurts much, much more.

Reading ebooks are a grown-up, sobering experience. It would have been ironic for me to give up carrying the dead-tree, double-brick of The Goldfinch around, and replace it with the ebook, because the book is primarily about sentimentalism, especially towards objects. I sensed this from the earliest pages, which is why I never gave up, even if it gathered dust on my desk for months. I don’t afford other books such luxury. The first book I read on a Kindle, which is post many, many books read on computers, is the Victorian classic North and South. I was blown away by the 2004 BBC adaptation, and could not wait to go down to a shop and purchase a copy of the book. I borrowed someone’s Kindle, and read it ASAP. Perhaps, I might have dithered a little had it been a physical copy. I would have taken my time to obtain the approximately 600 page book, and then the physical exertion of carrying it would have slowed the process even further. But, I wouldn’t have noticed it, had there not been an alternative. Perhaps, it wouldn’t have taken so long with The Goldfinch – paperback, had there not been the option The Goldfinch – epub.

My self-indulgent writing here will explain my willingness to share the book’s sentiment. I am naturally made to go over the good, old days, even if I neither experienced them at their time, nor deliberately live through them even now. There are just people like this, who resist change, and want to hold on to what feels safe, and thus beautiful, for as long as possible. I didn’t want to give you the same old, same old ‘ebooks are great, physical books are passé’ and vice-versa, because I’ve gone through many of those heartbreaks already, like you have. Moving, losing people, losing cassettes and CDs, losing big chunks of memories, losing constantly, and gaining so much more than I can handle at the same time. No one has time to make sense of what we can preserve, what we can get over losing, because we are too busy waiting for what we can acquire. After all, I can acquire all those lost albums and books if I want to, in convenient digital form. And this time around, I will appreciate them in the moment, knowing that if they are lost again to me, I shall find them again. Just like in The Goldfinch, they too have become chapters in my life’s narrative, and will always come back to me – in a memory, if not in a tangible way – if I want them again. E-books would make things easier, though not necessarily better, for a medium of art that is solely dependent on sentiment.

Which do you prefer – ebooks or physical books?


Writer, Blogger, Kate Bush Fanatic

33 thoughts on “Of Books Vs E-Books

  1. A boss gave me a kindle for Christmas several years ago, and to tell you the truth, I never opened it. I wish I could find it to re-gift it, because I know there are many, like you, who would appreciate it. For me, anything over about 9,000 words, I need the physical paper.

    1. Ha ha! I had an old version of a Kindle lying around too, that someone had lent me. I would use it on and off, but not as much as the one I bought last year. While there are several books I’ve read on it that I wish I possessed in physical form, I’ve learnt to accept that this is arguably a part of the reading experience that does have its use in my life. But, I am NEVER giving up on physical books. I just can’t!
      Thank you for reading and sharing!

  2. Honestly, I can’t decide. My eyes prefer physical books, and the English major in me prefers the feel of them, the smell of them, even. That said, I like how little space Kindles use. 100 books on Kindle is very small versus a bookcase with 100 books — and I have a lot of books! So I see the pros and cons of both, I suppose. For the most part, I stick with physical books. 🙂

    1. Me too. I studied English as well, so my personal collection of physical books read and unread is massive too! I’ve had a lot of storage issues over the years, and really started committing to the Kindle when the sight of some of the books in my collection depressed me. I’m learning to tame the sentimental side of me, though I’m never giving up physical books!

      1. Rock on! The minimalist in me cringes whenever I walk by my bookcase… and the side table full of books… and the stack of books on the floor… I keep telling myself I can let some of them go! 🙂

      2. I tried that actually. Tried selling some to a second-hand bookstore, but the experience was awful. Last year, to avoid getting overly attached, I gave up writing my name and the date I purchased the book on the first page, something I always do. That way, I can sell them or give them away without ever wondering how I’ll feel if I come across them again!

  3. I tried an e-reader a handful of times but I never really warmed to it. The mildly sci-fi geek in me wanted to like it and pretend to be Captain Picard reading Shakespeare on a tablet. But the reality is I just really like the physical book better. I’ll even lug around a big thick book in my bag if its something I want to read! Plus I’m a note taker in a lot of my books. I routinely highlight passages, or put a crease in a page that is especially meaningful to me. I know you can do that with some e-readers but its just not the same thing. So I tried them but realized its just not for me.

