Paper or Plastic?

Most people still prefer paper books to eReaders. Sometimes I ask people why and they shrug and motion with their hands as though there’s something tactile about it, but they don’t put it into words. For some people, ‘hand-feel’ is important.

I’m used to paper books, but I don’t think there is any mysterious X-factor about them that doesn’t translate to eBooks. Print books are just more sensuous. If you like the experience of reading itself (in addition to the content you’re reading), printed books win because every one is different. The cover, the font, the weight, it’s empirically more interesting. If you just care about the content, go eReader.

My Kobo looks the same no matter what content I’m reading. It’s small, sterile looking, doesn’t have the smell of pages, and will never give me the satisfaction of seeing a tiny gap where a bookmark holds my progress. Plus, a Kobo looks dumb on a bookshelf.

I prefer paper to plastic when the book is one I’ll want to reference again. It’s a hassle to find a passage in an eBook. With print books I can usually remember approximately what page I read something on, and where on the page. But on an eBook every page is in the same place, the display screen, and often the page count is misleading, so I waste time scanning for passages.

Where eBooks are a clear favorite though, is for travelling. Taking a slim, effective Kobo on a trip beats taking a suitcase full of books that’ll have to get checked because I’m still reading Infinite Jest. The other clear advantage is a built-in dictionary. It’s truly great to be able to find a definition without pulling out my phone.

Both are great, and I use the one the best one for the job.

10 thoughts on “Paper or Plastic?

  1. …or sound waves. I’ve been liking the audiobook lately. Also gives the reader (listener) the added element of a performance (which is sometimes great, sometimes awful).

    • Good call. Audio books are great, but I do find them a completely different animal from paper or plastic books. Road trips or mindless labour seem to be the only time I make progress on audio books, and in that case there’s nothing else that will do the trick.

  2. Like you, I prefer paper books, because every time I see the paper book will feel when reading a book I really will not be disturbed by other things, unlike other electronic products are very easy to make me distracted. I was a kid in school when I prize essay contest is to get a book, I was very happy, and now technologically advanced, and I unconsciously chose to use electronics to books, but I still miss holding books feeling. My mother has always insisted on watching paper books, paper books to make her feel that reading a real sense, at this point, I agree with and understand.

    • I expect that just about everyone born before 1990 will prefer paper books to electronic ones. Newer generations who grow up with ebooks will tell us something; if the majority, being accustomed to ebooks, discover and prefer paper books, I will be surprised. I like everything about paper books, but it’s impossible to say whether or not I prefer them because I’m used to them. Thanks for commenting.

  3. For me, reading from e-readers make my eyes hurt. I don’t feel comfortable reading from a device. It doesn’t allow me to focus to the story that I am reading, because usually when I read books, I read for good 2 hours. So it’s better for me to actually read from a book, I am able to imagine the story that I am reading.Even when I am travelling I usually take a book with me.

    • I do find a big difference between reading on an iPad (or smartphone) and something like a Kindle or Kobo that uses e-ink (or whatever it’s called). It might have something to do with reflected light vs. projected light, but I can’t tell if the difference is all in my head or not. I prefer paper books, but it’s so easy for me to fill shelf space with paper books it’s become a bit of a problem. Every year or so I have to go through my shelves and purge. I appreciate the convenience of having a few dozen books on a small device, especially for travel, and I don’t find my Kobo strains my eyes.

  4. I along with probably most people who were born before the 2000s agree with you that paper is better than plastic. I especially agree with you when you mentioned the mysterious x-factor that is present in physical books. There is something that just cannot be explained about holding the book in your hands and engaging in the material (also books smell good). In fact, one of my professors told me that statistically reading from physical mediums result in a higher understanding of the material. However, I do think this thought process is going to change in future years because like you mentioned above, e-books are just more efficient. New generation readers are going to start off reader digital; therefore, they will be already indulged in e-books and might frown upon people who prefer the physical thing because they consider them inferior.

    • Books do smell good. It’s also satisfying to feel that weight in your hand, and to be able to see your progress by leaf by leaf. I tried to wean myself away from paper but it just keeps drawing me back. One of the main rationalizations I use is that it’s easier to find references in paper books. Any nonfiction book that might contain a fact I want to retrieve, or any great prose in a novel I might want to find, needs to be on my shelf in paper format. I probably go a little overboard with this policy though. Can’t help it.

  5. I think the media that you grew up with using also has a large effect on which tool is normally preferable. As a kid, I grew up reading Dr Seuss on physical paper and haven’t had as much time to gather a habit with using ebooks, so I’m a bit biased. I definitely agree there’s something simply more classic and warm about the idea of holding a physical book and being able to flip through the pages. I can dog-ear, bend or rip paper on my books out of nervous habit, but sometimes with my ebook, I find my nervous fidgeting somewhat unfulfilled since all I can really do is hold it. The travel aspect of ebooks is a pretty important, redeeming quality, though. I find books are great “trophies” and hold a sentimental value, but ebooks also have a great place in terms of being pretty transportable and easily accessible in boring blimps of a moment like waiting at the dentist’s office. Additionally, I find the environmental benefits of ebooks the most redeeming quality and well worth the sacrifice of not buying physical books, too. Regardless of my nervous ticks.

    • Good call about the environmental impact. That is important. And I agree about the “trophy” aspect of books; there are a lot of books I really just want to have on my shelf. And I can justify this with some books more than others. I know that Story by Robert McKee is a good book to have on the shelf because I use it as a writing reference often enough. I can’t say the same for Ulysses though, which seems like I book I’d reference from time to time, but I’ve rarely touched it since reading it.

      I cannot bring myself to dog-ear pages. I’m too anal about books, for no particular reason. I even have a method to flex the spine so it won’t crack. Most of my books look brand new even after a couple reads. Thinking about someone dog-earing a book is almost enough to give me nervous ticks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.