eReaders vs. Books: A Conversion Story

eReaders vs. Books

That’s how it’s been phrased. Luke or Darth Vader. It all comes down to preference, but that doesn’t seem to matter. We’ve created teams. The eReaders versus the books. The whole thing is rather ridiculous, but it’s fun, too.

How it all began…

My parents jumped on the Kindle train as soon as it entered the station. As a college grad with a BA in English, I turned my nose up to such a thing. Ew, a Kindle. I was snooty and snobby, preferring the traditional book, The Real Thing. Who in their right mind would replace ink and paper for a machine? It was sacrilegious.

In the summer of 2010 I wanted to read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo written by Steig Larson (perhaps you’ve heard of him). My mother suggested I download the first chapter for free on her Kindle. So I did. Then I read the rest of the book on the Kindle. It wasn’t such a bad experience…

“Are you a Kindle-holic now?” my father asked.

“No,” I replied resolutely, my head held high. “I like books.”

And so I continued reading books. Because that’s what real readers read. A shelf of books was the very image of knowledge. They had a certain musty smell, a quality to a page, the cover. A book was an experience. I reserved them at the library and I picked them up when they came in. Sometimes I had to wait a long time, like for the rest of Steig Larson’s Millennium series, but I was not going to be sucked into the stupid eReader craze. Puh-lease!

When I picked up Les Miserables from the library, and set it on my coffee table, I longed for the Kindle. Victor Hugo’s classic was huge. Heavier than a brick. Carpal tunnel in the larvae stage. Yeah, it might be cool to tote it around in my purse so people could admire my tenacity and thirst for classic literature, but my purse might bust a seam, or I might pull a muscle in my shoulder. Besides, I wasn’t reading the book just to say I’d read it.

A decent translation of the Kindle Les Miserables eBook was $1 on Amazon, with many copies offered for free. I got it and borrowed my father’s Kindle to read up to 40% of it before I had to return it to him. Carrying the Kindle, which is small and light, was much easier than carrying the book itself. Holding it was easy. Hmmm…

I found myself admiring the third generation Kindles on Amazon. I noted that many of the classics were offered for free and many under a dollar. Even new books, like the first two books of the Millennium series by Steig Larson were five bucks each. Interesting.

I swallowed my snootiness and asked for a Kindle for Christmas. My sister and I both got a Kindle and a Nook (we had to pick which we wanted) and after testing both, we decided on the Kindles (the why is for another post). We were also given super nifty Kindle cases with a light built into it. It was so cool! I downloaded some classics for free right away. Neat!

Then my turn to The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest finally arrived. I picked it up from the library. It was big. Tall. Heavy. At least 127 people before me had read it. Touched it. Taken it…places. The entire time I read it, I kept thinking how nice it would be if it was on my Kindle. Reading it at night, as I lay in bed, was an uncomfortable experience. As a hardback book it wasn’t going into my purse, it wouldn’t fit, therefore it didn’t travel well. It stayed in my apartment. I felt tethered to it.

The Kindle had transformed me. I stopped caring about the smell of books. I stopped caring about having a large book on my shelf to show off and say “Oh yes, I did read that one.” It was a changing point in my life. It was a 180 degree change. I was transformed into a Kindle snob.

Instead of saying “Oh, I like to read books,” my mantra is “I just like to read the books. I don’t need to smell them.” The Kindle turned me into this snotty reading elitist. I just read the stories, I don’t need to experience any of my other senses. I don’t care if the pages feel a certain way. I don’t care if the book has a certain musty smell, or if the book is large and therefore impressive. I just want to read it, then move on instantly to another.

With my Kindle, which I take with me everywhere, I can read whenever I have a spare moment. I can read while I’m in line. I can read if I’m stuck in traffic. Granted, these are things you can do with a paperback. But If I’m traveling and in a hotel room and finish a book, I don’t have to find a bookstore to get another. I can get another book instantly. Even if I’ve left my Kindle at home, I have the free Kindle app on my iPhone. If I’m waiting for anything at all, I open up a book and read. It’s awesome.

I didn’t see this coming. I didn’t anticipate being sucked in. Vader seduced me, I admit that, but let’s remember that in the end Vader wasn’t such a bad guy after all. I think a lot of people who love their physical books are somehow frightened that traditional books will suddenly disappear and we’ll all be plugged into our machines. Books have been around for hundreds of years, it will be awhile before they go anywhere.

The dark side isn’t so bad. I get more reading done on my Kindle than I did with dead tree books, there are some amazing book deals (I bought The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a five book series, for $9.99), and it’s just plain cool. I can carry a library of books with me everywhere. That’s just spectacular.

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  2. Dara Stepanek June 28, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    “I think a lot of people who love their physical books are somehow frightened that traditional books will suddenly disappear and we’ll all be plugged into our machines.”

    That’s me. I don’t know how to conquer that fear when I know there’s some amount of legitimacy to it. I would hate… and I mean HATE to see my bookshelves of carefully collected and lovingly read books become obsolete. I’ve spent so much of my life finding certain editions, lending to anyone who asks, giving death threats to those who don’t yet know how protective I am (and sometimes threatening those that do…), and in general just admiring the colors and patterns they make on the shelf. I still find such a subtle beauty on my bookshelf and the thought that the hunt for more will soon end is more than upsetting. I don’t want to see that day come – I don’t want to aid that horrible event in any way, shape, or form. I love you dearly, Ms. Courtney, but I just cannot see myself without my bookshelves. They are for no one’s pleasure but mine, and mine they are. 🙂

    1. Courtney June 28, 2011 at 6:57 pm

      And that used to be me, too, My Dara. I clung to my books, and for some early and rare editions, that will always be so. I will not give up my hardbound Potters, for example, but have given away many books before, especially when moving to a new place. When one does a lot of moving (as I have), and packs lots of boxes with books already read, one starts to think: hmmm will I read this book again? Why am I moving it around, just to put it on a shelf? Perhaps I can give it to someone else, and they can read it and give it to another… I read most books just once. For me, the journey was the story, and I’ll remember that. The physical pages I do not need. But that’s me, and it took me a while to get there, once I started falling in love with how easy and comfortable it is to read on a Kindle, how quickly I can buy a book (it’s like living in Barnes and Noble), and how I can take my whole library with me wherever I go. Again, that’s the purpose of this whole post: how I converted to eBooks and how I wasn’t expecting, nor wanting, to be converted.

      As always, I love chatting with you and reading your wonderful thoughts, my friend! Keep them coming.

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