    1. I had a suspicion you would prefer physical books! I make notes too, but I’m quite finicky about the condition of my books, and so I always write them down in a notebook. Highlighting on an e-reader is convenient, but I never make notes on it. Will go mad with all the touchscreen typing!
      I hope you are well.

      1. I am well, thanks and hope you are the same! Glad your suspicions were correct! If it is a special book, or something that is very old, I of course will not mar it by writing in it. But if its a trade paperback I pick up somewhere for a buck…I don’t mind jotting notes down in it…or at least a subtle asterisk next to a relevant paragraph. I read news articles fairly often on my phone still, but the thought of reading something that is a classic on a reader just seems so horribly wrong!

      2. Ah, I still read newspapers as “paper”. Feel like that is still the sanest way for getting the news! I do highlight and make notes in pencil, but I’ll never use a pen for anything except writing my name on the first page. I just can’t stand the sight of writing using a pen for highlighting and making notes in ANY book, even if it’s not mine!

      3. Lol….you are very particular! Well the habit of writing with pens started in college because there were never enough highlighters around when you needed one on a college budget! I try to avoid underlining entire passages, and lately as I have gotten more serious about my writing I have taken to making notes in my notebook writing things like reference paragraph starting with ” ” on page 257. That type of thing. But in some of my music books, I have written in them extensively at times. In part because they are really meant to refer to things so I figure I may as well. I thoroughly recommend the All Music Guide if you can get one in India!

      4. You could try leaving a ‘tick’ next to the paragraph, or leaving brackets. That’s what I do, because I don’t like underlining huge sections as well. Is the All Music Guide related to I do read that!

      5. Yes I do that sometimes. Isn’t it funny how particular we are about our books. I know some people who basically throw them around, giving them no care whatsoever. Then you have us who ponder whether to make the tiniest little tick in a book! And yes, they are related. A friend gave me one last year for my birthday and I have relied on it heavily in my writing since, along with various Rough Guides

      6. I arrange and take care of other collections besides my own! But, I was always like this, even with my paltry collection of CDs, cassettes, and records that I don’t have anymore. I can’t even stand people bending the spine of books, or keeping the CD/cassette/record outside its case/sleeve when it’s not playing. Recently, I was heartbroken when my Beatles poster got destroyed by some grease stains!
        I will look for the AllMusic guide. I do like the website, but usually I look up Wikipedia, and follow links from there. Highly predictable, I know!

      7. Beatles poster? Do you mean the one from Sgt Peppers? Mine is still in pretty good condition. I do take care of all of my stuff though. I don’t mind the sleeves out when I am reading along to the lyrics or thumbing through the notes while it is playing, but then it promptly goes back in. A new trend for some newer CD’s are hard cover CD booklets. Not sure if you have seen these yet. If the album is really special, and has a visual element to it, a few artists have gone with that format. Rosanne Cash did on her last album and last week I got the new (and final) studio album by Runrig and they have it as well. Its really unique and I made absolute sure to have clean hands and no drinks or food nearby!

      8. It’s a White album inspired poster made by Apple Corp. that got projectile grease stains all over it thanks to the capacitor of my ceiling fan leaking. I bet you’ve never heard of something like this before! I haven’t seen hard cover CD booklets yet, mainly because all the music shops I used to go to have closed down, and the rest are just sad. I’ve been firmly digital with my music-listening for years, though it makes me sad to think I might never have the lifestyle to indulge in “tangible” albums again!

      9. Aww man..well maybe you can find it again someday. Keep searching Ebay! That is really a shame about the stores. Most of them have closed here as well. There are little vinyl shops such as I wrote about popping up now, but I miss being able to browse for CD’s and have resigned myself to having to buy them from the artists directly or via Amazon. I download songs occasionally, but I’m an album person, and I want the physical item for the photos, the notes, the lyrics. Who played what, that type of thing. I think its also because like with books, I think it says a lot to walk into someone’s house and see all the books and media. I love that. I feel like I can make a connection with them because they have the things that give them enjoyment out on display for all to see, rather than being hidden away.

      10. I do tend to semi-hide my collection, because people borrow them without giving them back! Or destroy them, as it has happened with some cassettes and CDs of mine in the past. I do know shops that still have an impressive catalogue, or can supply me even with the vinyl if I want it, but I just don’t have the storage space. I mostly listen to albums on my phone!

