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Books vs. e-books

I am the first to admit that e-books have advantages over paper books.

E-books can be cheap or even free, accessed from a variety of locations, and transported with ease. E-books take up none of your living space and certainly make moving to a new apartment less arduous.

Trees don’t need to be cut down to produce e-books and fossil fuels don’t need to be used to ship them; they’re relatively resource-free. Disposing of an e-reader can be environmentally damaging, but responsible users will mail old devices and used batteries to the proper recycling centers.

While downloading books can be quick and easy, it can also be fraught with improper and failed downloads, conversion errors, garbled text, missing images, and charts and graphs that have come unanchored from their accompanying text. In some instances, publishers themselves strip out a book’s images for the electronic version.

My biggest complaint about e-books is the extremely limited selection currently available to the average user.

I conducted searches on seven major e-book sites for five book titles I have read in the past year. Titles included fiction (William Faulkner’s “Intruder in the Dust” and Willa Cather’s “Sapphira and the Slave Girl”), popular fiction (Vendela Vida’s “Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name”), nonfiction (Alison Weir’s “The Life of Elizabeth I”), and poetry (Frank O’Hara’s “Collected Poems”).

The only book available on any of the sites was Vendela Vida’s recently published novel. Super weak.

Downloading books isn’t necessarily a money-saver, either.

While there are super-cheap public-domain books available, those books aren’t necessarily what you’re looking for. The books I am interested in purchasing in the near future range in price from $8 to $20 as e-books, the equivalent of the paperback price.

Even if I liked the idea of owning an e-reader, I couldn’t afford one. Avid users may save enough money by downloading books to off-set the cost of purchasing an e-reader within a year or two, but long-term savings don’t factor in if you’re always scraping by.

Obviously, I prefer books to e-books.

I like holding books, writing notes in their margins, absent-mindedly flipping their pages as I talk to someone. I like their smells, fonts, colors, shapes, weights and spines. I like carved wooden bookcases filled with books.

If I lived in a very cramped space or if I traveled all the time, an e-reader might be a practical choice. But for now, I’ll stick to the old-fashioned physical kind.

Tomorrow: Do book clubs use e-readers?

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