Physical Books vs. Kindles — Your thoughts?

Carrying on the spirit of my last post, I wanted to post some thoughts, then ask you to weigh in on that famous cultural wrestling match: Kindle vs. Book. I guess you can include e-readers in general, but Kindle seems to be their poster child at the moment.

“In this corner, weighing a few ounces, storing thousands of books and accessing them at the touch of a button, it’s the e-reader! And in this corner, at the weight of the Library of Congress, written by thousands of hands over the centuries, it’s the physical book!” In some wings of the internet, the fight has gotten nasty, a tooth-loosening, nose-breaking brawl of convenience and quick gratification against nostalgia and history.

And small wonder. Books, thank God, are still igniting passion in our hearts. We know that much from Philip Pullman and many other Brits coming unhinged at the U.K.’s recent bureaucratic treatment of libraries, threatening to close down most of them for the government to save a few quid. They are right to be upset. Books are too valuable to lose or abandon; they have carried ideas and words to generations of people, handing down the worthwhile thoughts of men and women long after they have been lain to rest in the earth.

When e-readers started popping up a few years ago, I confess I had my doubts about them. Sometimes I acted like the stereotypical book snob. Why trade the crinkle of pages and the smell of paper for a sterile white screen that doesn’t let you feel the book itself? I thought.

Sometimes our instincts are more powerful than we realize. Tradition is a hard thing to abandon. And we have loved the almighty Book for thousands of years. Those tomes of paper, ink, and binding are almost alive, in a sense. Once they are read, they carry seeds of characters, of thought, of story, of personal accounts, to germinate in new minds. And in an almost reproductive act, some of those new minds will go on to produce books of their own. But it’s not just writers who produce and live off of books. Whether they be generals or artists, poets or politicians or academics, world-changing thinkers cannot thrive unless their minds are pollinated with the written words of others.

Then came the digital revolution. E-readers asked us to adopt a new model of reading, hundreds of works able to be digitally stored on a fancy little device that we still were unfamiliar with. I am not surprised people got defensive of paper books, as if the extra effort in reading “the old-fashioned way” made them better than those who hopped on the Kindle wagon. Heck, for a while I was one of them.

(“Kindle wagon.” Huh. Nice term. I’ll have to hang on to that.)

And then, just for kicks I got the Kindle app on my new smartphone, and I saw what all the hype was about.

Kindles are the newer medium, so it’s difficult to say how they stack up against physical books. (Get it? Books getting stacked? Yeah, when online I have about as much of a sense of humor as a badger deprived of his morning coffee.) But for now, I can already report that my reading picked up because of that app. Since November, I have made great progress on many of that app’s offerings, and already read through Journey to the Center of the Earth and The Invisible Man. Both books are awesome and exciting, but it was a double-hitter of classic science fiction which, based on my slow reading habits, would have likely taken me a year to finish if they were physical books in my hand.

I offer you the idea that in a digital age, where distractions abound and attention spans vanish into the fog of cyberspace, we need e-readers. The Kindle and Nook might not be able to replicate a real book in your hands (which is a fantastic sensation), but they do let me get through books faster, absorbing them quicker than my ADHD brain will allow with a stack of bound paper. Both of them have inestimable value to me, and both will surely play a pivotal role in my reading life in decades yet to come.

How about you? Have you tried the e-readers yet? Do you prefer them over paper books, or do you find yourself drawn to that scent of old paper and the crinkle of a page when you turn it?