Wednesday, March 9, 2011

eBooks and the Book Lover

Buzz and debate about eReaders and how it's affecting the publishing industry and the nature of reading and its community structure has been going on for a while. Most recently, Nathan Bransford has written a great post about "99-cent Kindle millionaires" (yes, it's legit), and over at The Broke and the Bookish there was a recent discussion post about HarperCollins' 26 check-out limit for e-books.

This post is part of a mini-series of blog posts in which I will talk a little about ebooks, eReaders, and their effects on the current book publishing and consuming world. Today's topic is: eBooks and the book lover.

Note the difference between a reader and a book lover. A reader (and we'll limit it to fiction, since that's 98% of what I read) likes stories. Verbal, written, slow, fast, escapist, thought-provoking--for the reader, it matters less how the story was created than what the story contains. A reader gets equal pleasure from reading a story and from hearing it. The medium in which the story is conveyed is less important than the story itself.
A book lover is typically also a reader, but s/he also wants to know about the craft behind the story. How does the story succeed in stirring up the emotions that it does in me? How am I affected by the presentation of the book? For a book lover, it matters in what medium one reads a story, and s/he is also concerned with spreading the word to other book lovers and readers. The book lover wants a library filled with all of his or her favorite books. The actual appearance of the books that s/he has read is important.

For me, a book lover as well as a reader, the issue of e-books boils down to one important question: Where do eReaders and e-books fit into my lifestyle? And my answer is equally succinct: It complements my bookworm habits. It expands the horizons of my bookworminess.

People often worry that e-books will replace p-books in the near future, and that the book publishing industry will basically collapse because the e-book format will negate the necessity of a physical publishing house and all the professionals who work therein.

I'm not sure I agree. For the true book lover, e-books will never be able to replace p-books. Notice how I didn't say "reader," because I think it's entirely possible that for someone who doesn't take note of the texture of the page under your thumb as you turn it, or the way the images and text on a book cover shift from matte to glossy and back again, e-reading can replace all the p-reading in his or her life.
Book lovers know that there is a difference between the story and the book. The story is the intangible, magical element that comes to life through the act of reading. It existed long before it became mass-printed words on a page, when it was just a child playing around in the author's head. It can exist outside the text, as oral traditions of storytelling show us. The book encompasses everything that makes the story presentable to us in tangible form. It's the texture of the pages, the image on the cover, the feel of the cover, the chosen font, the size of the book, the interior hardback color. Theoretically you could argue that the story is more important than the book, and I would probably agree, but the book itself is a form of art, and as I am a book lover, the book is a form of art that I adore.

My eReader feeds the insatiable habit of the reader in me, but physical books can never be replaced, in my heart or on my shelves. That's the reason why books have been around for so many centuries, even while vinyl records, CDs, and videocassettes have come and gone in a matter of decades. Because the book is not merely a vehicle for the story within, but a piece of work in itself. A reader could theoretically separate the story from the book and cram all of his or her stories into one electronic device, but for the book lover, the way the story is presented is also important in a different way. Holding that work of art in your hands feels like an almost necessary milestone in the journey of being an author, in the journey of transferring one's story from one's head out to the world.

Anyway, that's just one of my thoughts about why physical books are still here to stay.What about you? What do you think of my distinction between a reader and a book lover? If you own an eReader, how do you feel that owning one has changed your view of your physical books?


  1. Oh said it perfectly! I will never ever strictly be an ebook reader..I love the books on my shelf and holding them in my hand and going to the bookstore for them. However, it really just enhances my ability to read. I love that I can read galleys on my Nook and that I can always have a few different choices of reading material with me without having to carry a 20 pound bag. I think it just allows me to be even more consumed by reading..and I love it.

    And I love your distinction between book lover and reader..what an astute observation that I certainly had never thought of before.

  2. I guess I am a reader but not a book lover. To me, the story matters, not the medium. At this point, where I am with physical space and finances, it just makes more sense for me to choose ebooks.

