Has the e-book really replaced the bookshelf?
If you stopped to take a look at this piece, you’re likely a reader. Like me, you absolutely love devouring words strung together to form stories or ideas, and find that well crafted words are one of the most beautiful forms of art and entertainment. There have never been more ways to read a book; we can access words on our computers, phones, e-readers, tablets, and of course, real paper books. But how much does the medium we choose for reading matter?
In a recent article in the New York Times, “Our (Bare) Shelves, Our Selves,” Teddy Wayne talks about the rise in digital music and e-books as means for digesting art and entertainment, and he questions the health of this movement. Wayne seems to be in favor of physical copies of books and music and even throws in statistical support for the benefits of physical varieties. According to his article, having a well-stocked physical library has proven to make a difference in the reading performance of adolescents. Studies are still in process regarding the effects of e-books. But Wayne and others claim that there is great value in having a familial library with history and accessibility, things that are difficult to come by with e-books, even with Amazon’s family plan.
Wayne’s article pushing the value of physical books is interesting in light of recent pieces like this one discussing the value of experience over material possessions. The article highlights points such as the anticipation of an experience, and our tendency to be quickly bored with material goods. Experience also brings personal development. Experiences are harder to compare to one another than material possessions, and so are open to further interpretation later. Citing a recent study on how humans enjoy events, the author notes that we often find even greater value in an experience when it is finished, and we can look back and have fond memories. After we purchase an object, however, there is nothing to look back on, and we are stuck with what we have, whether we like it or not.
Along with many in my generation, I prefer experience to possessions, but I am an avid collector of books (and can be known to get a little carried away in bookstores). You might think there is a disconnect here. But I think that physical books actually satisfy the requirement of experience better than e-books, and that taken together, both of these articles actually provide another argument for the value of purchasing physical books. I believe that purchasing, reading, and possessing an actual book on a shelf should be seen as an experience, not just the acquirement of another material good.
I have a Pinterest board titled ‘A Place to Store Adventures.’ With a name like that, you might not expect it to contain image after image of beautiful bookshelves, but that’s what it holds.
To me, every book is a potential adventure waiting to be pulled from an over-crowded shelf. I’ve heard people defend their habit of purchasing books by explaining that it isn’t about reading every book, but about the knowledge that the volumes are there, waiting and ready to be read.
While reading an e-book can involve experience, it seems to me that it does not have as many of the key qualities mentioned in the second article. I own a Kindle and have read things on my phone and computer. While the reading is still an adventure, I find it nearly impossible to stay focused or to maintain a sense of excitement while reading. Seeing a little percentage completed note at the bottom of an electronic screen simply isn’t the same as crossing the halfway point in a thick paperback and realizing that you’re beginning the approach towards the end.
There is something exciting in the anticipation of opening up the new (or let’s be real, used) book you recently added to your shelf. And a physical book can become a storehouse of memories. I frequently look back at old books to see what I underlined or commented on in the margins that stood out to me. The look and feel of marked pages takes me back to when I was reading the book in the first place. I’ve never gone back to look at an e-book I’ve finished reading to see what interested me (even if I used their little highlight function).
I think that, because of the strength of the experience they provide, there will always be an appreciation for actual copies of books. The points brought out in the first article tying adolescent reading with development may be true, but to a twenty-something unmarried person like me, the connection between physical books and experience hits home, and assuages some of the concerns I’ve had with my own collection addiction. I believe that reading is valuable in any form. But it seems clear that reading a physical copy of something is more likely to take our minds away from the bustling digital world for at least a little while and take us on an adventure filled with anticipation. Now, go find a local bookstore and place some adventures on your shelves.