One of the things I love to hate about modern discourse is the sheer number of false dichotomies, silly arguments, and debates in which each person is more determined to prove themselves right than to listen and consider the other person’s viewpoint. As someone who loves reading, the question of whether I read e-books or physical books (and sometimes which is superior) is one such discussion people attempt to have with me, and they tend to be surprised by my response. Because the truth is that I like both.
I grew up reading physical books, of course. My parents had shelves full. They took us all to the library often. At school we also took trips to the local library on a regular basis. Relatives and friends of my parents would give me books their children were finished with. At rummage sales, I’d look for anything that caught my eye. And sometimes I would even be given a gift card to a big bookstore or my parents would decide to treat me, and I would have the rare privilege of roaming the shelves in search of brand-new books to add to my personal collection.
My family didn’t have a computer until I was in grade school. We didn’t get the internet until several years later. I didn’t have a laptop of my own until my final year of high school, when I paid for it myself. Needless to say, there wasn’t much opportunity to read e-books before then. But then one Christmas not long after, I got a Kindle.
At that time in my life, I was reading a huge mix of different books. I was still reading Young Adult books of the kind I had enjoyed all through high school. I had novels I was assigned to read for my literature classes. I was trying to become a writer and wanted to expose myself to all the best-known classics. I was using Amazon to buy my textbooks at the cheapest prices I could find (unless I could find cheaper prices at the university bookstore), and I found that I could get free e-book versions of nearly anything in the public domain. This proved to be incredibly useful, especially for books that I was reading slowly and over a long period of time, too long for a library checkout window. I also found out e-books were incredibly useful for highlighting and notetaking, which can only be done in a physical book if it belongs to you and you don’t intend to resell it, as I did for many of the books I had to buy for school.
Even to this day, I still prefer an e-book for notetaking. There’s no need to worry about messy handwriting or cramming into the margins. You can type comments as long as you want and even add more or edit them later. When writing an essay (or a blog post), you can also use the search functionality to find a particular passage very quickly using words or phrases, saving lots of time in comparison to flipping through pages.
The other reason I often turn to e-books these days? Well, now that I have a job that pays well and money to spend, it’s nice to be able to buy copies I can keep and support the authors without having to worry about where in my apartment I’m going to store them all! The fact that my workplace gives out Amazon gift cards as an employee perk makes it all the easier. Now I can buy that hot-seller of a new book, at full price, without having to go on the library waiting list.
Does this mean I don’t use my local library anymore? Not at all. I still very much prefer physical books when I want to sit outside in the sunshine reading, or when I’m travelling and only want a light-weight paperback. I also prefer seeing the actual pages for graphic novels. I like having the same physical copies of childhood favorites I owned as a child. I like collecting nice copies of new favorites now, including a few that are signed. And I like taking a break from screens from time to time. If my power ever goes out, a collection of physical books is definitely nice to have. If my device breaks, the same holds true. And there are actually some books out there that don’t have e-book copies available!
For me, e-books and physical books are not a this-or-that but a this-and-that. If you prefer one over the other, I’m not going to tell you that you’re wrong. I’m going to say I’m glad that you’ve found something that works for you. My radical opinion is that everyone should feel free to enjoy what they enjoy. We should all spend more time enjoying our shared interests and less attempting to create divisions. One way isn’t better than the other. They’re just different. So are people. And that’s ok.