Paperback 4ever: A Reader’s Manifesto

I will be the first to admit that I’m a proud techie.  Gadgets, blogs, e-readers, and all things digital – bring them on.  But with reading, it’s a little different.  Even with an iPad and easy access to e-books, I just can’t give up my paperbacks.  I tried going digital, tried buying up classics from the 99cent page, tried downloading new releases instead of paying twice as much for them in-store, but for books that I really care about, digital isn’t even an option.  I need the book in hand, in tote bag, in cafés and on couches and with me for the long haul.  This isn’t a rant against readers who prefer digital – sometimes, in certain cases, I’m one of them – but in praise of traditional books and everything they offer.  People like to say print is dead, but the digital revolution has, if anything, made me more aware of how dependent I am on “slow media” and how I’m really, deeply, insanely in love with books.

Maybe it’s a nostalgia thing.  Even holding a paperback conjures up a multitude of images and sensations from readings past; dozing in a Barnes & Noble chair mid-page, sprawled out on my bed on the hottest day of the year with the new bestseller, curled up in my aunt’s rec room on Christmas with The Return of the King because I just couldn’t put it down – physical books capture and recall memories for me, and each reading reinforces their sense of importance.  It doesn’t matter if I’m reading trash or treasure, it’s still a book and I still – unwillingly, unwittingly – hold it in high esteem.

Maybe it’s the physical fact of the book.  It has weight, importance, presence, in a way that digital files can’t compete with.  As I recently rediscovered, physical books can make me feel guilty for not reading them.  The sight of the paperback sparks a litany of “gotta get around to finishing that”‘s in my brain if I take a break from it for too long.  Physical books have that feel of crisp paper, that slightly musty or glue-y smell, that comforting weight and size in your hands.  They fit in your life and move with you, wherever you go, and yet always remain themselves.  The outer book is permanent in a way that makes the inner book feel important and timeless.

Maybe it’s the sensation of falling into a book and being unable to find your way out.  Physical books can make time fade away, can make you fall into reading like nothing else, and when you surface, the book sticks with you.  You notice different things in the world than you did before reading it, or it gives a different cast to your thoughts that you can’t quite shake for a day or two.  Physical books can have an effect on you, but I’ve yet to read to find a digital book that leaves a mark on me.

I don’t know what it is about the physical book, and especially the paperback, that draws me to it.  I go back and forth – I’ve tried to read digitally, tried to download books onto my Macbook, but I’ve usually done it for a specific reason (who wants to lug around the new A Song of Ice and Fire book, honestly).  No matter how many gadgets I acquire, I still find myself ordering and purchasing paperbacks, sometimes at an alarming rate and certainly faster than I can read them.  For me, it’s possible to have a foot in each world – to see the advantage of each format and use both – but books will always come out on top for me.  And I’m okay with that.

What about you guys?  Do you have a preferred mode for reading?  Does it vary, or are you a staunch supporter?

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Joe O. says:

    Mallory, have you tried reading on the Kindle? I find it’s easier to hold than a paper-bound book, especially while commuting on the El. I can hold the Kindle in one hand and my coffee cup in the other. It’s much lighter than an iPad and the screen is not reflective, so you can read outside without encountering any glare. And when you want a new book, you can buy (or borrow) one without moving a limb.

    All that being said, I still buy hard and softcover books, especially if they are used, and I will continue doing so in the future. And I’m a big fan of print magazines (any Nation or Harper’s readers out there? What what?). So, I definitely enjoy reading both print and digital books.

  • Elizabeth K. says:

    Mallory, I completely understand how you feel. I’m something of a Luddite when it comes to my reading habits, and while I can see the benefits of digital books in terms of cost and portability, I just can’t give up physical books. I agree that there’s something about physical books that draws me in a way reading electronically just can’t match!