On Instagram, readers frequently upload lavish pictures of bookshelves and books in an aesthetically pleasing way. The reason is clear: books are beautiful. We can recall the scene in Beauty and The Beast, where the latter surprises Belle with the magnificent library. Likewise, books have a rich history and libraries such as the one at Trinity College Dublin attract visitors interested in medieval culture. Yet books are also physical objects. I’d argue this also explains why they are remarkable. The physical nature of books has allowed companies like the Folio Society to triumph among the cheap paperbacks and thin papers. However, even the latter has charm. This is because physical books, on their own, are great. Here’s why they are superior to e-books and online reading.
Earlier last year, I downloaded the Kindle app on my tablet and purchased books (mostly non-fiction) on Amazon. These books were quite dense and academic; thus, it made sense to pick a format suitable for note-taking and offered portability. This worked well for Edward Said’s Orientalism, Kathleen Stock’s Material Girls and Joseph Campbell’s A Hero With A Thousand Faces. Tablets make it easier to revisit and reread books, too. However, I’ve developed a distaste towards Kindle and tablet reading. Books feel ‘less special’ and there is no incentive to read the books once purchased. Whereas a bookshelf and limited space entities further reading, a Kindle does not. Texts are bought and then forgotten about. Therefore, I must make the case for physical books. This isn’t limited to buying books, either – I recommend libraries for those seeking to save money.
There are five core reasons why I recommend physical books: legal protections, ease of sharing, lack of censorship, internet connections and the need for historical preservation. Other reasons exist, too. For one, rare books can hold their value and if authors sign them, this increases their prestige. This article focuses on five points yet there are more.
In regards to Amazon and other e-book providers, there are numerous contracts consumers must agree to. Some are mandated by governments; most are not. These concern privacy, agreements concerning access and ongoing service, whether the content will be updated, who owns what and general liability. Of course, the average consumer will click ‘agree’ and not give these contracts a second thought. We are savvy enough to know that without agreement there is no access to Amazon Kindle. However, these terms and conditions can tarnish the reading experience. For one, Kindle can deny access to certain devices, consumers and circumstances. Federal law is limited, here: you did agree to the terms and conditions, and in most cases, state and federal laws are slow to adapt to the online world.
Your reading experience is at the mercy of terms and conditions which last forever. Contrast this to a bookstore. Consumer responsibilities are compressed by the time one spends in a bookstore. Unless there are plans to defraud or to commit plagiarism, consumers are at great liberty with their physical books.
Ease of Sharing
In my suburb, there’s a Street Library brimming with books. My father is currently reading my copy of Judith Herrin’s Byzantium. This is all thanks to sharing: physical books ensure an easy method in sharing your favourite stories and non-fiction with friends, strangers and family. E-books don’t have this. This is partially because Kindle isn’t designed for this and neither are other e-book platforms. There’s a joy in handing a friend or family member a favourite book and once returned (hopefully), you can discuss thoughts and experiences shared while reading. Books are a celebration of collaboration, from bookstores to reading groups. I don’t see the same benefits in e-books.
Lack of Censorship
Unfortunately, and much to my horror, previously-published books are being ‘updated’ with suggestions by sensitive readers. Recent examples include Roald Dahl, Ian Fleming and R.L Stine. The latter claims this censorship was done without his permission. In the case of Dahl, Kindle readers found their copies were ‘updated’ with the abysmal changes. Of course this is shocking. Many celebrities, writers and public figures have spoken against Puffin who commissioned these changes. Still, the ‘diversity’ grift continues. Therefore, a benefit of physical books is no random censorship. The book is yours; no one can take this from you.
Ever since Snowy Fictions began in 2019, I’ve taken a hard line against sensitivity readers and censorship. Rightly so. Literature does not exist to appease the neurotic and dull tendencies of progressives.
Some e-book readers and tablets rely on internet connections. Even if books are available online, the devices themselves need charging, and this isn’t always possible when travelling or during a blackout. Here, physical books shine: there is no need for this, you merely pick the book up and read it. There’s certainly clutter around the online ecosystem and it is not always reliable for readers. Some countries and regions have spotty internet access and censorious policies, too. Another downside is loading time. Whilst this has improved in recent memory, it is disappointing and annoying to wait for your book to load and show itself among the screen.
However, e-book readers are well suited for planes and long bus trips. They are portable and you can download the books beforehand. Because of this, it is foolish to take an exclusive stance on physical books. There’s room for both.
Contributing To Historical Preservation
Physical documents and items are essential in understanding the past. Whilst it’s true that the digital era has brought many exciting opportunities in preserving ancient, medieval and modern manuscripts, there are flaws in the online ecosystem. One can delete data and it isn’t easy to recover. There’s also a risk of information being overwhelmed by so much choice. It isn’t always easy to navigate online search engines and databases. Online archiving remains a new field with plenty of instability. Here, the benefits of physical media are clear: the opportunity to promote and provide evidence of a book’s existence. This is especially urgent in our era of censorious publishers and readers. Physical books are evidence of their own existence. You have to burn books; you can’t press a button to get rid of them. In the future, this reality will assist historians, artists, families, literary scholars and scientists in understanding the past.
Some reasons here are more convincing than others. Of course, it is important to understand and appreciate Kindles and other E-book readers. They are truly useful for note-taking, have no waste and are portable. However, I wanted to make the case for physical books. What are your thoughts? Are physical books superior? Please leave a comment below. I look forward to reading your thoughts.