How do you take your reading?

Today I received a new book in the post. After ripping the packaging off, the first thing I did was smooth my hand over the cover and then flick the pages with my thumb, holding it as close to my nose as I could. Ahh, the sweet, musky aroma of mystery, of a world as yet unexplored, of promise and gratification.

I know I’m not alone in loving a good, old-fashioned paperback book, (and book sniffing is a thing!) but I find myself spending more and more time reading on my Kindle.

My staunch paperback buddies may disagree, but there are some pros to reading e-books. The Kindle is lightweight and more portable. I often slip it in my handbag if I know I have a wait somewhere and of course so much easier to take travelling. It’s great to take camping or for midnight reading if you don’t want to turn the light on. It’s like having the world’s bookcase at your disposal. And I love the ease of one-click buying; from fingertips to eyeballs instantly at a way cheaper price than hard copies.

But I also get frustrated with this way of devouring books. I find it hard to navigate back to earlier sections of a book which I often like to do, especially for non-fiction. I actually like having pencil underlines in my books, and whilst you can use the highlighter function on an e-reader, it’s just not the same. And I don’t like seeing what other readers have underlined. In fact, the whole process of reading a book feels so public on an e-reader. Everyone on Goodreads knows exactly what page you’re on, the moment you finish it and what you thought about it. I know you can turn off the function, but I’m usually too busy getting into the book to remember.

The other disadvantage of buying books digitally is that I can’t lend them out. I love recommending books to friends, and I’m disappointed when I remember I’ve read them on my Kindle.

OK book lovers… here’s the other side. Real, actual books are so much more tactile. There’s nothing quite like turning a page, with your favourite bookmark hovering in wait for when you finally put it down. Reading print is less strain on the eyes, and research has found that we absorb more information in print than on a screen.

Of course, it’s not just about reading the books. With hard copies you can arrange them in the new trend of rainbow colours on your shelf. I find it much easier to locate a book on my shelf when I need it, rather than scrolling through my Kindle library.

It may be a quick and straightforward process to buy an e-book, but book shops are lovely places to hang out. There is much satisfaction to be had flicking through (and smelling) a book before making the decision to buy. Whilst on that subject, someone has come up with a name for this phenomenon—’bibliosmia’ after the Greek words for ‘book’ and ‘smell’.

Ray Bradbury says:

‘There is no future for e-books, because they are not books. E-books smell like burned fuel.’

That brings me to my final question. Which is more environmentally friendly? This is a tricky one to answer. Whilst the destruction of trees and resources needed to make and print on paper are pretty high, a device also uses a lot of energy to both make and keep charged. Minerals from unethical sources and some dodgy (toxic) chemicals are used in the manufacture of an e-reader, plus there’s the question of its eventual end-of-life disposal, and consequent replacement with a new model.

A study by Cleantech concluded that purchasing three e-books per month for four years produces roughly 168 kilograms of CO2 throughout the Kindle’s life cycle, compared to the estimated 1,074 kilograms of CO2 produced by the same number of printed books. From reading a few articles on this, there is no definitive answer except avoiding it all by going to the library for your book fix.

Ultimately, a real book is a simpler pleasure—it engages the senses, it’s easier on the eye, it’s nice to hold and of course smells great! There is no charging up, no pressing buttons, no navigating or techy know-how required. But I do love my Kindle and its capacity to bring me the world of books quickly, cheaply and efficiently at any time of the day.

How do you take your books?