My wife and I have our preferred ways of reading books, and we’re both pretty passionate about that chosen methodology. Me? Well, if you read this column (particularly my cranky “The End of Everything” installment”), you can certainly guess that I’m more of an old-school reader, preferring the good old physical book to the still-surging-in-popularity digital ebook. I mean, I have a rather large library of modern first editions that I consider to be works of art. I often declare my love for the tactile heft of a real book while my wife curls up with her ultra-convenient and featherweight Kindle, which is loaded with her own large library of novels just waiting for her to click on and enjoy.
Frequently, we tease each other about the drawbacks of our chosen formats. My wife shakes her head at the bulkiness of my real books—their heaviness, the vast amounts of shelf space that my personal library requires, their analog and “uncool” antiquity. And I mock the e-reader’s ephemeral deconstruction of the act of reading—the fact that an age-old art, with deep involvement of the senses, has been reduced dispassionately to a bunch of bits and bytes. But just as often, we each try to sell the other on the perceived benefits of our own format. I point to the sheer historical vitality of the physical book, and she insists that digital reading is obviously the way of the future.
Fortunately for my point of view, the benefits and drawbacks of the physical book have been well-known for ages. There’s nothing new we’re going to learn about them and the ways we interact with them, except to compare and contrast them with this new upstart medium. But the ebook is a relatively new phenomenon. Sure, they’re exciting and new and convenient, but we’re still finding our way with them. The devices with which we consume digital books are changing all the time—becoming faster and sleeker and smaller and more capable—and their pricing structures and storage possibilities remain hot questions.
And now there’s a question of how our brains digest them. It seems I might have some more ammunition to use against my wife’s precious e-reader!