“Real” Books?

E-Readers versus physical books, it’s the age old debate.

Okay, so maybe not “age old,” E-Readers as we know them have not been around long, but the conflict between tradition and technology is one that has gone on for years – centuries even.

There are those who embrace technology through every twist and turn, and those who will stubbornly stick to what they know, whether that’s because they feel more comfortable with it, or because they believe that technology is taking a turn in the wrong direction. Kindles, Nooks, and other E-Readers are a source of controversy wherever you go. It’s certainly a marmite situation – either you hate them, or you can’t live without one. I have, at some point over the last few years found myself at every possible vantage point of the debate, so I feel like I’m in a position to say a little something about how the mind works in each of these situations. To me, there are three main standing opinions about E-Readers:

  • “But… Books!!!”

This is the tradition side of the debate, the idea that e-readers aren’t ‘real books’ and so, as a result, are frauds – traitors to the name of literature. These people are the kind of people who correct your grammar (even if your meaning has been communicated just fine) because it’s not ‘proper English.’ The kind of people who spend lots of money on vinyl records despite that very expensive iPod that they have sitting in their drawer because it ‘looks cooler.’ This side of the debate tends to focus around things like the smell of books, or the feel of them. People like the feeling of breaking a spine on a book, or enjoy browsing in book shops, so they ignore the more essential parts of what really makes a book – Namely, the words. I call this the “But… Books!” argument, because, when questioned, most people on this side of the debate don’t really tend to have any legitimate defense for their way of thinking.

  • “I can see why E-Readers could be useful, but they’re not really for me.”

Maybe this person got a Nook for Christmas and never used it, or maybe they simply have a lot of friends who love their Kindles, but these people tend to sit in a middle ground of the debate. They aren’t so uptight about E-Readers, but can’t quite shake the traditionalist way of thinking long enough to see themselves with one. This is one that I can understand, because, like the “But…Books!” argument, these people tend to get hung up on details such as the smell and feel of “real” books. The difference being that with this argument, the benefits of E-Readers are, at the very least, acknowledged.

  • “My Kindle is the one thing that I would take to a desert island.”

These are the kind of people who have seven different cases for their E-Readers, and refer to them as their babies. They discovered the perks of a lightweight portable library, and never went back. E-books are cheaper, and more readily available. They’re easier to carry, and come with almost all of the features of a normal book, plus more. These people are often prepared to defend their babies to the death. Despite me now being on this side of the argument, I personally still agree with some of the more traditional ideas. For example, if E-Readers were to take over, and the whole business of physical book publishing and books shops were to go out of business, then I would be very upset. I’ve even promised myself, somewhat naively perhaps, that one day when I’ve got the money and the space, I will go back and buy all of the books that I download in a physical format, so as to give back to the publishing industry what I perhaps have been skimping on by using my Kindle.

Basically, while many people are still incredibly defensive over physical books, E-Readers are undeniably handy and come stacked with benefits. Technology in the past has only ever been an improvement to literature – the printing press, the word processor, it all makes literature more accessible. It’s just a matter of whether you’re quite ready to relinquish “the old ways.”



  1. I read more ebooks now than I ever thought I would–though it’s still not a whole lot, I guess. 😀 I insist on having physical copies of my really important books and ones I intend on personally passing down for other people to read after me, and I like to get away from reading screens when it comes to most of my pleasure reading (for the sake of my eyes), but for some reading, ebooks are proving to be quite a convenience.

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