Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Why I Hate eBooks by Daniel Roush

A Facebook friend’s status got me thinking about eBooks the other day. At first I was generally annoyed because my creativity has apparently degraded to the point where I have to draw inspiration from people’s Facebook status. I got over that quickly because if I learned one thing over the past year of blogging, it’s that you have to take it where you can get it sometimes. So I refocused on the preliminary thought. eBooks. I dislike eBooks, but why? I never really thought about it before. First to mind was that I like real books. But that is a very shallow reason. If liking real books is the only reason I dislike eBooks, it’s like saying I dislike Star Wars because I like Star Trek, which is not the case. So what then? Further down the same runaway train of thought I guess I fear that eBooks will someday lead to the end of paper books. I suppose this is a valid suggestion.

It’s also strange to point out that in every other facet of my media consumption, I prefer digital copy. I’d go so far to say I hate discs. Music, movie and game discs are unnecessary clutter in my already crap cluttered living space. I see no reason, with present technology, why I need to have a hard copy of every movie, song and game I incorporate into my entertainment routine. Some may say that digital storage without hard copy is a risk. I guess so, although many places provide cloud storage these days and in the event of a major disaster, the last thing I’m worried about is my movie collection. There is no reason to cry about my cracked Resident Evil disc when there are zombies walking down the street for example. So why are eBooks different? For one, I can read a book without electricity. Kindles need to charge, CD’s require a CD player, same for disc movies and video games require a computer or console. A television is also required for both movies and games. I can pick up a book, no matter what is going on, and read it.

I do see the convenience of eBooks. It’s perfectly reasonable to see why someone who travels would want a Kindle or iPad. Maybe I just want to see some balance? Right now there are two teams (if I may use horrible, fascist Twilight terminology) you are either team Paper Book or team eBook. These two groups dislike one another. Paper book fans see themselves as the old sages, here to protect us from ourselves and preserve our history. They believe eBook reader to be smelly, hairy, hippies. eBookers see themselves as cutting edge futurists, ushering in a new age of human advancement. They liken Paper Bookers to geriatric codgers who hate change, youth and solid foods. Is either group wrong or right to think this way? Do they think this way or am I just full of crap? What about this? Why can’t publishing companies put a code in their books that provides a free download of the book in digital format for whatever eReader you prefer? This way I can have my paper, but also have the convenience of digital for travel. That idea probably presents more problems than solutions.

So why do I dislike eBooks? I think it’s a complicated combination of all the above factors. Let me start with the soul. Yes, soul. That book I just finished has a soul. What if page 142 was funny or sad or thought provoking so I dog eared it for later? Maybe the inside cover has an inscription from who ever gave me the book, or even the author who wrote it. I have several books with cracked binding because I’ve gone back to read them again and again. A good book has more of a soul than an eReader ever will. Piles of books do not bother me, they make me happy. The thought that my children may never go to a library depresses me. That’s why I plan to have my own library room if/when I have the finances to see it done. While CDs and DVDs and Blu-rays and games gather dust and take up space, my books become decorations on the shelves; cherished as much as the countless stuffed frogs The Wife has gathered over the years or the Christmas Nativity set or the Lego Mini figs. I’ve never felt this way about the DVD copy of The Matrix on the shelf that I’ve watched maybe twice.

Many eBook readers are also eBook pushers. They won’t be happy until everyone reads only via eReader. If you like your eReader, cool, good for you. Don’t try to convert me. If I see a good reason to start using eBooks, I’ll ask your opinion. Until that time, lay off. Some of you make me intentionally dislike eBooks, not because I loathe the books themselves, but you as heralds of them. It’s like certain sports teams, I don’t dislike the institution nearly as much as the annoying fans who try to convince you their team is the best no matter what. There is a place in this world for both books and eBooks. My fear, and ultimately my core reason for aversion to eBooks is the very real possibility that eBooks will lead to the downfall of print books.

First published in January 2012 on Daniel’s blog DUMP.

