Tag Archives: e-readers

Why I Stopped Killing Trees

I’m a book lover. Have been all my life. I don’t even remember learning to read. So why am I now getting rid of most of my books?

Hint: It’s not that woman who says you should keep only 30 books. She also says that you should look at your possessions and ask whether they bring joy to your life. And all these books have certainly given me countless hours of joy, plus every other emotion you could think of. I couldn’t possibly pick only 30 that have affected me joyfully, or in some other way.

Nevertheless, my bookshelf now contains a mere 20 books. Oh, there will be more. But not nearly as many as there used to be.

Many – I venture to say most – were destroyed either by our recent natural disaster or by the incompetent salvage company that stored them in boxes which they left sitting on wet carpet for days. And then put the soaking boxes in a hot, lightless pod for weeks. Can you say “mold,” kids? I knew you could. Pages glued together? Plenty of that too. We’re currently going through those boxes and rescuing what we can.

Still, I’m discarding many more books than I’m keeping. The ones that are physically ravaged, of course, but lots of other books that are in relatively good condition. I’m not trashing those. I’m donating them to the Planned Parenthood Book Fair, where, to tell the truth, I originally got many of them. (That was the only place I’ve ever had to cross a line of protesters to buy a bag full of books. But I digress.)

What are my criteria for keeping and disposing, other than mold and water damage? I am keeping any signed-by-author books, ones that friends have written, a few books of poetry, and little else. Dozens of true crime paperbacks – gone. Dozens of hardbound as well as paperbound mysteries – off to Planned Parenthood.

I had hundreds of books. Maybe a couple of thousand. They filled three floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in my study, and spilled over into stacks on the windowsills and piles in the bottoms of closets, where normal people keep shoes. There were books all around the bed, in the bathroom, and on more bookshelves in the hallways and great room. There was even a bookshelf on the stair landing. More books than a person could read in a long lifetime. Though I had read my way through a fair percentage of them, I had a TBR pile tall enough to kill me if they tumbled over like a giant Jenga.

Now I’m replacing most of my books with e-editions. I like to think that I’m saving thousands of trees, but really my motivation is not nearly so lofty. I have nearly a thousand books on my Nook and I can carry them with me anywhere without being squashed and needing to have another back operation.

There are things I do miss about so-called dead-tree books: the solidity of them; the sensory touch of turning the pages; the colorful bindings, dust jackets, and covers; and, of course, the smell that takes me back to my days lurking in second-hand bookshops. And there are books that don’t do well in pixels, such as the Miss Peregrine books that rely so heavily on photos and hand-written notes.

Which brings me to why my husband is making the insurance company replace his books with actual, physical pages and bindings. He’s a very visual learner and had dozens of coffee-table-type books recording everything from the War in Vietnam to the legacy of the Grateful Dead to the latest fantasy art to Middle Eastern architecture. It’s actually kind of fun searching for them online, seeing if Amazon or ebay has the best price, and then stalking the mail carrier for a week afterward.

Anyway, books are books, no matter what form they appear in. I just dread the day when my e-book purveyor goes out of business entirely and I have to switch to a different dealer to provide my literary fixes.

A Book Is a Book Is a Book

One would think that, considering my life-long status as an ardent bibliophile, I would have been one of the first to get my knickers in a twist at the rise of the (shudder) e-book.

But no.

I do admit that books are a wonderful, magical invention and that the solidity and heft of a printed book are a comfort. And the smell of them! When I was a kid I used to haunt Dennis Used Books and the moment I walked in, I was overwhelmed with the scent of paper, dust, ink, spices, pipe smoke, and the warm space heater.

I used to go to the library and come home with glorious stacks of books, each awaiting my avid reading. And rereading. And rereading. My mother would insist that I get at least one book I hadn’t read before.

Even as I write this (on a computer, not with a quill pen and a pot of ink), I am surrounded by shelves of books, stacks of books, piles of books, toppling towers of books, bags of books, autographed books, even a couple of first editions.

I wanted a book within reach everywhere. I had a bedside book, a purse book, a bathroom book, a car book, lest I be stranded somewhere with only a ketchup bottle for company. Hell, I used to buy purses based on how many paperbacks they would hold.  (I would try to make each book a different genre so that I could switch back and forth among them without losing track.)

The thing is, many of my bibliophile friends complain of the insubstantiality of electronic editions. And admittedly, they do not offer the same sensory delights as “dead-tree” editions.

But.

The content of a book is still the same content, no matter how it’s delivered. If each new technology had been rejected for its difference and novelty, I would be sitting here surrounded by scrolls of papyrus and creating these words with a pointed stick and a slab of clay.

Printed books were easier to make and distribute than hand-copied ones. Saint Gutenberg brought inexpensive, widely available reading to the masses. Anyone could own a Bible, a biography, a newspaper, a novel. And bibliophiles were born and said, “It is good.”

E-books have made the written word even more accessible. You don’t even have to go out in the snow. Just press a few buttons and you have a new book – or even a very old one – instantly available.

The e-book functions very much like a printed book. It may not replicate the heft or scent, but it remembers where you stopped reading and goes there promptly. It allows you to look up an unfamiliar word without first hunting down a dictionary. It lets you read in bed without disturbing anyone who is sharing that space.

There are some types of content that are not suited to e-books – picture- or photo-heavy texts, for example. (Though I read National Geographic quite happily on my tablet.) But otherwise, the content of a book is still the content of that book, whether it’s ink on a page or pixels on a screen.

And for me, the e-book holds one overwhelming advantage – the very insubstantiality that others dislike. I now can carry with me, wherever I go, 300+ books. Even 3000, if I want to. To a person with a bad back, this is a godsend.