    I think of it this way, I don't lament records because I didn't grow up with them. I don't lament CDs because I have an iPod. I think kids who grow up with all this technology will just see ereaders as another medium.

  3. That was an interesting contrast of readers vs. book lovers. I’m both too. I just got a Kindle and still prefer physical books, but it’s very handy for travel and reading on the go. I’ll probably spend a little less and read a little more thanks to the Kindle, but I’ll never stop buying real books.

  4. I like how you say e-readers and e-books complement your bookworminess. This is how I think of my e-reader. It doesn't (and never could) replace real, honest-to-goodness books, but it's there as a supplement when I need or want it.

    I agree with what you said about books being an art form themselves. I also think books are here to stay because they have a universal format (so to speak). E-readers are great, but the technology that runs them is always changing. Soon, older models will become obsolete as newer versions hit the market. It's almost impossible to keep up with the newest thing (iPads are still catching on and yet Apple already has the next version out). As you pointed out, books last longer while technology changes around us. People are still reading books, despite all the advances we've made.

  5. This post could NOT have come at a better time because I have been having a dilema about what kind of e-reader that I want too buy. And I guess you can say that as much as I am an impulsive person, I can't make my mind up which e-reader to purchase for myself because i can't 100% wrap my head around that fact that i will be reading an ACTUAL book off a metal device I can carry around.

    I love the comfort in holding a book in my hands, of smelling the ink on the pages and of placing it lovingly on my bookcase when i'm finished. Books are real important to me. Real important. And i mean REAL books. e-books don't seem real to me, as silly as that sounds. But really because I have to travel to work, I go away a couple of times a year etc getting an e-reader seems like the most effective option for me, but they could never never EVER replace a real book, they just never could. If I read an e-book and I loved it, I would want the real life version of it for my collection.

    So, i may want to read books on an e-reader, but I still want to buy books to make me happy.

  6. I like the convenience of e-books, but as you say, as a book lover, I would always cherish the p-book format. I think your distinction is quite accurate in expressing the differences. Sitting down on the couch and flipping pages is part of the sensation of enjoying my reading. And being able to voraciously read through a multitude of books at my convenience with an eReader is also great.

    I don't own a specific eReader but I do have an iTouch with iBooks on it. I haven't quite explored its uses yet but I have one book on there right now (Winnie the Pooh!) and I find it's pretty convenient with the text size adjustments and the bookmarking abilities. However, I dislike looking at a screen compared to looking at paper in a well-lit environment.

    I feel that the p-book will continue to persist as it has been the standard medium for far longer than e-books has been. Perhaps someday in the future, generations unfamiliar with paper books will not see the same appeal as book lovers of today.

  7. I am also both a reader and a book lover. I own a Nook. It's main purposes are for travel and to replace the mass market paperback that have been cluttering my bookshelves so that I can reserve space for those books that really are works of art in themselves. A great example (for me, anyway) is the Leviathan trilogy by Scott Westerfeld. Between the awesome illustrations, the interesting size format choice of the book and the cool pages, it just doesn't have the same impact as an e-book. Other books, though, are not meant to have that same visual/sensory impact, so those can happily live in my Nook - I still get to read the story!!

  8. Terrific post! I'm a cross between the Reader and the Book Lover. Even though I do cherish the p-book and always will, this past year I have moved to preferring to read a book on my e-reader vs a p-book. Reason being is my eyesight. I'm in my early forties now and require reading glass but otherwise don't have a need for glasses and never wore them before now. On my e-reader I can enlarge the text so I don't have to wear the reading glasses and also I have less headaches while reading (which are absolute reading bummers). As a person who doesn't enjoy wearing glasses, the e-reader has been a godsend for me.

    Looking forward to reading the posts for this mini-series!