(Photo credit:  Krypto on Flickr – reproduced under a Creative Commons licence.)

13 comments on “Why I Hate eBooks by Daniel Roush

  1. katkasia
    May 25, 2012

    I’ve just received a KIndle, and am still trying it out, so I’m still making up my mind on this one.
    I suspect that it’s better for those things you’d only read once and not wish to own anyway – if if I find a real gem, I’m likely to get the hard copy.
    I completely agree with you the matter of ‘soul’ – I even love getting out library books, and finding what other people have used as bookmarks.
    There are, of course, books which you can only get in one format or the other, including many indie authors who can only afford to publish electronically at this stage.

  2. annebrooke
    May 25, 2012

    Great article! But actually, as you say at the end, there is no battle between ebooks and paper books – I love both and feel thrilled that the literary world has (at last!) been expanded so readers and writers have an intelligent format choice :)

  3. drharrietd
    May 25, 2012

    I am the perfect reader for e-books as I live in France, where English books are hard to get hold of, and travel a lot. But I don’t have an e-reader because, like you, I am so in love with books. However I have from time to time, in desperation (away from home, nothing to read), read a book on my iphone, which probably makes me really hypocritical — why not just get a Kindle and have done with it? I suppose because I actually hate them, which is odd because in general I love technology. I never fully understood why this was, so I think your point about soul is exactly right — many thanks!

  4. annebrooke
    May 25, 2012

    Picking up on Katkasia’s point, it’s not just self-publishing that ebooks are great for. Many authors such as myself have found their careers invigorated by the ebook publishers who are now around. I’ve certainly been far more successful in the ebook world than I ever was with my paper publishers.

    And, speaking as a reader, I’m delighted that the ebook has meant that so many great short stories are available, as I really love them, and could never ever find enough when we were limited to the paper format only …

    I’m also one of those people who think that neither paper books nor ebooks have soul of themselves (I’m not interested in what other people have done to a paper book before I get my hands on it – which probably does make me the person in the room most likely to be a serial killer, again!…). What has soul are the characters and the plot, whatever format they come in. :)

  5. Keven
    May 25, 2012

    I used to love the idea of building up a library. After some thought about why that was, I came up with this… I saw it as a reflection of me, and what I liked, and I thought it would make me look smart. I also wanted people to come over and look at my books, and it would spark discussion, and people would want to borrow them. In my case, I realized that wasn’t happening.

    Also, I realized that I used to think I’d go back and reread some of them. Honestly, though, I don’t. I’m trying to declutterize my apartment now. But, I see your point, and the books will probably be the last things to go.

    Thanks for the article!

  6. Catherine Czerkawska
    May 25, 2012

    I love books too. I must do, because I have a house full of them. They spill over into every room, a lifetime of books. Some of them are old friends, I like to know where certain books are – because I do a lot of rereading. Relatives have remarked that whatever they want to know, I will almost certainly be able to give them a book about it. But I still find it hard to articulate how profoundly I disagree with this post. I’ve just read Nicholas Nickleby on my KIndle, read it for the umpteenth time in a lifetime of reading. I have a hard copy and it’s a rather beautiful book, so I won’t be getting rid of it any time soon, but it’s heavy, the paper is thin, the font is tiny and it’s hard to read. The Kindle experience of this book was infinitely better in every way. Folio editions are beautiful. I have those too. And a wonderful early three book version of The Lord of the Rings. Oh, I have decades of ‘real’ books. But when push comes to shove, the soul of the book lies very firmly in the contents. And if it doesn’t, it damn well should. I get furious beyond belief by this constant sentimentalising of the ‘smell and the feel of books’ as though the physical medium really was the message. It isn’t. Some books are beautiful in themselves, as artefacts, because they were made with love, with care. Occasionally, where the form of the book reflects the contents – some volumes of poetry for instance – there is a fine marrying of medium and message – but these are artworks in themselves. Nobody would suggest that a digital version would be a substitute, although the day has already come when poets are experimenting with digital forms. My most treasured book is a little Old Testament from the early 1800s with a herringbone binding, decorated with birds and flowers. But my love for this book as an object is quite independent of the contents. And no, I don’t see the ‘teams’ of which you write. Not at all. Every single person I know who owns a Kindle hasn’t jettisoned books. Although our local university library certainly did – less sentimental than myself, they sent quantities of them to landfill. Some of them were rehomed on my shelves! But headstrong Nicholas, whom I love, leaps off the Kindle screen and into my head as surely as he ever did when he was imprisoned in paper.

