To E or Not to E: That Need Not Be the Question

June 24, 2011 @ 3:11 pm | Filed under:

Another day, another ebooks-BAD-because-you-can’t-dogear-the-pages screed—this time in the L.A. Times, which should know better. As astute commenter Kate points out in a recent thread at Mental Multivitamin, ebook doomsayers often make a faulty assumption that it’s an either/or situation: that once you’ve gone Kindle you’ll never pick up a codex again. Which is just silly—a narrow vision of the reading life. I didn’t ditch my oven just because my microwave does some things better. Sometimes I want to bake a cake. Sometimes I want to curl up with a couple of kids on each side and pore over the pictures in a book made of paper.

But…sometimes I want to read the new Connie Willis novel without getting a squint-headache from the small print.

Sometimes I want to bring a half-dozen books with me on a trip, but I’d rather not weigh down my shoulder bag.

Sometimes I want to read in the dark without disturbing my husband. (For this, my phone is better than my Kindle.)

Sometimes I want to fall asleep reading without smacking myself awake when a big fat book falls on my face at the moment I drift off. (This has happened more times than I can count.)

Sometimes I want to sit down in a chair, which is a lot easier when it isn’t full of advanced review copies awaiting my attention. (NetGalley, you are a revelation.)

But also? Sometimes I want to read Elizabeth Bishop and see the notes I wrote in the margins in grad school.

Sometimes I want to walk through the house grabbing picture books off a shelf, building a pile with which to delight a small child at what she calls “quiet reading time,” which means “time ALONE with Mom and a mountain of books.” (Ain’t nothing quiet about it.)

Sometimes I want to flip back and forth in the pages of a nonfiction text, filling the pages with flags and sticky notes.

Sometimes I want to follow a cookbook recipe, and you just know I’m going to splatter something.

Sometimes I want to leave a book in the path of a person I suspect is going to be swept away by its charms.

It’s awfully nice to have choices.

UPDATED to add: I love this comment by Mary Alice about the unforeseen benefits of her family’s shared Kindle account.

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24 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Silvia says:

    Melissa, AMEN to that!
    Since I got my Kindle, my reading appetite has increased, now it’s just that, one more choice for reading! I don’t have a cell phone so I don’t know about reading from it. But my small light that I point to a book or the kindle with my back against my husband in bed, it’s been the best thing that has happened to my marriage!
    I don’t know what’s up with these ‘dead of the book prophets’, ha ha ha. But seriously, I know the book market is changing. It’s not the kindle, I’d say a lot of people weren’t reading anymore, and many of those who don’t read, seem to buy trash for their kindles, what can I say? Does it mean books are endangered? No, there is a big revival. There is a troop of homeschooling mommas that read voraciously whose children are becoming true readers too, so… I also disagree with this ebook bad, book good simplification of the problem with reading (or the lack of it) in McWorld.

  2. Jennifer says:

    I haven’t gone to an E-Reader yet, but I’ve been doing my research to pull the trigger, if not for anything but those valuable free OOP rare book .pdfs.

    I love your post — we can still have choices, as I know I could never replace real books. I dog-ear pages, make notes in margins, add Post-Its in so many books — I guess because I mostly read non-fiction. If I can’t make notes in an e-reader, what will I do?

    I find I have to buy the book if I really like it from a library loan. I can’t really embrace the whole book unless I make little notes. I retain my reading better when I’m holding my pen in my hand…even if I don’t write or underline one single thing.

    And the loss of cookbooks I mourn. I do admit there are too many nowadays. But how many times have I been able to find my favorite recipe because of that accidental mess on the pages? Or how I was able to find my grandmother’s or great-grandmother’s favorite cookbooks and recipes by the splashed pages. What trails are we leaving or not leaving for our children?

