Paper or Plastic?

I haven’t heard this question in years, even when I forget my reusable grocery bags. Why ask it here? It’s my image of the eBook-hard copy debate (by hard copy I mean a book in its traditional form, be it paperback or hardcover). I really am not a Luddite, as I use technology when it suits me, but I resisted getting an eReader for years. I could think of very few ways in which a reader surpasses a book, and I even secretly feared that the device’s rise would destroy one of my guilty pleasures. Bookstores have long been sources of comfort when I’ve been upset: I’ll go to one and wander among the shelves for a while, usually coming out with a few consolation prizes. I even worked in a bookstore during a particularly difficult time in my life. Yes, I spent most of my pay on books. There’s something about touching a physical book, pulling it off the shelf, examining the cover, skimming a few pages, taking in the design of the pages, enjoying the weight and feel of the paper that I don’t think I could live without. This physical enjoyment carries over into the actual reading of a hard copy book.

One day I finally discovered a compelling reason to buy an eReader—the ability to carry a huge number of books with me when I traveled. Now I’d be able to easily switch books if one I began didn’t suit my mood. I wouldn’t have to drag a nearly overweight bag around and deal with the occasional luggage searches (apparently if you put a number of books side by side in the bottom of a suitcase it makes a dense mass that can’t be easily “read” by a bag screener). I suspect my husband appreciates my mom’s gift of a new reader with a built-in light as much as I do. He finds it much less annoying at night than my leaving the lamp on to read myself to sleep. Now that I’ve put a reader app on my phone I’m never without a book, be it waiting in line or in the doctor’s office.

All that said, I still prefer hard copy books, not just for their weight and “feel,” but also for their design. Most of the books I’ve downloaded lack the variation in fonts, formatting, and chapter design that contribute to the art of a book. There’s a generic blandness to eBooks that awaits transformation. I don’t think that eBooks will ever completely replace books, and I hope they never will. And I still annoy my husband at night—“I just want to finish this chapter, and I don’t have this on my reader.” I want my real book.

More on the paper or plastic debate and editing later.

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