A new experience: Reading a book made of paper

Two things happened a couple of months ago related to one of my favorite book series, George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire.” HBO’s excellent rendition of book one, “A Game of Thrones” finished it’s first season, and the long awaited fifth book, “A Dance With Dragons” was released. Since I had the Kindle version of it on pre-order, it appeared on my Kindle one day as if by magic. I was very excited to start reading right away, but I couldn’t remember what was going at that point in the series. It took so long for the fifth book to be written, I had completely forgotten the thousands of pages I had previously read. I decided to read books 2-4 again.

Book 2, “A Clash of Kings,” was published in paperback back in 2000 by Bantam Books. So first I had to find the book. I’m pretty sure we have two copies since my wife and I both read these before we were living in the same house. We love to read, so our bookshelves are jammed with books, two rows deep. I’m forever pulling out books to search behind them. There are books in stacks, books in boxes, books on top of the shelves where no one can reach, and a couple books scattered through the house. I searched and searched and was just about to give up when I found it. I immediately found a comfy place to sit with good light and started to read.

After reading a couple of pages, it dawned on me that this was the first “paper” book I had read in over a year. Since reading a physical book was a “fresh” experience for me, I thought I’d write about it.

A couple of things I have already mentioned. A physical book takes up space. A large number of books take up a lot of space. Anyone who reads and has moved to a new house will also tell you that they are heavy. Then there is the problem of locating the book, unless you are extremely organized and catalog your library, finding anything becomes a quest in itself. Of course, along with the frustration, this quest does yield a sense of joy when the book is finally found.

Upon opening a book, you are greeted with one thing an e-book will never give you–the smell. Books have a very unique odor that gets associated, at a primal level, with the sense of wonder and enjoyment you experience while reading. I love that smell. There’s also the soft whisper of page turning and the tactile feel of the pages themselves. Books also make a satisfying thump when closed. There a definitely things to love about traditional books.

When I read, I tend to read for hours at a time; this is when I started wishing I had this on my Kindle. The font is too small for my old eyes. Increasing the font size is a simple matter on an e-reader, but an impossibility for ink on paper. Of course, I could get one of those magnifying things, but I find them clumsy at best, and I often like to read “one-handed.” When holding a book by your fingers for hours, it can also get heavy, especially when reading a thick tome or a hardcover. The Kindle does not need to be held open and can be set down or propped up.

A normal lunch for me consists of food and reading. I was having some left over pepperoni pizza while reading “A Clash of Kings.” Since I have to hold the book, and turn pages, I was constantly having to mop my greasy fingers off on a napkin. Even trying to be tidy, the pages ended up discolored with the orange grease unique to pepperoni. There’s also the big splotch where the bit fell off while taking a bite, instinctively I caught it with the book. Over the course of several days, I spilled coffee, wine, and all manner of crumbs into the pages of this book. Am I a slob? I suppose so, but with my Kindle I just set it on the table and can read while using both hands to eat and can turn the page with my pinky which generally stays clean.

Ever drop a book and lose your place? I did the other day. Ever do it with a book you’ve already read? Flipping through the book, everything looks vaguely familiar. My Kindle remembers my place. It even goes to the same spot when I open a book on my computer or laptop or iPod. Of course, I’ve had problems with something pressing on the ‘turn page’ button on the Kindle and paging through all the way to the end of the book. It is far easier to flip though a paper book than an e-book to find your place if it has been lost. It is just less likely you’ll lose your page in the first place.

My background is in engineering, so I don’t have a huge vocabulary. I’ll come across words that I think I know the definition of, but I’m not 100% certain. It is so easy to use the dictionary look up feature on the kindle, that I’ll take the two seconds to find out for sure. I can’t even remember the last time I got up from reading a paper book to find a dictionary to look up a word. It was at least 20 years ago.

Besides the smell and the sounds of a traditional book, I find e-books superior in every way. I can find them easily, they take up no space, I can read with “no hands,” I seldom lose my place, and all the other reasons mentioned above. With the advent of e-ink readers with their reflective display technology, and the improvements in battery life, e-readers are finally delivering on the promise of e-books. Still there are people, like my wife, who will only buy paper books, but I think the transition will be similar to what’s happening with streaming video on demand. I have Netflix, and Hulu, and HBO Go; do I need to buy DVD’s or Blu-Ray disks? But for special movies, having that physical copy is more than a copy of the movie. It’s tied to a memory of watching that movie with friends and family. Books will go the same way. Everyone will have a shelf of paper books, with their special books “on display,” but most of their consumption will be done digitally. It’s just so much easier.