  3. Melissa Wiley says:

    Ah, but you CAN make notes on some e-books—the Kindle lets you, for example—and I find I am actually annototating* more than I have in years, for the very simple reason that I gave up (about four babies ago) leaving writing utensils near my book-in-progress. Too many little mimics around here. If mommy can write in books, why can’t I? šŸ˜‰

    And to this day no post-it is safe if left peeking from between the pages of an unattended book.

    On the Kindle (but not the Kindle-for-Android app), you can highlight and add notes, and it is easy, later, to access your notes & quotes from a central screen. You can dogear pages, even (figuratively). And a feature I sometimes enjoy, and sometimes disable, is the option to see what passages *other* readers have highlighted. Fun!

    *And ANNOTATING, even. šŸ˜‰

  4. Melissa Wiley says:

    And—in regard to your last, very good question—“what trails are we leaving for our children?”—I would have to say that this blog is itself my margin-scribblings, my written train of thought for the children to follow in later years. They’ll know what I was reading, what I was thinking about, and what they themselves were up to at the time.

  5. Emily D. says:

    Exactly! This is the way I feel!
    I just got a nook, after foreswearing all e-readers, because I couldn’t highlight, scribble notes int he margins, get the tangible feel, etc.
    But on the Nook I can highlight and make notes, and sometimes I still love the tangiblesness of a paperback, especially when reading Jane Austen, so I can see all my scribbly college notes. šŸ™‚ I can still do my lovely annotating!
    And some books, like the Summa, are so much easier on a Kindle/Nook. Can you imagine the shelf space that would take up?!

  6. Jennifer says:

    So much inner turmoil! I can’t bear it! I am a master of over thinking things, most especially tech toy.

  7. Jennifer says:

    I didn’t know you could make notes! That is so helpful! See, I’m only beginning to do my research!

    And I totally agree about the imitation of children with the writing, and the removing of my bookmarks and Post-Its!

  8. Mary Alice says:

    Our whole family shares a kindle account, partly for economy, but as it turns out it has become an electronic form of strewing — my nine year old has read a huge Roosevelt biography along with Dad, and I have picked up several of his E Nesbit selections when I was just looking for something to read.

    As someone who reads a lot of children’s books, it is sort of nice not to have to fight my kids for the latest Penderwicks, we could all read it at the same time.

    My eight year old, who was a reluctant reader, is blossoming on the kindle because she can make the print larger.

    My kids always have a book with them if we are stuck somewhere, thanks to the kindle app on my phone.

    But, I love bookshelves, they tell the story of a family, and spark great conversation, and your kindle list isn’t on display at a cocktail party, so I am still buying plenty of books. Especially for my spiritual reading I like to have a book and a pen to make notes, so for that I think I will stay old fashioned forever.

  9. Joann Estis says:

    Remember somewhere about 2009 when I lamented the need to winnow out 300 books to take with us in the RV on our US tour? Our number is now closer to 550 with 180 of those being Kindle books. We have a Kindle, a Kindle-for-Android, the Kindle app on all the laptops, so that sometimes 4 or 5 of us are reading the same book on a different device. (Not so hot when you crossup the devices and someone syncs! Accidentally, of course…usually the mom…LOL) Still I love *real* books, but there Just last month I had to send a box of books home. The youngest cried. But we are exceeding our shelf space and weight limits must be complied with.So when the third latest Penderwick novel came out and the hue and cry was raised, well, thank goodness for Kindle! It is our surrogate library as well, we have no address in most places we stop and therefore no library privileges. And for my (lazy) boys, the dictionary feature is just wonderful. I loved to read the dictionary when I was a kid, my boys never have taken time to grab it off the shelf and use it regularly. With the drag and define, they now look up words and continue perusing new words. E-books and paper books, let’s just keep both.

  10. MelanieB says:

    Dom has both the Kindle and iPad but I haven’t really done much with either. However, I do have the Kindle app for my iPhone and have read a few things on it. L.M. Montgomery for free short stories at OB appointments, for example. I really used it this past weekend. When trying to nurse baby on a crowded plane, I found the paper book I brought was often too hard to juggle. The iPhone was just easier. I read a book I’d bought for just $3. (Much cheaper than the print version.) Also, I do find that sharing a library with my husband just got easier. I’m a bit worried about the syncing thing, though.

