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On Why I Love an E-Reader

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I have a confession to make. It’s one which has made literary friends reel in horror in the past. It’s one which it took me many years to admit to myself. It’s one which I’m still a little scared to type publicly for fear of being scrubbed from your RSS feed. But here it is: I don’t like books*.

I know.

But hear me out.

It’s not that I don’t like reading. I love to read. I’ve read twenty novels already this year and have another four downloaded to my Kindle, waiting to be devoured. Sometimes I struggle to pause in my reading and say hello when Steve gets home. Sometimes I get so absorbed I end up having late night toast for dinner because I’ve forgotten I need to eat. I even skip my evening dose of Facebook now and then because the make-believe lives of some fictional characters are more engrossing than those of my friends.

It’s not the contents I dislike; it’s the books.

It was different when I was younger. I left home at sixteen armed with a bag of clothes, a typewriter and maybe forty cult and/or classic novels in a box. It wasn’t a particularly inspired collection – Trainspotting; The Trick is to Keep Breathing; some books with “Zen” in the title; a little Virginia Woolf – your generic mid-nineties grungey teen feminist selection – but I was very proud of it. I loved looking at all my paperbacks lined up on my dorm room shelf, suggesting cleverness, insight and an intriguing touch of melancholy. I loved when people spotted my books and gasped, “Have you actually read them all?” and would sound vaguely, intentionally horrified when I replied, “Of course I have!” Owning – and, more importantly, displaying – a bunch of critically acclaimed novels was a huge bolster to my shaky self-esteem.

But they were still a pain to read.

They still got dusty and were difficult to clean. They still got crumbs stuck between their pages. The crinkly yellow paper of the second hand books I was told to find romantic still creeped me out and made me want to wash my hands.

And speaking of my hands: reading books made them hurt. I don’t know if it’s just that I have lousy circulation (which I do), but holding a book in one hand leaves great gouged bruises across my palms; propping books open with my thumbs causes me pins and needles; twisting them back and forth so whichever side I’m reading is in the light tires my shoulders and eventually gives me eye strain. Books: they’re a health and safety risk.

A lot of my friends disagree with me. They deny ever having felt the frustration of a book flipping closed on them. They deny ever having struggled to find a bookmark or a receipt or a ripped out bit of magazine with which to mark their place. They claim never to have felt guilt or anxiety about turning down a corner or breaking a spine – because those things just don’t happen to them. They love their books. They could never throw one out.

But I can.

It was a slow process. The first few times I moved, I clung on to all my books – even the trashy romances which had come free with magazines and which I was acutely embarrassed to have lounging against my Kafkas and Kunderas. Getting rid of a book seemed wrong.

But the more I read and the more I moved home and the more boxes I was going to have to cart around with me, the easier it became. It was liberating, picking up my German language editions of Brecht and telling myself, “You know what? I’m never going to read this again. Ever. Not once. I really don’t need to keep this.”

With each move, with each de-clutter, it got a little bit easier. More and more books were donated to charity shops. Novels which were loaned out but never found their way home, I stopped mourning quite so much. I’ve been reading sixty books a years for the seventeen years since leaving home but I’m now at a stage where I have maybe 100 novels in my bookcase.

And I’m happier for it. I don’t need to be lumbered with books I never expect to read again. I don’t need objects to tell strangers who I am. I don’t need the discomfort of trying to read a 500 page novel with feeble thumbs.

All of which is my long and wordy way of saying that I love my Kindle. I wasn’t sure I would. I thought it would feel weird reading books on something akin to a mobile phone (and, in hindsight, David Sedaris was not the best author to start with – it was too much like reading a blog). But I love how slim and light and easy to hold it is. I love having all my books stored neatly in one virtual place. I love that that place can now easily be my handbag.

What about you? Do you have a Kindle or other e-reader? Could you ever replace your paperbacks?

*This does not apply to big, shiny books full of pretty pictures. I will always love those.

4 responses »

  1. *reels in horror*

    But seriously, I can understand what you mean. I love books and, as you know, Elinor and I have rather a lot of them (10 bookcases and counting…) Like you, a lot of them are big shiny picturebooks (even if some of the pictures are of planes and tanks…) It would be nice to have space for more books, and I think that’s where the Kindle comes in. (Elinor is knitting a Kindle cover at the moment.)

    The one thing that I’m not comfortable with is the intangibility of an e-book; I don’t like the notion that it can be easily lost or discarded. I’m the sort of person who becomes ridiculously excited at finding a book or magazine that’s 60 years old, just because it’s survived so long, even it wasn’t meant to. I’m not sure that e-books give that kind of permanence.

    • That’s a good point… but imagine being given your grandparent’s well-used Kindle and having a whole lifetime of their reading material in your hands…

  2. I am a die hard ‘real book’ devotee – they are the one thing that I don’t mind having scores of in my flat, and I could quite easily justify ten bookcases, like your friend above!

    The thing I dislike most about e-Readers is the fact that they are introducing an element of competition into an area of life that I previously thought was safe from too much market influence. Kids have been bullied because they don’t have the right trainers or the latest mobile phone for years, but there was never anything wrong with having a battered book in your bag until the e-reader came on the scene. Which makes me really sad, because reading is one of the best things that anyone can do with their time – I hate to think of it becoming uncool simply because someone doesn’t have what society perceives to be the right gadget for it.

    On the other hand, I guess I can see the value of an e-Reader in terms of saving space and going travelling etc. But then again, isn’t an eReader only as good as the nearest power socket?

    Aaaarghhhh – whenever I start thinking about this I get myself all flustered! I might have to write my own post, just to get it out of my system!

    • Nah, you can get through ten books without charging it!

      I don’t know about elsewhere (I was in the middle of nowhere and the oddball, anyway) but reading was NEVER cool at my school; maybe the kind of kids who want to read are the same ones who are used to standing out from the fashion conscious crowd? I know I would have preferred to have been seen with a battered old book than an e-reader, in much the same way I preferred crackly vinyl to shiny CDs – it simply would have seemed artier…

      Looking forward to your post!


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