Digital vs. Paper (And Does it Matter?)

How many arguments have you had with friends over your preference for either paper books or e-reader books?  If you’re like me, that discussion has arisen more than once and has occasionally turned heated.  The thing that gets me is how some people think they have to choose one or the other.  I have a foot in both camps; for some books, I buy the hard copy; for others, the e-reader version is fine. 

I love the feel and smell and general sensation of holding a real book between my hands, and my tendency is to want to hold on to every single book I read.  I do have a small library, and there are bookcases and stacks of books scattered throughout my house.  Still, accommodating all of the books I buy is impractical, if not impossible.  So I had to come up with a system.  I tend to purchase hard copies of non-fiction books, reference books, or books for which I have a particular fondness.  An exception to this rule is books that are part of a large series that would overrun my bookshelves if I tried to keep them all.  Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series is on the shelf, all of Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe’s books are on my e-reader.  For “beach reads” or “weekend reads,” I tend to go with the e-reader version.

In my view, the important point is that—regardless of the format—one is reading a book.  When, I ask a new friend or acquaintance if they like to read, I am left somewhat speechless if their answer is “no.”  I mean, what the heck?!  How can that be?!  I usually stammer a little as I try to smile and pretend that it’s okay with me that they don’t share my passion, but inwardly I’m appalled.  The reason is quite simple:  aside from the obvious pleasure to be had, reading books is, in my view, a fundamental building block toward being one’s best self.

Because you’re here, my guess is that you already appreciate the sensory and soul-fulfilling experience of reading a book, the emotional bond one forms with characters, and the emotional and intellectual journey on which they can take us.  A book is an immersive experience that can do everything from merely entertaining to expanding our minds.  Books force us to exercise our imaginations.  At their best, books also improve our ability to handle abstract thoughts, sharpen our critical thinking skills, and broaden our understanding of people and places we might not otherwise experience.

I suppose there are other methods by which one can achieve this state of literary grace, though I’m hard-pressed to come up with one.  Television and movies, wonderful as they are (and I am a HUGE fan of movies), simply don’t offer the intimate, in-depth experience that a book gives us.  Travel is great and certainly gives one a broader appreciation of the terrestrial world, but it is transitory and often lacks depth, not to mention that it IS limited to our terrestrial and physical world.  As far as I know, no travel agency offers tours of Narnia, Wonderland, Arrakis, or Westeros.  And, travel can be out of reach for many people.  A man named John Lubbock once wrote, “We may sit in our library and yet be in all quarters of the earth.”  Books are democratizers of both intellectual entertainment and information.

The point I’m trying to make here is that, like exercise, it’s not the method but the doing of it that matters.  I know that, in addressing this audience, I’m preaching to the choir.  But, if you’re like me and find yourself somewhat speechless when you are confronted with sheepish, lame excuses for why a friend or acquaintance doesn’t read books, maybe I’ve given you a word or two to get you started with your argument for a change in their habits.

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