  11. Michele Q. says:

    I just got a Kindle yesterday (and early birthday gift from my hubby). I can’t put it down. I haven’t read this much at a stretch in quite some time. The only problem I see now is that we are going to need several more because everyone keeps wanting to use it. šŸ™‚

    I can’t deal with reading on a phone or my computer very much –it hurts my eyes too much but the Kindle really does look like a book page. No eye strain beyond what I get from a regular book.

    Of course, we LOVE books, we have tons of them but I love having more options too.

    I couldn’t help but smile though as I caught glimpse of my reflection earlier. Didn’t I see something akin to a e-reader in Star Trek(Generations)years ago? It’s like when I got my first flip cell phone and it felt like I had a “communicator”. Who knew we’d have all this amazing stuff in our lifetime?

  12. Ellisa Barr says:

    Although my husband and I are avid readers, we’ve been reluctant to get an e-reader. We have a wonderful library that carries just about everything we’ve ever looked for, and we can simultaneously check out 150 books (not that we read that many at once).

    Trying to keep up with our reading habits on an e-reader seemed extremely expensive! However, your post prompted me to do a google search on Kindle+library and I ended up on this link:

    Amazon is giving Kindle users access to library books this year. So exciting!

  13. joann estis says:

    I just want to add that when the Nook color gets 3g, (or whatever-g) , I will want one of those. Bud’s aunt, a 2d grade teacher, takes hers to school and the kids LOVE it. She loves the read-aloud feature for her beginning readers. Picture books look beautiful on that device.

  14. Mamalion says:

    So I know this has been asked before, but what’s the best e-reader? And I’m totally in the camp of both’ll have uses. Just like I haven’t jumped from desktop to laptop or iPod for everything. I love the feel of a good book in hand.

  15. joann estis says:

    I don’t know If there is one best reader. The kindle is simple and the book color is like a mini-tablet computer. I love my kindle, and I don’t like that the nook depends on wifi. I am not always near WiFi. But I love the idea of children’s picture books on the nook. This maybe an option for the really big kindle, I just haven’t looked into it. And in the final analysis, it may be that we get a tablet computer and just use.the nook app. All the devices work as readers, it would a matter of figuring out your needs and preferences.

  16. Michele Q. says:

    I think it depends on what you want it for. I wanted reability without the typical eye strain of a normal screen. I don’t have a lot of gadgets. I’ve tried some of my older kid’s gadgets (iPod touch, iPhone, Android) and I don’t do well with them. I even got rid of my smart phone and went back to a basic bar cell phone. I have Kindle for PC on my computer but I spend enough time on my computer and when I want to read I prefer to just curl up on the couch. I don’t mind that you need an external light for the Kindle since that’s how a book is and I really like that I can tuck it in my purse and have an entire library with me wherever I go. I didn’t get the 3G one and I turn off the wireless most of the time (unless of course I am downloading a book which takes just seconds anyway) because I didn’t want yet another thing constantly sending and receiving a signal. I like that if I need to I can get on the internet with it if I need to but that it isn’t tempting to check my facebook or e-mail since it’s not color and little slow on the internet. Oh and I didn’t know I could transfer my mp3 music to it. I like that. The sound quality is very good so in addition to background music while I am reading I can listen to talks, books on tape etc. It won’t completely replace my (very old 1st generation) iPod (which I “inherited” from a surly teenager 5 years ago) since I use that sometimes when I run, but almost.

  17. Michele Q. says:

    In regards of picture books I doubt I would use a reader for those. I have children who are sensitive to the emfs produced by a lot of these devices and also WiFi signals.

  18. tanita says:

    As I understand it, dyslexics can read on a Kindle, because there is more white space between the words.

    As a former special ed teacher, I say, glory, glory, hallelujah for that.