  9. I travel frequently for business, and I would say that the primary difference that I love is that when I no longer have to cart around a 700-oage hardcover novel on a flight, along with my briefcase, carryon, etc. Now, I have my Nook Color and it makes it so much easier. I still love reading an actual book, but the Nook Color has certainly made my back hurt a lot less while I'm on my trips!

  10. I've had this conversation with myself and others each time I read an article predicting the end of dead-tree books (I like the "p-book" name!). While I believe e-book purchases and publishing will continue to grow and flourish, those who are truly book lovers and not pure readers will still want to be surrounded by their books. There's nothing like turning that page, flipping to a favorite part, or seeing the name on the spine as it rests comfortably among other friends on a bookshelf.

    I'm both a reader and a book lover. E-books have joined my reading life and enhanced it but will never replace p-books for me. When given the option, I choose p-books every time.

    Thanks for the great post!
    The Book Swarm

  11. You are now making me consider whether I am truly just a reader, someone passionate for stories, or a book lover. Bravo! I will say, I adore my special edition Harry Potter books and could not imagine the loss of those in my personal books. The same with my time worn Anne of Green Gables set which have fingerprints from when I was a kid on them. That is something an ereader can never do and that's a loss for me.

  12. I love my Kindle and I am so happy to read on it, mainly because 90% of the time what I am in the mood to read can be available in less than a minute, that is AMAZING. I still love the real books but something has to be special about it, an amazing cover, different texture of the pages, any additional personal touches, like borders specific to the book etc, other than that give me a ebook I'm happy.

  13. I don't like ebooks and don't read them at all, except for ebook only short stories by authors I like, sometimes I will read those on my computer if they are short. But I really like turning the pages of a book, I tried out an ereader and I just didn't like it, it was too weird and distracting to me.

  14. I adore this post! I know what you mean. I love my Nook, and it's encouraged me to buy books I normally wouldn't have spent the money on or felt I had the room for. Of course, it's also helped tremendously with NetGalley, too. That being said, if I read an e-ARC that I love, I absolutely must have the physical once it's released. Count me in the book lover's camp for life!

  15. I could have lived without a Nook until time to travel! I'm finding some books easier to read on it than others. Some I find difficult because the format shifts and changes the story. As an example, the margins between paragraphs aren't always there to tell passage of time.
    Henrietta Lacks I can read on the Nook, but Inside Out and Back Again (written in free verse) isn't working.
    Reader or book lover? I'm not sure about those. I could sit and listen to a good storyteller for hours, but I can't walk past a bookstore. Who can successfully make that transition to ereading? Is it about our connection with paper and print, with our learning style, vision/sight or something else? I just hope the format remains an option for sometime to come, and it should as long as the demand is there.

  16. Great post! I agree completely. I love the portability of ebooks, but I still enjoy the feel and smell of p-books. I love the craftmanship that goes into a really nice looking book too and love having lots of books around the house.

    That being said my Kindle has opened up new horizons for me and makes reading much easier and convenient in certain situations too.

  17. This was such an astute post. I love the story and sometimes I also love the book. My kindle is fabulous and I use it a lot but I will never give up physical books.

  18. I've bought so few books for my e-reader. I use it all the time, but mostly for things such as e-ARCs or reading in-store. I still need to own these beautiful books with gorgeous covers and lovely innards. A home is not complete w/o an overflowing bookshelf.

  19. Just so you know, I included this excellent post in my Saturday blog round up. :)

  20. sometimes when I am riding the rushhour Septa train, I have to stand for a good part of the ride. I like the ereaders, because I can discretely read someone else's book while that person is sitting. The flat screen makes it easy to eavesdrop on their book, to read over their shoulder while I stand and they sit. The physical book is harder to sniper-read, because the pages flop all around.

  21. I agree with you. ebooks could never replace actual books (paperback or hard cover). I couldnt read if I am not holding onto something that I can hug later on. Reading from a screen does really help in focusing on what I am reading.


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