E-readers: worth the investment?


BookshelfI have a passionate, somewhat obsessive, relationship with books. Real books: paper, ink and glue. Not digital books. I have a lot of books and I treasure each one like an old friend. I love reading – I read books at least an hour every day, and usually much more. The feel of a book in my hands is a comfort and a delight.

I worked in book publishing – a dream job for anyone with a passion for reading.

I’ve never been seduced by an e-reader – even though at heart I’m a techie geek who likes hardware and gadgets almost as much as books. E-readers always seemed to cater to the pop-fiction crowd and I don’t read much contemporary fiction (mostly non-fiction: science, history, politics fill my shelves). However, I do read fiction: mostly the classics.

I also resist buying a digital book if I can’t share it, can’t keep it on a shelf to re-open later, can’t write my name on the inside, can’t clip it into a pocket or a knapsack. I like to have a small, unruly stack of books beside my bed so I can read chapters from several titles before I sleep. And books on the dining room table. Books on the toilet tank lid. Books on the floor. On the coffee table beside the couch.

An e-reader just seems so tidy.

But I suppose it’s not really very different from buying a computer game or DLC on Steam or buying vehicles on World of Tanks (which I’ve done without any philosophical pondering). They’re digital downloads, too, not actual purchases, like e-books.

I understand the appeal of e-readers. Having once travelled to Mexico for a two-week vacation with a box of books as carry-on luggage, I appreciate the convenience  - and small size – of an e-reader. Trying to hold a 1,200-page book or even a 2,000-page book on my chest to read in bed or trying to fit almost any large book on my shelves into a bookstand to read during lunch has convinced me of the benefits of compact size. (Yes, I have several books that thick…)

I was in my library/music room, yesterday, looking through my eclectic and rather worn collection of aging paperbacks: the old Penguins and Pelicans, the Bantams and Aces, the works of Kipling, Dickens, Tolstoy, Brautigan, Vonnegut, Burroughs, Woolf, Durrell, Austen, Joyce, Achebe, Marquez, Hugo, Burgess, Orwell, Asturias.

Some yellowing, a little brittle, spines cracking. Old friends, some of which have been with me for 30, 40, and even more years…

Old friends,
Sat on their park bench
Like bookends.
A newspaper blown through the grass
Falls on the ’round toes
On the high shoes
Of the old friends.
Old Friends: Simon & Garfunkel

A lot of these are classic works, dating from the early twentieth century and earlier: now public domain titles which have long been digitized and available in various formats online. Dickens, for example. Shakespeare. Darwin. Austen. Thackery. Some Burroughs. Books I could easily and freely have in digital format.

Last week I bought another copy of A Tale of Two Cities – a small hardcover from a local used bookstore – to replace my paperback which is losing pages from age and use. It’s a great book and one I’ll likely read a couple of times more, so I wanted another copy. But as I walked home with it, I thought that an e-reader would be perfect for this sort of book and for many of the other books on my shelves. The same goes for Vanity Fair – a book I’m currently reading.

The PD versions are free, easily downloaded, and could be backed up on flash drives or other media for storage.

I could save the money I spend on these works and put it towards other titles I want in a real book format.

Plus I think I could put some of my ukulele music in PDF format on them and carry an e-reader with me rather than a couple of binders of music.

And then there are the computer/web design books I buy now and then. After a couple of years, they’re outdated and unwanted. Standards and styles change, technologies change. I had to toss into recycling a box of old computer language and instruction books last year simply because they were so outdated no one wanted them. Many of these  books cost $30-$50 each, an investment you never recover.

An e-book version is much less expensive, and could save me from having to recycle older titles after a few years. Save money, lower my greenhouse gas footprint.

So I’m finally looking at e-readers as a potential purchase. I’ve narrowed it down to a choice between the Kindle Paperwhite 2 and the Kobo Aura HD. There are advantages and benefits of each, and I’m torn between them. Both have had great reviews and passionate owners who swear theirs is the best on the planet.

KoboThe Kobo lets me borrow books from the local library, and has a slot to expand the internal memory to 32GB. The screen has a somewhat higher resolution. It handles PDF files somewhat better than other choices. But it’s the more expensive choice by $30 (plus taxes). And while it isn’t Canadian, it’s sold by a Canadian company: Indigo Books.

KindleThe Kindle has a better selection of e-books, but its memory can’t be expanded (only about 1.2 GB is available for books). It handles PDFs less elegantly than the Kobo, but it does have a text reflow option the Kobo doesn’t offer. I don’t like Amazon’s predatory policies about pricing and publishers, either. But it’s $30 less. And as a Prime member, I can get some benefits from Amazon’s store with the Kindle.

I’m leaning towards the latter, in great part because of the lower cost, but I’m still not sure. That expandable memory is tempting.

It’s a big investment – I can but a lot of real books for that amount. I’ll continue to read the reviews and ask questions on forums and social media. And make up my mind after a few more days. Your comments, and suggestions and personal experiences with e-readers will be appreciated.

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