Friday, March 4, 2011

Why Physical Books Are Better than E-Books

Books with pages are better than books with kilobases. Sure, e-books might be convenient (that is, light) to take on long trips, as long as you're not camping somewhere where you can't recharge the battery, but they're just not as satisfying. Here's why:

(1) Real books smell better.

(2) You can whiffle the pages of real books. This is a habit I've had since childhood. You know how kids take a pad of paper and draw a cartoon figure in the corner of every page, gradually changing the figure's position so it makes a little animated movie when they set the pages fluttering with their thumbs? I do that, but without the little pictures. I just find it calming.

(3) With a real book, you know how far back to turn when you're looking back through the book for some reminder. My thanks to Charles Gale who pointed me to this article in Technology Review addressing this important point. The article stresses that our mental capacity for spatial relations helps us know where to find things. We're better at estimating where some fact can be found in a book physically--about how thick was the part of the book that came before it?--than we are at saying, "Oh, I think that was 37% of the book ago."

(4) Real books are more satisfying to lend. Sure, the Kindle now has this fancy-schmancy system for lending content from one Kindle to another for up to a month. But that's like file-sharing. It's weightless. It can't compare to placing a weighty object in another person's hands along with all the weight of your implicit trust that the recipient is going to return the offering in good time and good condition.

(5) Real books have better pictures. You may say that's changing, but then I"ll say that real books have much better covers.

(6) Real books are better for reading to a child on a couch. The best position for reading to a child is with one hand holding one side of the book and the other arm encircling the child until that arm's hand reaches the other side of the book. E-books are too skinny. There isn't room enough for that second arm to go all the way around the child.

I rest my case.

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