Nostalgia v. practicality

I love my book collection. I don’t have a gigantic one, just a bookcase and a half filled with carefully selected titles. Books I could fathom reading again, and a few I actually have. Our bookcase faces the bed, and often when I’m getting in at night I’ll just sit there for a few quiet minutes gazing at the titles and letting my mind wander. Sometimes those few minutes turn into 15 or 20 without me really noticing. I think I crave the quiet after filling every minute of my day with noise and distraction.

image via we heart it

I hate clutter and it doesn’t usually survive long in our house but books have thus far mostly escaped my purges. This soft spot in my heart means that for the last couple of years we have been teetering on the edge of total book overload. We have had to get more and more creative with arrangement, including stacking books on top and across existing shelves.

We have also exhausted our capacity to add more bookcases to our home. Our place is not tiny, but we’ve learned that the reason an open layout makes a place feel bigger is because you can’t put much furniture in it. We used up our last good spot after the wedding when we needed to make room for all the specialized glassware we now owned.  In the dining room, we filled the top section of an IKEA bookshelf with glassware and the bottom with books. This gave us some much needed breathing room, but after only 9 months we are back to bulging shelves.

Which brings me to my point: I’m actually considering buying an e-reader of some kind. I initially wrote them off because it just seemed so wrong. There is something so fulfilling about the story literally unfolding under your fingers as you flip the pages, feeling the weight of it in your hands, and the finality of closing that last page. An electronic contraption – even if holds the exact same words – just doesn’t seem as wholesome. It feels like it reduces an age-old activity of quiet concentration to another gadget of distraction.  How would you even know when you’re getting near the end? When you need to slow down to draw it out just a little longer?

But then again, maybe nostalgia alone is just not a good enough reason to hang onto something. E-readers are arguably much better than my bookcase: they hold thousands of books and take up a tiny fraction of the space, while using very little power. E-books are cheaper to buy and you can share them with up to 4 other people (I checked). Plus, I could carry PDF’s on it as well, which would be handy as I read a lot of academic papers for work. And I could save space in my luggage.

Reading nook of my dreams via we heart it

So in clinging to my books – beautiful as they are – am I really any different than the (slightly infuriating) people who refuse to switch over to the new light bulbs just because they don’t give quite the same light, or those who refuse to give up their classic old gas-guzzler even though a newer model would be many times more efficient? Maybe it’s just time to admit that something newer is better. And it’s not as if I couldn’t buy a ‘real’ book every once in a while – sort of like lighting the fireplace for a special occasion.

Do you have an e-reader? Do you enjoy reading from it? Or should I just give up on having a futon in the guestroom/office and fill it with books instead?

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Posted on May 12, 2011, in Life and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. I am having the exact same quandary. I love books, I adore them, but I tend to borrow them rather than buy because our bookcases are just full to bursting (with freaking sci-fi and FIRST WORLD WAR books – remind me why I got married again?).

    I agree that something about an e-reader just doesn’t feel *right* to me, but I can’t articulate why – I hadn’t even thought about the how-do-you-know-you’re-getting-to-the-end thing. In many ways it seems so sensible, but… I think it’s the smell, and the texture, of a book that is so evocative and ultimately addictive. So hard to give up in favour of cold hard technology.

    Let us know if you go for it…

  2. I got a Kindle for Christmas and I LOVE it. I think it feels more like reading a book than reading things on the phone or computer does. I fly through them just like in real life. Plus I’m lazy and its so convenient to buy new things from the couch or airport, and its nice because if you’re out you always have several options of what to read if you have different moods. My sister and my mom,, also book fiends, love theirs too. It’s also much easier to read on the treadmill if you’re so inclined.

    • First Kirsty has me rethinking the whole thing with words like ‘evocative and ultimately addictive’ and now you are totally turning my head back with irresistible reason and rationality! Like buying books on the couch? Sweet. Granted that would eliminate getting fun boxes at the door from amazon. Oh such hard decisions… thanks so much though, really helps to hear that they are nice to use.

  3. I bought Tony a Kindle for Christmas, and he loves it. I’m completely jealous. I have a kindle app for my iPhone, but it’s not nearly as comfortable to read from. I do love being able to just buy a book when I’m in the mood to read it, though. And I like the “preview” feature that allows me to read a nice chunk before committing to purchase.

    I still love the feel of real books, but the practicality of the Kindle is nice for the ones that I want to read but don’t want to collect (and it saves me a bundle in late fees from the library because I never remember to return them on time).

  4. I was having this same dilemma, for basically the same reasons, as you know.
    And, as you know, a lot of books I can’t get in Aus, or at least not at the moment…
    In the end I downloaded kindle for my MacBook and have bought a teaching book which I’ve read there. I figure that that way, if I don’t like it, or agree with it, or don’t get anything useful from it, then I don’t have to throw/give away a book, it’s just there. Plus I screen-shot things I want to remember for when I have a classroom and store it away in a little folder so I can find it later.
    But for actual novels? I’m not so sure about Kindles/other versions… Hmmm…

    • That’s a really brilliant idea with the screen shots! I would love to do that with PDF’s I read, because inevitably when I need to reference something I can never find it. I’ll have to look into that for work.

  5. OH EM GEE that book is incredible!

    I wanted a reader until I went to a book sale. I held all the old books, smelled the pages, and knew. I KNEW I could not really read without the tactile stimulation.

    • sigh… so true. I’ve got a few books lined up right now that’ll keep me busy for a bit, so I’m going to let this idea percolate in my brain for a while. I’m thinking I might take the leap though…

  6. I got a nook for Christmas and I really like it. I read fairly fast, so traveling usually involved stuffing my bag with 3-4 books and then regretting it the entire shoulder-aching way. I love real books and don’t intend to stop collecting them or replace my collection at all, the nook is just a good way to zip through a novel that I wouldn’t necessarily want on my shelf anyway.

    • I don’t read very fast but like to be prepared, so I usually travel with too many books too and regret it (yet I still wonder how my carry-on always ends up weighing so much). And yes, lets face it, many (ok most) of the books I buy are not literature that I need to cherish for years to come.

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