E-books or print, same old story

There is no better way to stir a crowd than by asking whether they prefer reading books in print or books on a screen.

Lovers of paper will hold their noses high and claim there is nothing quite like holding a book in hand. You can highlight, underline, make notes in the margins and remember whether something you want to find later was on the left or the right.

Lovers of screens will hold their noses even higher and counter that they can make notations on downloads as well, and perform search and find functions.

Lovers of paper will then pull out the heavy guns and say, “Ah, but you can’t enjoy the smell of a book on a screen.”

Lovers of screens will snicker and say, “Ah, but the smell of a book is nothing more than the smell of must and mildew—for which there are numerous remedies you could read online.” With the ball in their court, lovers of screens will boast that they can carry an entire library on their person.

Lovers of books will say, “I thought you looked heavier.”

Lovers of books will question whether the lovers of screens value quantity over quality. At this point, you, having successfully stirred a heated debate, should excuse yourself to the appetizer table.

Personally, I am firmly in the camp that straddles the fence. I do the majority of reading online, but have a fondness for words on paper in my hand.

On my bedside table is a stack of theologians, philosophers, humorists and essayists—Audubon, Toqueville, Thurber and Twain. On the husband’s side of the bed there is no table. His stack builds from the floor up, books about photographers, artists, painters, the history of wars and the history of historians. I’ve said when his pile passes the height of the chair rail, he must thin the stack.

The man would sooner raise the chair rail than thin the stack.

Our grown children came of age with the digital revolution and the dawn of social media, yet they all prefer books in print. A Pew study recently found that the highest print readership rates are among those ages 18 to 29.

Of course, another study disputed the Pew study and said readers ages 18 to 29 just think they like books in print, but actually prefer reading in digital form.

At this conflicting juncture, the only thing for any of us to do is print out the study we find most disagreeable and then tear it up. It won’t change anything, but it is wildly satisfying to hear the sound of paper ripping.

The best selling point for traditional books is that they are cordless—the one thing we never need plug in at night. A book doesn’t go off, beep, chime or make noises of any sort.

A book is a quiet comfort. A book in hand becomes an extension of you, speaks to you, lulls you and quiets you. It slowly leaves your hands, nestles in the bed or tumbles the floor.

I rest my case. And my book.