A friend and I got into a debate, as only two geeks can, about what format we use to read our beloved books: print or e-reader. The more we talked about it, defending our reasons, describing our enjoyment, the more each of us was determined to prove the other wrong.
To me this debate is unnecessary. Of course reading a book in print, holding its sturdy spine in my hands and sniffing the peculiarly intoxicating scent of paper is a far better experience. Duh. That some people can’t understand the superiority of that tactile experience confounds me. I can’t imagine forgoing such a pleasure.
I’m not a Luddite, not by any stretch of the imagination. If it enriches my life or simplifies it, I adapt to new technology with a ready smile. I have the Kindle app on my smartphone and read plenty on a screen. In fact, I spend more time engaged with some form of electronic monitor than I do with anybody or anything. To a certain extent, that’s essential to my livelihood.
But … but. There is nothing — nothing! — quite as satisfying to the brain and the heart as cracking open a new book for a few hours of unadulterated entertainment. Sorry, but tapping or swiping a screen just doesn’t do it for me. When I want to escape, when I want to block out the world and its many demands, the experience of paper has no substitute.
I realize that, in this era of internet connectivity, the way we consume information varies, breaking out not only along generational lines but also along the kind of knowledge we seek. I prefer print books for fiction, for that rush that comes with a surprise plot twist or beautifully turned phrase. Print books make excellent gifts, too — and few experiences are as intimate as reading a picture book with a small child on one’s lap. In my family, a first visit to the library is considered a rite of passage, the milestone that signals a welcome into the wide wonderful world of fact and fantasy. Being able to do this with grandchildren has only doubled the gratification. Oh, to see their little round faces brighten with delight at the possibilities!
On the other hand, I read an awful lot on my phone and computer, mostly news articles and long-form journalism. I do all my writing and most of my editing on a desktop as well, thanking the gods (and Bill Gates) almost daily for the convenience of Word and Excel. With the constant disruptions in media, maybe this bifurcation is only natural. Some people, for example, still cling to vinyl for their music while others swear by Spotify. What’s more, younger viewers are abandoning traditional television in droves and choosing to download and stream content.
But back to books, the best form of entertainment. About a year or two ago a couple of studies provided much needed encouragement to struggling book publishers. E-book sales had plateaued or even begun to decline, according to the Association of American Publishers. It was the only category — the others were hardcovers, paperbacks and audiobooks — to suffer a decline in the AAP survey. Another report, Scholastic's Kids and Family Reading, revealed that 65 percent of children ages 6 to 17 — digital natives all — agreed they would always want to read in print, up from 60 percent in 2012. Seventy-seven percent who had tried e-reading said they tended to prefer print books.
Naturally such numbers come with a big, fat caveat. The AAP study didn’t account for nontraditional publishers, a segment of the growing self-publishing world, and trends in the classroom point to digital everything, from books to tests to note-taking.
No matter. I stand stubbornly in the camp of print books. An e-reader is convenient, yes, light and easy to tuck into a purse when traveling, but I love, and will always love, the beautiful book covers, the unusual fonts, the clever chapter breaks, the crispness of paper. Besides, you can’t share an e-book, nor can you add it to your prized bookshelf collection.