Paper still beats the Kindle in my book.

I stopped when I saw the title of the book – Lord Vishnu’s Love Handles. On the cover was the picture of a cow with long eyelashes and silver udders. But what finally sold me on it was the turban the cow was wearing. I quickly paid the two dollars penciled on the first page at the counter. I haven’t read the entire book yet, but the first page is pretty spicy.

Some of the other books I just picked up include George Carlin’s When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops, David Rakoff’s Don’t Get Too Comfortable, a paperback edition of the classic “Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman”, and Carl Sagan’s Billions & Billions. I would have found them in digital format too. But some of the other out-of-print books that I had never even heard of I would not have picked up had I not gone to the used-book sale.

And that is why I still love print. I’m constantly reminded that general interest in printed books, journal, and magazines is eroding. I’ve seen the signs and I know it is true. Research libraries don’t buy scholarly journals in print anymore. Established newspapers and magazines struggle to stay afloat and those that do have to burn through cash to do so. This year Amazon sold more books on the Kindle than “real books” that it shipped out. Books cost money to produce, space to stock, and are heavy to carry around. But next time you have to power down your e-book reader on your flight, I’ll cozily turn the page on a cliffhanger in the seat across the aisle.

Used books have history. They have character. Even as a non-smoker I can appreciate the smokiness of the exquisitely-bound first edition of The Gentle Art of Smoking by Alfred H. Dunhill published in 1954 which I have on my shelf. I can flip the cover and read the short note penned with a flourish in cursive by Julie to “My Dearest John”.

These books have been places. Some of them give me as remarkable insight into the people who owned them before I did. Take for example this note which I found scribbled inside a used fifty-cent paperback of Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

Michelle,

I am really sorry for my evil ways. When I knew you I was an ass. When I didn’t know you, I was even more of an ass. You were always remarkable. Perhaps I could write that I am sorry that we met when we met. I just did. Okay.

Nevertheless, this book is great fun. Enjoy it !!

Inexplicably,

James.

James was such a cad! I hope he got what he deserved. And Michelle, I hope that you learned from your mistake.

© Text, 2010-2012, Anirban

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11 thoughts on “Paper still beats the Kindle in my book.

  1. Why single out Kindle & not the iPad. I am, as they say on Twitter, #outraged!! 🙂

    IMO, there’s space for both. Like you, I love browsing in an used (or even new) book shop and picking up hidden gems. Paper books have a certain feel in your hand that of course can never be replicated.

    But during my recent vacation I was able to read through four mystery/thriller-types easy reads without adding much weight to the hand luggage. Convenience is possibly the best advantage of e-readers.

    Have been meaning to write a blog about this topic for a while, hopefully your post will help overcome inertia!

  2. Thanks for commenting. I was very careful not to say that one device would completely eliminate the other. In fact, this post was more ax a response to those talking about the death of print.

    As for not mentioning the iPad, that was deliberate. The iPad is lousy for reading anything for more than an hour.

    😛

    Looking forward to reading your blog when I get back from vacation.

    🙂

  3. Totally agree with your view of the good old printed books. I agree the new publishing of popular books will focus on e-versions. But there is no replacing a hand help copy of Calculus or Shakespeare for school or fun. I can see myself reading a thriller on my travels from and e-reader. But it just doesn’t replace the feel I get from touching a real book, folding a page or there or spilling coffee on a few pages.

  4. I loved your post. But I loved the note you found, even more. I found a new way to sign off on my emails. Thank you. 🙂

    Inexplicably,
    Val

  5. While I agree overall (I love printed books, physical things) there are a few things that eBooks have in their favor:

    – no need for storage. Not an issue if you have lots of space, but I don’t right now and most of my books are in boxes in the garage. This has lead me to actually buy new copies from Amazon of books I crave to read (Journey to the End of the Night, Death on the installment Plan recently).

    – if you want to make little notes in the border it’s much easier. No need to try and fit your note into the margins.

    – rare or small circulation items: much easier to deliver over the ‘net. (This is also good for music — you can’t find Virna Lindt’s “Play/Record anywhere in physical form, but it’s a click away on iTunes/Amazon MP3.)

    – access to public domain books/classics/copyright expired is easy and free.

    Bad things do apply: you can’t take your eBooks to a second hand bookstore for a few bucks if things are rough; you can’t loan an eBook to someone; you probably don’t want to be throwing an iPad or Kindle at the cat when she’s misbehaving.

    All that said, I don’t buy many eBooks right now: but I don’y buy many physical books either (OK, so maybe 4 or 5 a month) as U can get enough free stuff to keep me amused

    • Awesome, points. I was stuck in a hotel room with nothing on television and one book that I rapidly ran through. At that moment, I wish I had a Kindle with a few books loaded on them.

      I didn’t know about the notes. That is an awesome feature and one that I’d find handy. Now if the Kindle did color that would be a game-changer for me.

      As I mentioned, space is a major issue for me as well. I’ve got a ton of books, and nowhere to put them. I wish bookstores with give out eBook files along with hard copies. Kind of like for software, where you can pay a nominal fee if you really want the physical discs. If you’ve already paid for the intellectual property, I’m sure they’d be able to work it out at a discount.

  6. Please, e-books do not really classify as “books”. They are just glorified, extremely long documents. I have not used a Kindle, but I can never bring myself to read an entire book on screen. I recently had a burning desire to read The Count of Monte Cristo again, but I couldn’t find a print version, so I decided to get an e-book. I didn’t make it past the first chapter.

    It’s really saddening to me to note what you said about how print is going into obscurity. Reference and scholarly journals going digital is a good idea, since it helps search and cite them easily, but novels and other such books should be in paper.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

      It is estimated that the largest market for English books within the next few years will be India. I am guessing that almost all of these will be in print.

      The erosion of interest in print is disheartening for me as well.

      I will probably buy a Kindle for the portability, but will likely only use it as a backup reading device for books that I’ve already read.

      Take care. 🙂

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