POLL: Which is your preferred way to read books?

Posted: May 30, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

by Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

After a visit to Half Price Books in Orland Park, where I couldn’t walk out without at least three books, I was thinking about how I purchase books and in what format/shape I like them. Let’s break it down:

NEW: New books are clean, untouched. No one else has ever owned them. They have that new book smell. The cover and pages are sharp. They seem like shiny collector’s items waiting to be gently read and then placed on a bookshelf for show. Sure, they are a little more expensive, but – in most cases – any book desired can be found new, if the reader is willing to pay the price.

USED: They are cheaper, sometimes drastically so. Depending on the age of the book, they can have that “old book smell” which is delightful to bibliophiles. They may be beat up, worn out, written on, torn, have slips of paper shoved in them – but that just seems to give the book personality and a sense of history. Depending on the book, it’s not always easy to find a used copy, but on the other hand, used bookstores often offer the opportunity to stumble upon something cool.

LIBRARY (or borrowed): The book is free – except for potential late fees. The reader has zero ownership of the book, which makes it feel like carrying around someone else’s precious possession, thus tacking on the slight burden of eventually returning the book in the same exact condition in which it was received. Libraries, and library sharing, usually make getting any book relatively easy, but there may be a wait involved.

ELECTRONIC: Kindles and other electronic readers offer books (usually) for cheaper or even free, but then there is the initial price of the device. Not all books are available electronically, but plenty are, and getting a copy takes only seconds – no going to the store, no waiting for shipment. Books are owned and can be viewed across multiple devices, meaning I can open a book on my Kindle, continue reading it on my computer, and then read some more on my iPhone. Electronic readers lose the tactile connection to the book and also defeat the sense of “progress” through a text by displaying progress bars and goofy numbers rather than being able to visibly see how far into the book you are. Electronic readers reduce the clutter of having hundreds or thousands of texts sitting around the house, but it also eliminates the collectible, showy aspects of hard copies. And there is no sellback option for those who like doing that.


Personally, I like NEW and USED books. I want hard copies that I own. I like that both of my offices, home and work, are covered in books, and that the coffee table at home also has another dozen or so books on it. My feeling is that the books aren’t just books, but additions to my home/office that don’t just speak for themselves but also say something about me and who I am. I’ve tried the electronic route, but after reading several books on my Kindle, I just couldn’t get into it – and I say this as someone who reads a LOT off the internet. Plus, I like collecting books.

So, with all of that said – readers, where do you stand on this issue?

  1. and Rose Red says:

    Hard copy, hard copy, hard copy, always! I can’t read on an e-reader. Hell, I can’t even read much on the computer screen. Once, in like 5th grade, I read a short novel posted online. Never again managed to pull that off. There’s just something so satisfying about the of a book in your hand, and the smell, and the sounds of the pages turning… And I also agree that I quite like to be surrounded by the books the own. Everytime mom helps me move back and forth from my college dorm she complains about all of the non-school-related books I insist on bringing with me, and that’s nothing compared to how many I have in total.

  2. Jane says:

    I am so with you on this one Paul! Readers are collectors of memories and thoughts through the written word. If I wanted to collect Beatles memorabilia, looking at an online picture of a Ringo t-shirt wouldn’t do it for me. I just did a research project on students who use online/electronic formed “books”, and a majority still want a tangible version. The comments were mostly about the “feel” of the text and how they engage with the words differently. Kindles are cool and convenient, but there are still readers (bibliophiles or not) who have a preference that can’t be plugged in.

  3. Jenny Jocks Stelzer says:

    Mike and I spent much of the early part of our relationship at used book stores and book sales. We have covered the shelves of our house with used books that we love to read, love to have read, and (probably most of all) love for others to see that we’ve read. As we book-lovers have moved through our lives (so far), I now only wish to own the books that I truly LOVE (this is not necessarily Mike’s stance on the subject). I like simplicity of kebetty only what I cherish better than jammed shelves of things I’ll never read again) Now, what I truly LOVE is the library. I love to browse the shelves. I love to take home (and read only a few of) a stack of gardening books, a few cookbooks, and some nonfiction tome on a problem with the environment or social justice. I love that we have a public institutifun that exists to provide access to information to EVERYONE. The fact that everyone, no matter their economic status, has easy access to important, interesting, and delightful books, makes borrowing them so much sweeter to me. As new books get more and more expensive and used books, while wonderful to me, simply crowd my life (unless it’s something awesome, tried, and true), I’ll see you at the library,for sure!

  4. Jenny Jocks Stelzer says:

    Speaking of technology, please excuse the hilarious typos in my comment (kebetty=keeping and institufun=institution) – damned iPad! Institufun! Ha!

    I’m not a fan of the ereaders, either. I’ve tried it, and I don’t really like it!

  5. Barb Baird says:

    I enjoy holding a book in my hand. I also enjoy having books around me. New or used, but I love owning them. I did get a kindle a few years ago and have grown to love it. I am now at a point where I am trying to have less clutter. While I still have a special place in my hear for books I don’t keep as many around, I just don’t have the space. I do miss the days when I spent so much time in a book store.

  6. Ivan's Canine says:

    You know, there comes a time in the life of every object where its value has to give way to the fundamental market forces surrounding it. In layman’s term, this means supply and demand but in this case I use the terms slightly abstractly. What I see is that there is a problem is not with the books themselves but the Ideas within Them.

    Most “fundamentalists” always make the argument that there is a foreign element to electronic books, that it’s not natural; that there is a certain fundamental pleasure in the flipping of rustic pages and physically delving into the literature. Moreover, I can completely relate to that (with a minor drawback in the realm of ancient “book-sniffing” [Ugh, fungal hallucinogens]). However, in my opinion, not all ideas are valued that highly, and my demand for more ideas must also force my supply to be greater.

    My kindle is a god-send. With it I have the ability read multiple sources, divide my attention, and conquer new concepts. Academic journals, newspapers, and entire novels can be laid to waste in a matter of hours. It gives me a reach that just cannot be harnessed within the limitations of the page.

    Now, this isn’t to say I don’t respect hardcover. Hardcover has a permanent value that you just cannot have in any electronic copy. When I am sure that a book, an idea, has enough value that I want to keep it forever, I reach for a physically copy. I think it’s also the essential difference between a short-term investment (i.e. electronic) and a long-term investment (i.e. hardcover). To me it just isn’t worthwhile to need to hold everything I need to read.

    In addendum, currently I am reading Sun Tzu’s Art of War, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (I really don’t know why), and Nature Journal 485. And I can read each of them in turn at any time that I like, as well as everything else I have backed up.

  7. Jane Mueller Ungari says:

    Perhaps it’s my age (more books accumulated over the years), but I prefer the Kindle. It’s especially great when you travel. You can get a book instantly. I want to get rid of all my books and make room on my shelves, as soon as I figure out how to make my very own Kindle work.

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