      11. These days most of my listening is done on my Ipod through headphones but on the weekends I like to play my vinyl or dust off the cassettes I still own! In terms of books though I do get rid of some over time, I can’t seem to part with most of them, much to my wife’s chagrin!

      12. I should clarify that I still relish in reading the Sunday NY Times on the weekend. Wake up, drink lots of coffee and go through one section at a time. We only get it delivered on the weekend but there are some free ‘commuter friendly’ newspapers you can pick up in the mornings I supplement my news reading with.

  4. I like that, easier doesn’t necessarily equate to better.
    I read the hardcover Goldfinch – I found the first 200 pages didn’t go all that quickly for me but once he ended up in Vegas, I was hooked and went surprisingly quickly through the rest.
    I’m of two minds with the ebook vs. physical copy, I think overall, I love the kobo for essay collections (chuck klosterman, david sedaris) but prefer the physical copy for novels

    1. That is interesting! I never thought it in terms of genres and forms specifically. Except, I love reading comics, and e-readers, even tablets and computers are useless with anything visual.
      The novel picked up from there for me too! Especially with the introduction of Boris, who gave the narrative some life.

      1. I tried reading my first ever graphic novel this year on a digital reader, you’re right, it did not format well at all, the paper copy was a success though!

      2. Unfortunately, I went crazy and bought a lot of Marvel comics and Doctor Who comics on the Kindle! I have been unable to read them even on my computer, because of the weird format.

  5. I have been struggling to finish the e-book version of the goldfinch for over 2yrs now. I find it very difficult and stressing reading ebooks, I have to put in a lot of effort and I get easily distracted. Reading books is still the best way of reading to me. From the cover art, to the smell, to the print and turning of the pages. Its all just magical and spiritual. I can be a position reading the whole day.

    1. I used to find reading on the Kindle distracting as well. The percentage thing drives me nuts, and the page turns even if a lock of my hair falls on the screen! Plus, I can’t forget that it’s a device and I have to be careful with it.
      I do hope you finish The Goldfinch someday! I won’t say it’s worth it, it will change your life etc., but it feels so much better to be over it than to go on feeling guilty about it!

  6. I’ve never read a book on a Kindle. I’m a minimalist by nature, but owning books has never weighed heavily on my conscience in regards to minimalism. I have actually read books, or parts of them, online. It was efficient but certainly less comfortable and charming as holding the book in my hand.

    I know we are probably “of” different opinions here 🙂 But I love my 60 year old copy of The Portable Dorothy Parker. And I love the way some of my old books smell and the way the pages are yellow. I have been attached to the same copy of Catcher in the Rye (my fave book) since the day I bought it. I have several passages that were messily underlined with a #2 pencil back in 1998…I love every one.

    Nostalgia trumps my minimalism when it comes to books, albums and photos. I know the digital format is better and more permanent for all three of these things….I guess it’s just one way that I’m impractical. I can’t help it.

    Thank you for another thought-provoking post!

    1. I definitely have a soft spot for old books too! I used to buy compulsively from second-hand bookstores, either a good edition of a book I really wanted, or something that had character! Many of them have histories of their own, like personal notes from people.
      I do have to disagree about digitized art being “more permanent”. I can’t begin to count the number of photos and music files I have lost in the last ten years or so, while my “hard” copies have had much more longevity. If you are able to do it, you absolutely can save the books, albums etc.that you want to. I lost mine as a result of many stupid decisions!
      Hey, I wrote a post recently mentioning you. Here’s a link in case you want to check it out:

      1. I did find the post! Thank you!

        Maybe that’s the problem….they all have character! So it’s hard to pass them up when you find them.

        And you’re right about losing digital copies. That has happened to me, too. I was kind of thinking of the natural decay that occurs to my actual tapes, CDs, video tapes, sometimes rendering them unusable. I have books in such a fragile state that I can barely open them without the pages coming out. I suppose you can lose either way.

      2. I don’t have any of my cassettes, CDs, video tapes, records, even tons of books, comics etc. that I used to own or inherited as a child, so I never got the opportunity to see them naturally decaying. In a way, buying used books gives me a sense of the past, even if it’s not mine. I suppose its the same as antiquing, only more affordable! It also is about having a personal aesthetic, isn’t it? Some people just like old forms of things like books and albums, without necessarily being a hipster!

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