In the tussle between books and their e-cousins, I probably come down somewhere in the middle. Yes, digital books are tremendously handy, but no, they'll never replace the joy of reading physical books. I don't get particularly worked up about the advent of e-reading or the decline of print (I suspect most readers are the same) so I tend to ignore the steady stream of articles that couch it as a dilemma.
However, I did find myself persuaded by this excerpt from Andrew Piper's Book was There: Reading in Electronic Times. He argues that there's more to books than the pleasures of touching and turning pages. There's the space they create around you while you read; the connection they build between head and hands; the marks you make on them as you read; the way they give form and dimension to the written word, so you always know where you are, even when you're ‘lost’ in a book. One thing I complain about is having no sense, when reading on my iphone or kindle, of how far through the story I am, how close to the end. There's something about the place you've reached, and the diminishing thickness of pages behind it, that adds to the pleasure of reading even a familiar book. The more advanced e-texts now look more like real pages than the earlier versions did, in part I think because their makers have learned that the shape of a printed page, with its sharp edges and bare border, is indelibly part of how and why we read.
“There is a punctuatedness, a suddenness, but also a repetitiveness to pressing buttons that starkly contrast with the sedate rhythms of the slowly turned page...With my e-book, I no longer pause over the slight caress of the almost turned page—a rapture of anticipation—I just whisk away. Our hands become brooms, sweeping away the alphabetic dust before us.”
It's beautifully and lucidly argued - worth the read, though you may be inspired to print it off first. I was inspired to spend more time with books and less with screens. In keeping, I've put a pile of worthy books next to my favourite armchair, so I can read whenever I sit, thus indulging in the ‘readerly rest’ Piper recommends.