Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Book vs Ebook

Yet another post on how good, old paper will beat bytes and any kind of screens, in the end - you are thinking.

Not at all: only some thoughts on what is good and what is not in reading ebooks, from a readaholic.

I read 50/60 books in a year, more or less one per week. Fiction and essays, in Italian or in English. I’m a commuter, so I read a lot while traveling by train to and from work. But I like to read also on the sofa, in bed, relaxed in the garden, flushed on the beach. Whenever I have time, and a good story to lose in.

I have been seduced by the idea of a portable electronic device since the late Nineties.
I remember wandering around SMAU in 2001 - when it was still a landmark if you were looking for innovative technology - hoping to find a device which was really portable, useful and, why not, cheap. A unicorn, and in fact I did not find it.

Oddly enough, when the wave of portable, cheap and eyes-friendly ebook readers came into the market, I resisted. A number of years. Maybe beacuse I could not give up the smell of paper, or just because I wanted to keep being a collector.
Anyway, at one point a couple of years ago I surrendered: I was given a Kindle Paperwhite and from that moment my readaholic problem has got a real boost.

I can read in any light condition and can bring with me as many books as I like, feeling free to choose the one to go on reading depending on my mood, my goals and the time I have.
I can highlight sentences and take notes even if I have no pen at hand, and I can read them on the Web.
I still buy and read paper books, but I would not come back to an age without ebooks.

Yet there is still something that makes me a bit uncomfortable with ebooks.

I still have some orientation problems: even if Kindle gives me various options to measure my progress (relative position, percentage and time left), I miss the possibility to give a look to the thickness of the book and guess how much I’ve read by comparing the gray portion to the spotless white one. Even if it is a guess, in fact, and far from the precision with which the Kindle time left function can predict when I finish reading the book.

Moreover, I tend to forget quickly the title and author of the book I’m reading, especially when I buy books out of curiosity and I have not read that author before. I think it’s a matter of visual memory: the paper cover I have to see every single time I take the book helps me keep those pieces of information in mind. Maybe some ebook readers (the Kindle itself - I have not checked, to be sincere) have a feature to display the cover of the book everytime you start reading. That would be of real help in the overall experience.

Another point about the cover of a book: with ebook readers now it is quite impossible to take a peek into what the commuter sat next to you is reading. A good point, you will say: no room for snoopers, or for embarrassment when reading Fifty shades of something (or The wealth of Nations, for what matters). No room for serendipity, too, I say. It is good to know what other people around you read, especially if it seems particularly interesting, or funny.

I am not only a readaholic, but also a compulsive book buyer, and in spite of the hectic pace of my reading activities, I still have dozens of books piled in my bookcase. The problem is, my bookcase has boundaries and that really helps limit my compulsive habit. My digital library, though, is intangible and (quite) limitless, and my intents get lost in digital space.
When I attended University, I stumbled upon two different examples of “hyperbolic book piling”. Both were professors and could allocate a really good budget for books. One had them spread all over the house, even in part of the double bed (with great disappointment of his fiancĂ©e, I suppose). The other had one room full of bookcases as tall as the roof, all piled with many layers of books. Once he invited us to listen to some pieces of classical music in that room, for the bounce on so much paper made the sound unique.
The first professor will have gained an advantage from ebooks (I hope, or he’ll be divorced), while I hope the second will still have the book-lined room to listen to classical music.

Now I’m leaving you: I have to pile up my good, old paper stuff.

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