The Unbridled Joy of Physical Books (+ Why I Own a Kindle)
Where does the unbridled joy of holding a physical book come from?
As a child, I was a (nearly obsessive) reader. Each week, my Mom and I would ride our bicycles to the local library. I’d use my very own library card, which had my name on it and everything, to check out as many books as they would allow at once – I believe it was 10.
In less than a week, all 10 of those books would be read, and I’d be bugging my Mom to go back to the library with me. Even with elementary school and homework, getting through those 10 books was nothing.
I wanted the information – I needed it. It made me feel safe. It made me feel like I could make sense of the world around me. The feeling of holding knowledge in my hands … that’s where the unbridled joy of physical books comes from.
Your journey to reading books may be entirely different, but if you are a book reader, this debate is for you.
Which is your favorite: physical books or eBooks?
Many fellow readers I know can answer right away, and they’ve got a clear list of reasons why one is better than the other.
Let’s break it down, shall we?
- Pro: Many studies show that we focus better + learn more when reading a physical book.
- Pro: Print books are more likely to be conversation starters when you read in public.
- Pro: Traditionally published authors earn more money from print books than eBooks.
- Con: Self-published authors earn less money from print books than eBooks.
- Con: Print books take up far more physical space than an e-reader does.
- Con: Print books require more resources + energy to produce + ship around the world.
- Pro: eBooks, when stored on an eReader like a Kindle or a Nook, are exceptionally portable in large numbers.
- Pro: eBooks take up are less physical space than physical books do.
- Pro: Self-published authors earn more money from eBooks than print books.
- Con: Traditionally published authors earn less from eBooks than print books.
- Con: So far, studies have shown that our brains don’t retain as much information from reading an eBook versus reading a physical book (no matter how much you highlight).
- Con: I have a personal theory: you’re more likely to buy an eBook and forget to read it than if you had bought a physical book. (Has anyone studied this yet?)
Can you think of any others?
I asked fellow readers on social media what their favorite was + I got some fabulous responses!
Physical books for me. I associate handheld screens with games, scrolling, and time-wasting. Because of that it’s hard for me to focus when reading on an e-reader. Something about holding the book and turning the pages slows me down and brings me back to a simpler time. Plus, you never know when e-books could all be taken away! Like anything in the cloud. 😜 – @morningdepature on Instagram
I like both, love the convenience of downloading a book at the airport and reading it by the beach on my kindle BUT when it comes to any artsy, design books I love the actual books. I know this is not part of your questioner but I also love audible for the long commutes I have to work, so I do all three! – @n2design on Instagram
For enjoyment, I like ebooks on my phone for the convenience. For learning I like real books. I do hate that there’s no physical legacy for ebooks but it’s so nice to be able to read just with one hand holding a sleeping baby in the dark. – Jessica S. on Facebook
I like eBooks on a tablet. The form factor is comfier than a phone and comparable in page size to an actual book. While I appreciate the smell and feel of physical books and the character of seeing well-established bookshelves, I’ve tried to minimalize keeping physical media as much as I can. Whether books, games, music, etc., a collection is difficult to move and takes up way too much space for what little sentiment is attached to all but a few favorite things. – Michael A. Z. on Facebook
Kindle because my arthritis makes it hard to hold certain books open for long periods of time and using contraptions just so I can use a physical book is too much. The lighting on the Paperwhite is also helpful for eye strain for me. – Mallie R. on Facebook
If it is a book that I want to keep and has any degree of special meaning I will always buy a physical book (pref hardcover) and save digital reads for what I see as more “easy” reading for travelling etc ! – Nicole H. on Facebook
I still prefer paper – I like the feel of the physical book in my hand, turning the physical page, and it’s easier on my eyes. Although I do own a kindle too. – Ginny T. T. on Facebook
When searching on Google, there are a plethora of articles about why physical books are better than eBooks, and why eBooks are better than print books.
In the end, the point of this article is not to convince you either way or to prove, once and for all, which type of book is better.
To make the most of the knowledge books have to offer, I think everyone should read a mix of physical books + eBooks.
(Let the controversy begin!)
When I post about what I’m reading on Twitter or Instagram, you’ll see a mix of eBooks and print books.
Yes, there’s a specific reason for that.
I love physical books. I love the feeling of holding them: the weight of the book, the thickness of the pages, the sound the page makes when you turn it – all of it. I love putting my bookmark in a physical book and seeing how far I’ve read + how much further I have to go.
I also love eBooks. I love how I can support self-published authors more by buying eBooks. I love how I can take my Kindle with me anywhere + have more than one book to choose from, especially when I travel. I love not having a bookcase cluttering up my apartment + collecting dust.
After being an avid reader for 30+ years, I still can’t choose between physical books + eBooks … so how do I choose what type of book to buy?
Depends on the book itself.
I often buy eBooks for business or self-help-related topics that I’m confident I’ll want to read or refer to again. I’ll almost always buy an eBook if I know the author is self-published to help them earn more royalties.
I often get physical books if it’s fiction or a topic I’m not likely to refer to again, like historical or cultural books.
No matter WHAT the book is about, I have two simple rules:
- Always rent a physical book from the library, if it’s available.
- If I find myself wanting to highlight the book or take photos of the text, I’ll start taking notes in a Google doc.
Why these two rules?
Libraries are one of the most underutilized resources available. Think about it: books, for free. Come on!
Many libraries also offer additional workshops, events, and access to digital services like video streaming and magazines for no extra charge.
If I end up renting a book from the library and loving it, I’ll buy the eBook so I can re-read it anytime I want (and to support the author because they’re clearly awesome!).
What if the library doesn’t have the book? Two options:
- If it’s a book I’m sure I’ll read again, I’ll buy the eBook.
- If I don’t think I’ll read the whole book again, I’ll buy a physical book, read it, then pass the book on to someone else or donate it to the library (they obviously need a copy).
It all starts with the library.
What about highlighting or taking notes?
As a writer, I often end up writing about what I read, or it becomes useful to quote a book later, depending on what I’m writing about (that includes fiction books too!).
If I don’t have the eBook, I can’t refer to my digital highlights (which aren’t very easy to search anyway), so I’ll keep a Google doc for each book I read + find particularly compelling, to refer back to anytime I want.
Somewhat similarly, Ryan Holiday uses a notecard system when he’s reading/researching for a new book.
I love this method, minus the fact that it’s all physical, which makes it harder to search for something specific. If I did try a notecard system, I’d type up all the notecards after I finished the book, so I had them to easily search or cross-reference.
Which is better: Physical books or Ebooks?
Neither. There is no right or wrong answer here.
Reading is important. If reading a physical book makes you enjoy it more, go for it. If you love eBooks for their portability, read them instead. Maybe you’re like me and you appreciate them both.
We don’t have to maximize every aspect of our lives.
Eventually, all improvement will have diminishing returns.
You don’t have to pick and choose – all reading is good reading, as long as it’s just the first step in your journey.