    I haven’t gotten a specific E-reader yet, but I’ve been reading on my old Palm Handspring for years — and I read .pdf’s from NetGalley — and I adore buying books, and the smell of used books. I will ALWAYS go both ways.

  19. Melissa Wiley says:

    Tanita—I too have heard that the Kindle can be a tremendous assistance to people with reading problems.

    (A contrast-improving tip for Kindle shoppers—go for the graphite case, even if you prefer the white case. The dark border around the screen helps the text stand out better against the pale background.)

    As to Kindle vs. Nook: I went with Kindle for three reasons—

    1. (Initially the main factor) I could read advanced review copies on it via NetGalley. Being able to cut down on the inflow of space-hogging ARCs was the main reason I wanted a Kindle in the first place.

    2. While you *can* browse the web or check email on the Kindle, you’re not much tempted to. The lack of touchscreen or trackpad makes for slow browsing, and of course the black-and-white display does not render any website in its full glory. And for me, this has been a HUGE advantage. No temptation to click away for a quick mail check. šŸ™‚ When I read on my phone, I do find myself more apt to flick to another screen and check mail or read blogs. My Kindle feels more like reading a book, where there may be distractions coming from my environment but not from the piece of technology in my hand.

    3. The lack of backlighting—now, I might feel differently about this point if I *didn’t* have the option to read books on my phone as well. The Kindle’s display is easier on my eyes for longterm reading. And I *love* that I can read it in bright sunlight!

    Of course, if B&N wanted to send me a Nook to sample, I wouldn’t object. šŸ˜‰

    And you know I’m just dying for an iPad.

  20. Brandy@ The Prudent Homemaker says:

    You’re right; Mary Alice’s comment about not fighting over the latest Penderwick novel with her daughters was wonderful! Unfortunately my library card EXPIRED (Ours do, once a year, and we have to renew them in person with ID) and I could not renew the book online, so I haven’t read it yet!

    I don’t have an e-reader. I have downloaded several old and fascinating titles for free from Amazon with their e-reader for computers, but I haven’t read them yet. Let’s be honest; I can’t take the computer into the bathroom to read. I can take a book, and read a few pages while I’m there.

    As a child, I had one shelf of books, and my parents put it up high where I needed a parent and a ladder to reach it. They would take me to the library, and I went to the school library, but I ALWAYS wanted my own library. I love the feel of books, the smell of books, the look of books. I love learning something about someone based on the books on their shelves.

    At college I worked for the most-tenured religion professor. He had the largest office: he had books three deep on his shelves, and stacks of books on the floor (about 3 feet high). He had a library at home all along one very long wall in his living room, and an even bigger library downstairs in his basement(I never saw that one, but I wanted to!). He had his own card catalog for all of his books.
    I LOVED working in that office, surrounded by all of those books.

    I agree that the situations you suggest could be great for an e-reader, but I don’t have one, or a cell-phone either.

    The question my husband asked me is: what is going to happen to college texts? Will everything be an e-book? It will lighten backbacks, certainly, but it also effectively ends the buyback textbook program.

  21. Brandy@ The Prudent Homemaker says:

    By the way, we have lots of real books at our house now, and a library instead of a formal dining room. (It’s much more used and functional that way, too!)

  22. Genevieve says:

    Long time no “see”! Stumbled upon his while researching kindles! Now the question I like to ask you is whether you have purchase more for th kids like Beanie who close to my son’s age. šŸ™‚ I’m getting barny organizing my bookcases. Hee!

  23. Melissa Wiley says:

    Genevieve! Lovely to hear from you!

    So far, I’m the only member of the family with an e-reader, although Jane does read books on her iPod Touch now and then. Everyone else in the family is still drowning in traditional books. I’ve begun to despair of ever finding shelf space for them all—we’re out of walls.

  24. Genevieve says:

    You were always so good at responding. Books do take up valuable real estate hence the serious consideration towards
    Electronic medium… So many possibilities! Grinz