What We Love About Books — Myths and Realities

It seems that Amazon is trying to replicate, or at least find an equivalent for, something that book lovers obsess about in physical books. A new Kindle — a very pricey Kindle — is now available and designed to arouse the same feelings of adoration that physical books supposedly do.

“For all of their conveniences, e-readers have never been able to replicate what people love most about physical books. The smell of an old leather binding; the crisp deckle edge of a new hardback; the way a dog-eared paperback feels in your hand. The way they look on a shelf, or stuffed into your back pocket; the way they show people at a glance what you’re reading, so you can connect with a friend or stranger over a shared affinity—or show off your good taste.”

Is this actually true for most people? As someone who’s been reading physical books for about 75 years, I can honestly say that what I love most about books is the words. The smell, the look, the feel: those can be pleasant, but they’re way down in the list of what attracts me to a book or gives me pleasure. And if you want your books to show off your good taste, then they’re simply objects that serve to enhance your ego. It’s been pointed out that reading an ebook in public allows you to hide your “bad” taste — good — but also prevents you from showing off your “good” taste — bad.

I may be alone in this, but I fail to comprehend how the smell or feel of a physical book enhances the reading experience. The most desirable feature of a novel is that it allows you to escape the real world and immerse yourself in an imaginary one. Nonfiction books convey new knowledge. Neither of those require an awareness of the physicality of the container. I’d even insist that any book that leaves you aware of the container has failed in its task.

I appreciate the hell out of my Kindle, but it’s just a different container. It has advantages over physical books, and disadvantages. If you’re really a book lover you’ll choose the container that works best for the book, the time, and the place.

Book Lovers Obsess Over Books. Could They Ever Feel the Same About a Kindle?



7 thoughts on “What We Love About Books — Myths and Realities

  1. I agree, but I also think there are just as many different kinds of readers as there are writers. Some folks really get into the container their books come in. And sometimes I do, too. Not all the time, but sometimes. (shrugs)

  2. I have friends who have (inherited?) an enormous library of hardcover books: Exodus, QBVII, and every ‘important’ novel of the 20th century. I would love to read some of them. I drool when I visit (for something else, and I can easily get the contents if I wanted to reread some of the books, and it would be difficult to return a book so I don’t ask to borrow).

    I don’t know if they ever get taken off a shelf.

    1. Used books stores are usually loaded with harcover copies of those “important” books, if you really want to read them. They’re a drug on the market, as are the paperbacks. They’re easy to find on Amazon and half.com. Half.com sets the bottom price at $.75, but you can find books for a penny on Amazon.

      I never buy hardbacks if a paperback is available.

  3. I don’t own a Kindle ’cause I hate the feel (and look) of them. I might go the Oasis, if I was prepared to spend the money. If I hang on long enough, at the rate I’m embracing technology, they’ll have antique leather cases and who knows wot else 🙂

    1. I actually like the feel of the Kindle. The look, though? Don’t care about the externals, just how well it displays the words. My eyes are pretty happy with it. Much better than trying to make my way through the cramped typography of mass market paperbacks and even some trade paperbacks that fashionably use grey type instead of black.

      1. Interesting your remark about badly designed print books. For a friend’s, birthday, I recently ordered through Amazon the bio of Keroac by Ann Charters, a new version published by St Martins Press, NY, with a foreword by Allen Ginsberg. When I got the book, it was so awful to read, with far too many words to the page, and paper that the ink sank into really badly. I complained to Amazon, who not only gave me back my money, but told me not to bother returning the book. I’ll never buy a book put out by that press again.

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