Why A Book Is The Worst Present You Could Get For Christmas
There are two types of people in this world -- those who are weirdly obsessed with printed, paper books. And those who aren’t.
Did that opener give you a hint as to which type I am? At risk of sounding both like an ingrate and a philistine, please don’t buy me a book for Christmas.
Or my birthday.
Or at all.
A printed book is the most lousy present anyone could buy me for Christmas because the e-reader is so clearly, infinitely superior. I love powering through books using the genius small contraption that is my Kindle.
Now, it’s not like me to argue in favour of modern technology. I’ve even written about banning mobiles from almost every public space, to re-connect ourselves with our humanity and our manners.
But on this occasion, the 21st century wins out over the old school way of doing things. I thought this’d be a pretty innocuous, uncontroversial position to take. But it’s a more divise debate than I ever could’ve realised.
When I’ve mentioned this to people they’ve fired up unexpectedly. The quixotic attachment to printed books, just like the nostalgic attachment to print media from certain quarters, runs deep.
I’ve had to face the fact that, in the great classic book vs e-reader debate, I’m in the minority. People openly scoff when I say I prefer e-readers. Some even refuse to believe me, or interrupt my stated preference with the 17 detailed reasons that printed books reign supreme.
People seem to love the smell, feel and physicality of printed books. Even if that means enduring the fact that they’re so damn impractical at times.
It’s admirable, that passion. It really is. But it’s also somewhat misguided.
There’s a risk in me making this argument. I’m just finishing off the draft of my first novel and, if it gets published, I could be alienating my target audience; I’d really want people to buy it in its printed format! In bulk! Especially for Christmas presents!
But as I’m safely in a curious minority, allow me to just wax lyrical about my own, personal e-reader obsession; I only expect people not to buy me a printed book for a gift, not abstain for themselves or others. Especially if they prefer the old-school book.
So instead of attempting to recruit people to my camp, I’ll just justify the reasons I’m an unlikely e-book man.
Let’s face it, in a country like Australia, paper books give you RSI on the beach -- especially long, heavy ones. Sunscreen smears the print. Both problems eradicated with a Kobo or a Kindle. Good luck reading Crime and Punishment on Bondi without needing arm physio afterwards.
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Printed book font is just too bloody small. It’s so the publisher saves money at the printers. When I increased the font on my Kindle, no joke of a lie, my reading pace instantly doubled, and I got less tired from straining.
If I want to read a paper book at night with others in the room, I need a mini torch. If I don't know a word, I need to put down the book and look it up, interrupting the flow of my reading pleasure (often enticing me online after opening my dictionary app). If I finish one on a holiday on a remote island, I'm stuffed, utterly bored and mildly panicked.
E-readers, however, are heaven. On holiday or a plane, I have a tiny, light contraption stuffed full of books. Why would you travel any other way?
If I don't know a word, I hold it down and the in-built dictionary instantly improves my lexicon. I’ve learnt delicious words which are stored in my ‘vocabulary builder.’
Logging into it now, I can view glorious meta words such as magniloquent (using high-flown or bombastic language) and others like sybarite (a person who is self-indulgent in their fondness for sensuous luxury).
Now I know exactly what a magniloquent sybarite looks like. It’s me, on a beach, consulting my vocabulary builder on my lightweight Kindle Paperwhite.
Poignant passages can also be highlighted, and you can see passages others have found particularly profound. It’s illuminating.
On illumination, the e-reader light adjusts itself elegantly to the light in the room -- no torch required. And I don’t use it to go online (it’s refreshingly clunky to do so) -- only read books, so distractions are minimised.
You can, if you wish, read Fifty Shades of Grey and tell everyone it’s actually Sense and Sensibility. Nobody knows your porky pie.
Plus, of course, it’s environmentally friendlier than pulping trees.
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There’s an ego to the bookshelf: presenting, for dinner party guests to see, your extensive reading list, showing yourself to be literate, well-read, urbane. It also reminds you what you’ve read to recapture the glory, and share with others.
Which is why I think Kindle/Kobo should create the virtual bookshelf: an artistic design of all the book jacket covers you’ve read on your e-reader, presented as a framed picture for your living room wall.
Now that would be a superlative Christmas present.