I discovered over the past month that many bloggers write an annual “Books I Read Last Year” post. Anecdotally, this might in fact be the only post that many bloggers write for the entire year. Although I will tease them for not writing more often, I can’t make fun of them for their reading habit because they read a lot of books. Having struggled to find time to read myself, I’m quite impressed by it.
Although I think of reading as a solitary hobby done alone while huddled up in a blanket with a cup of tea, the internet has made it apparent that there are a lot of readers out there, and they like to talk about it. I’m a big fan of Goodreads where I can see what my friends have been reading and keep track of my ever growing To Read list. /r/books is a very active community with comment threads that would make you believe that everyone has read every one of the Great Books. I have even occasionally stumbled through tightly knit networks of blogs constantly doing read-alongs.
When I’m slogging through chapter 25 of Moby Dick, it’s comforting to remember that many others have also made the same journey and feel similarly about reading as I do. However, I have consistently noticed that there is one issue that I am apparently vastly outnumbered on: I don’t like physical books. I vastly prefer reading ebooks.
Physical books are really heavy. My Kindle weight 5.95 ounces. I just pulled a 300 page mass market paperback off of my shelf, and it weighs 6.4 ounces. That’s certainly the lightest book I might typically read, and the fancy hardback books that many people enjoy are significantly heavier. I will humble brag that my copy of Capital in the Twenty-First Century weighed… 5.95 ounces on my Kindle. Just thinking about the 814 pages in the physical copy has me reaching for Bengay.
Weight makes physical books a pain to carry, and you can rightly argue that I do most of my reading at home. However, I do much of that reading while I’m lying in bed where I have yet to find a consistent comfortable way to read a physical book. Using two hands is awkward except when I’m lying on my back and holding it over my head, which goes back to my first point. If I’m holding it with one hand while lying on my side, I have to constantly adjust and hold the book open to read both pages. Or I could keep switching sides every page.
Or I could just hold my Kindle with one hand and read in any position I want. That sounds better to me.
Due to having skimmed rather than studied my SAT word lists, I often stumble across new and unknown words. When I have a physical book, I pull out my phone to look it up online and risk ending up in a pointless divertissement. When I have my Kindle, I can click the arrow pad to highlight the word, see the meaning, and continue onward quickly and immediately forgot the meaning while feeling a sense of accomplishment.
One advantage of physical books over ebooks is that you have margins to write notes and an easy interface to highlight interesting quotes. I do write notes on stickies to put into my cookbooks, but I don’t take many notes into other literature. In fact, it would probably pain me to see scribbles through a nice, neat copy of a science fiction book. It already feels bad to bend a corner of the cover or get a fold into a page. Physical books do get damaged over time, and that doesn’t really happen with ebooks that I can just download again.
However, all of the points above are just reasons and don’t really touch on the primary reason why many readers like physical books. Many readers enjoy the tactile experience of flipping pages and feeling the printed word. I don’t have that reaction to holding a physical book, and I actually don’t even really understand it. I can get excited a book containing stories and knowledge I haven’t experienced before, but I get that in electronic form, too. While I write this post, I look at my bookshelf in the corner of my living room and see books that I want to read just so I can feel okay about getting rid of them.
There are certainly some books better in physical form, such as my excessive cookbook collection with pictures and ingredient lists that are laid out better on the page. I also enjoy browsing bookstores more than flipping through Amazon’s Kindle store. However, in the general case of reading text-based literature, I will usually reach for my Kindle. Being in the clear minority on this issue, I am happy to disagree on this issue in the same way that I continue to dislike hot showers. I will continue to enjoy reading in the form that works best for me.