Kindle vs Paper – A book lover’s dilemma

March 3, 2015 by becca.lazar No Comments


I’ve always thought of myself as forward thinking, liberal in all aspects of life, a backer of progress, but if you’d have asked me as little as six months ago which was better, the e-reader or the paperback, I would have scoffed. Paper, I would definitely have said paper. It turns out I’m a bit of a traditionalist in some areas.

I have 3 walls lined with books in the living room and there’s at least another box in the attic awaiting shelf space. The top of the fridge is lined with recipe books and there are a few choice tomes in the bathroom too. I rarely buy a new book though; most books are rescued from second hand shops or discovered in Falmouth’s book-shop-come-pub Beerwolf. I’ve been known to write anonymous notes on inside covers and leave finished novels on tables in places as far flung as Cambodia and Camborne. Lots of holiday memories involve reading books on trains, by seashores, or on balconies. Simply put, I have a long relationship with paperbacks. But this Christmas I received a Kindle Paperwhite, and it’s here that my firm moral stance on the physicality of books has become a bit murky. Firstly, there’s the sleek, modern design and the leather case that’s almost as satisfying as a new hardback with the dust jacket removed; there’s the sweeping page changes at the touch of a thumb; and it’s light as a feather.

I have fully embraced the Kindle, predominantly, because of its portability. Family holidays usually involve lugging around a bag of books and CDs and I don’t remember mourning the loss of the Discman in the early 00s (apart from the degraded sound quality of MP3s), so why get sentimental over tons of paper?

In fact, if I didn’t have the Kindle I probably wouldn’t have even bothered reading my current book, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. At 1,000 pages long, readers have complained that the only comfortable position to read it in is sat up straight, at a desk. With the Kindle, it’s all the same. There are no limits and no R.S.I. and you can have half of Waterstones in your back pocket if you so wish.

On the other hand, the tactile nature of the paperback has gone. Measuring your progress through a novel should be done through the feel of pages growing on your left and receding on your right. It shouldn’t be quantified in percentages, or hours left of the book, or how many minutes to the end of the chapter, which the Kindle does. We don’t all read at the same speed, or indeed read every passage at the same pace. Believe it or not, good writers can play with the speed you’re reading at. And some passages are worth lingering over.

True, nothing prevents me from lingering on Loc. 5,772, but it’s not going to happen. My Kindle screen is a cold, ascetic place. I’d no more linger on its page than I’d hang out at an airport security gate, or a dentist’s waiting room. The Kindle’s form invites a more linear reading experience for me than reading a book in hand, which more richly engages all of the senses.

I also have a habit of reading in bed, sometimes for hours. In fact, I’m pretty sure my parents engineered the illicit pleasure of reading under the duvet with a torch as a cunning ruse to encourage reading. Either way, the backlit screen means my partner now gets to fall asleep undisturbed by the bedside lamp, while I can carry on reading.

But studies have shown that people can recall more of the plot of a novel read on paper. Perhaps the Kindle screen creates the same kind of throw away feel to the information that we get when browsing through the internet?

That throw away nature is similar to how some feel about the ipod and music – with gigabytes of music at our fingertips we no longer have to make choices, to define our tastes, which allow us to have everything at our pleasure, but to not really be sure what we get pleasure from. The Kindle has enough storage for over a 1,000 books. After linking it to a friend’s computer, I now have over 100: from the complete works of John Steinbeck and Virginia Woolf, to ‘If Chins Could Kill’ by the B-Movie actor Bruce Campbell. But why? Because I could. I’m now carrying around a veritable library – including the sections I have no interest in. Maybe it’s supposed to be some sort of cultural currency? You can learn something about a person through their bookshelves: their questionable taste is laid bare for all to see. My virtual library tells people absolutely nothing about me. Maybe that’s a good thing: now you can read 50 Shades of Grey on the beach, with the children, without anyone batting an eyelid.

I can’t see myself ever completely giving up paperbacks, for the reasons given above and the romantic notion of the novel, crumpled, creased and dog eared after reading. But I’m not going to let that stand in the way of the convenience of the Kindle. Unlike the difference between vinyl records and MP3s played through tinny earbuds, words themselves don’t lose their quality or their power.




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