I read a lot of e-books. Reviewing poetry for Tweetspeak Poetry means I’m read a lot of collections in pdf or e-book formats. Reviewing books on my Faith, Fiction, Friends blog means the same thing, although almost all of those books are e-books and specifically books found on Amazon Kindle.
I like my Amazon Kindle Fire (I also have the Kindle app on my laptop and phone). It saves considerable bookshelf space, for one thing. Many of the books I have there will be read once and not likely read again at some time in the future. While the prices of some Kindle books, particularly more academic ones, are eyebrow-raising, most Kindle book prices are reasonable and usually cheaper than the hardback or paperback.
Two recent books I read, however, reminded me of the pleasures of holding and reading a physical book.
The Lost Tales of Sir Galahad, with stories by various authors, was recently published by The Rabbit Room. It’s a beautiful book, with a bright red embossed cover, creative stories, and wonderful illustrations by Ned Bustard. I’m trying to imagine it as an e-book, and I don’t think it would work as well.
The Bodleian Library recently published a new edition of “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” the famous poem by Thomas Gray. It includes wonderful wood engravings by Agnes Miller Parker, first published in 1938. Her black-and-white illustrations remind me of the paintings by Thomas Hart Benton, full of motion and activities. It’s another book that wouldn’t work as well in an electronic format. (You can read my review of the book at Tweetspeak Poetry.)
There’s something about holding a physical book that brings additional pleasure to reading, probably not unlike holding a printed newspaper adds something to reading the news that an online version doesn’t have. It may be that, for non-fiction books, you can find something more quickly in the index, or that a physical text allows you to see a page as something more than only one screen. Or perhaps I’m just more comfortable with a physical text; it’s the one I’ve known since my mother was reading Grimm Fairy Tales aloud when I was two and three years old.
And that could be it – a physical text creates associations – with its place on a shelf, with people, with what was happening at the time – that an e-book or pdf doesn’t. And a physical text suggests a greater degree of permanence – it’s there even if your internet connection goes down or the battery on your Kindle goes out.
My five novels in the Dancing Priest series were first published on Amazon Kindle in e-book format, followed shortly thereafter by the paperback editions. A couple of months ago, my publisher told me that he’d been contacted by a firm that produced hardback versions, and those editions were also now available. I checked Amazon, and sure enough, there they were.
I bought the first in the series, Dancing Priest, to see what the binding was like. There’s no dust cover or book jacket, but the cover is a sturdy laminated cardboard. It’s not a durable, say, as a hand-stitched leather, but it’s certainly more durable than a paperback. And, yes, I ended up buying all five hardbacks. At $34.99, they’re not inexpensive. But what can an author say?
I picked the last one in the series, Dancing Prince, and read the hardcover version. I can’t say there was anything remarkably different from the paperback, but I did find a slight, perhaps significant, difference. The book, and the story, felt more substantial.
I’ll continue to buy e-books; they’re provide a means to read good writing without breaking the budget. I’ll continue to buy hardbacks and paperbacks, particularly for books I want to keep, reread, and have ready access to because I know exactly where they are or the shelf.
Top photo by Jaredd Craig. Amazon Kindle photo by Freestocks. Both via Unsplash and used with permission.