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Why I Don’t Use an E-Reader

A few minutes ago, a friend sent me a Facebook message. She had seen a picture my wife posted with all my books packed up in boxes and ready to move, and she wanted to know why I didn’t use an e-reader. Here were the first 12 reasons I came up with. Some are practical, others are mystical, none are judgmental:

1. I like the physical “presence” of books in the house. The Bible talks about being surrounded by “a great cloud of witnesses.” As a writer, that’s what books are for me.

2. I like the aesthetics of physical books, including their design, layout and typography,their heft and texture, and even the smell of the pages. I also like how they look clustered together on a shelf.

3. I want my kids to grow up in a house full of books.

4. I want to give my kids my books someday, if they’ll have them.

5. I think libraries and bookstores are the greatest.

6. I write in the margins of many of my books. I know e-books let you use marginalia. But the physical act of writing, most often with a pencil, is how I make sense of the world, up to and including how I process and memorize the things I’m reading.

7. I used an iPad to read a book once and it drove me crazy when I couldn’t read it because the battery was dead. Of course, it was my fault for not plugging it in.

8. Reading while walking is one of my favorite simple pleasures. Somehow it seems safer to read a book while walking than using an e-reader. Similarly, I love rolling a paperback and shoving it into my back pocket for a walk or hike. A keen observer of my bookshelves will be able to tell which books are my favorites: They are either battered from much love and much use…or they are brand new because I keep giving away copies to friends.

9. I have a growing realization that the more I can avoid screens of all kinds, the better writer I will be.

10. Physical books are easier to discover. No one gives away e-books in boxes on the street corner. I’ve never been to a friend’s house and ask to browse his e-reader. It’s much easier to pick a book up off a shelf (at the library, bookstore, friend’s house, etc.), read the inside flap, and decide whether or not I want to bring it home. This is the same reason I still prefer my local video store to Netflix.

11. Physical books are easier to loan or give away. I know e-readers let you loan books, but don’t many have time restrictions? When I try to force a good book on a friend–saying, “You just HAVE to read this”–I don’t want to worry about file compatibility.

12. The three most compelling arguments I’ve ever heard on behalf of e-readers are (a) that you can get books instantaneously, if you have Internet access; (b) you can hold hundreds of books in just one device; and (c) you don’t have to lug fifty boxes of books from your old house to your new one. The last answer I can totally get behind, as can my aching back. But answer (a) doesn’t work for me because I’m the kind of person who can’t be trusted with impulse purchases. And (b) doesn’t work for me because I can’t think of reason why I’d need hundreds of books at any one time.

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