  7. Hilary
    May 25, 2012

    Nice speck of grit in the oyster today! Thank you for giving a contrary view, Daniel.

    This has got me thinking about this question of how a book might, or might not, acquire soul, through dog-ears (tsk) or inscriptions or bookmarks. I have a reason to consider this question right now, because I’ve just embarked on a conservation project in a historic library. One of the tasks is to examine the books, most of which were given to the library in the early 18th century, for evidence of ownership and use. Many of them have the names of previous owners written in them (in some cases several), underlining, marginal notes, shopping lists on the end papers, children practising their alphabet – it’s wonderful! These pieces of evidence are preserved in the book, which makes it very precious. But, rather as others have said about content, characters and plot, in my mind the soul resides in the people who wrote the shopping lists and left slips of parchment with indecipherable words in them.

    By the way – my primeval Sony reader had a little button that dog-eared a page if you book-marked it. As a librarian, that filled me with a sort of amused outrage (actually, I thought it was a good joke). So, in 300 years’ time, I wonder if scholars will be poring over the few remaining Kindles, looking for the electronic traces of use.

  8. sharonrob
    May 25, 2012

    Thanks for an interesting perspective Daniel. I was interested to read what you and other people had to say about the connection – or lack of it – between e-readers and how well you get on with other forms of technology. You know that plaintive voice you sometimes hear in your local gadgets and gizmos store, wailing ‘but I don’t want all the bells and whistles!’ That would be me. I don’t deal with change very well and tend to find what I like and stick to it, which is why I was surprised by how easily I took to using a Kindle. Admittedly, the designers did a wonderful job of aping the low-tech elegance of the printed book, which is no mean feat, considering the amount of kit it relies on. I don’t think I’d bother with it if had a backlit screen and colour graphics.The appeal of the Kindle is that it gets as close to a printed book as anything with a battery can.

    I definitely agree with you about the Teams – they may not be the majority of readers, but they are certainly out there. Someone near and dear to me is convinced that the only people who don’t like Kindles are those who haven’t tried one yet and while I’m completely smitten with mine, that sort of thinking makes me want to bite the carpet. At the other extreme, are those who hate e-readers and are affronted by the very sight of people using them in public. I’ve seen exactly that opinion expressed in the comments field of certain online news items and I’m baffled by it.

    There are certain areas where the same thing works well for most people most of the time. Elastoplast, carpet slippers and electricity are all fine things to have. However, when it comes to our consumption of cultural products, there are a whole range of options none of them inherently better or worse, except in the context of what they are trying to deliver. I love printed books. They are accessible, low-tech and democratic and I hope that like radio, they continue to thrive alongside newer formats. I don’t see why we can’t have both as a society and be free to pick and choose as individuals.

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  12. Marron
    March 23, 2013

    Till last year I agreed with you. I though they were poorly written, not edited, not research at all and with not attractive covers. But I was surprised about a recommendation of a friend of mine in goodreads about a historical fiction novel. You will be surprised, better that those with professional reviews with words like “Dazzling”.

    And after that I ask for recommendation from people who discover some good e-book. By now I’m reading in kindle version some of Jane Austen works.

    If you are curious just have a look of “Cossacks In Paris” by an american author Jeffrey Perren.

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This entry was posted on May 25, 2012 by in eBooks, eBooks, Theme weeks.

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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