In Defense of Print Books

In fourth grade, my sister’s class had an assignment to count the number of books in their home. She stopped counting at 375. (Second place had 92.)

My parents’ home was filled with books. Every available foot of wall had a bookshelf against it, and the bookshelves were packed. At every birthday and Christmas, they gave each of us at least one book. I never realized how intentional and deliberate that was until recently, when we were discussing Christmas gifts for their grandchildren.

I love digital books. They’re terribly convenient. More and more of my reading takes place on my iPad. But I doubt I’ll ever say goodbye to paper books completely.

©iStockphoto/Shevchuk Boris

  • It’s a full-sensory experience. I had started to summarize my thoughts and feelings on this, then I came across the following in Rough Beasts of Empire, by David R. George, III.

    His mother, a teacher, had educated him on the value of books—actual physical books, with hard covers and paper pages. Of course, logic dictated the superiority of books stored on automated media, owing to such characteristics as their searchable nature, their greater portability, and their ability to include hyperlinks. Spock’s mother had not availed herself of logic when espousing her views about books; she had preached instead about how they felt when held in the hands, how the paper delivered a distinctive and somehow special scent, how words appeared somehow more alive when seen on a page instead of a screen. Completely illogical, and yet she had still managed to pass on to him her appreciation of physical books, something he had retained throughout the rest of his life.

  • Unplugged, distraction-free reading. When reading a digital book, distraction happens. Even if you’re disciplined enough to keep reading, you get interrupted by new emails and iMessages. A paper book lets you immerse yourself in another world, without getting constantly yanked back.

  • They look better on the shelf. I love shelves full of books. I love the reminders of journeys I’ve taken, of the inspiration I’ve received, and of the people who gave me the book. There’s something immensely satisfying about pulling a book off the shelf and flipping through it to reference something. Just make sure they’re trophies you’ve earned, and not just unread vanitiy titles selected to impress guests.

  • Build your library for cheaper. You can find a lot of great books on Amazon for no more than $4, shipped. Used books, often in great condition, can cost less than half the price of the digital book. Thrift stores and library book sales will let you grow your collection inexpensively.

  • You can transfer ownership. When you purchase a paper book, you own it. You can give it as a gift, resell it, return it, or let it look beautiful on your shelf. The picture isn’t quite as clear with digital books.

  • You can mark them up any way you want. While you can mark up digital books, your options are limited. Paper books give you complete freedom in how you mark them up. You can highlight, underline, redact, bookmark, flag, write in the margins, dog-ear, and even insert supplemental pages.

  • Your children see you reading. With a digital book, my children will only see me using a tablet. They don’t know if I’m reading, surfing, or watching videos. But when they see me reading a paper book, they’ll know that I’m reading. They’ll know it’s important to read to learn, to grow, and to have fun.

Paper books do have their disadvantages; so do digital books. But they have such allure and such charm. They’re fun to spend time with. Reading on the iPad is very functional and perfunctory. Reading on paper is immersive. A paper book draws you in. Paper is what reading first was, and there is a part of me that will always find a greater satisfaction in sitting down with a good book.

Read Michael Hyatt’s thoughts on why he’s going back to physical books—for now.

Question: What’s your favorite way to read? Share your thoughts in the comments, or on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

About

Colter writes software and blogs about personal growth and productivity. He lives in Silicon Valley (California) with his wife and children, recently took up golf, and watches mostly British TV shows.

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