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When Amazon first introduced the Kindle in 2007, I had no desire to own one. I was happy with regular papery books. When the iPad went on sale in 2010, it was harder for me to resist.
I’ve been using Macs, and Macs only, since I was a 6-year-old trying to ford a river in the game Oregon Trail on my school’s Apple II. I bought an iPad within a few months of its release, and I find it as loveable and gee-whiz-cool as every other Apple product has been. Still, old habits die hard. When I hit the couch at the end of the day to read, it’s usually with an old-fashioned book.
E-books have nothing on regular books for reading in the bathtub, in the rain while you’re pushing your kid on the playground swing, and with your toddler in the rocking chair so he can learn to use his chubby fingers to turn the page, not to mention enjoy books with pop-ups, cut-outs, and other surprises. Regular books autographed by a favorite author make a perfect souvenir of an enjoyable night out at the bookstore. I write all over my books, make notes in the margins, and star and underline things. Ideas for my own writing come to me while I’m reading, and I scrawl these in the back blank pages of novels. Still, I have to admit that e-books are better than paper books in some situations — here are five reasons I’ve switched to e-books, some of the time:
1. E-books are helpful to parents
Becoming a parent did not decrease my desire to read, but it did reduce the amount of time available for reading. I have to be creative about sneaking in reading, and the iPad has helped on several occasions. For example, on a recent vacation, my husband and two kids and I were staying together in one hotel room, and the only way to get the kids to go to bed at a reasonable hour was to turn all the lights out at nine, leaving us all in the dark. I happily spent the time reading on the iPad, whose subtle glow didn’t bother the kids. I’ve tried reading with regular books and book lights or flashlights in similar situations in the past, but the lights never illuminate the book well enough, and I’m always dropping, losing or breaking them. Plus, the sensation of whooshing the page away with a swipe of a finger across the iPad is great fun, and it’s silent, a bonus when the kids are asleep.
My friend Jennifer Sullivan, who is a mother of twins, tells me that there’s only one way for a book-loving mom to cope with endless bouts of nursing two kids at once — reading on a Kindle. It has only one button to press, so it works better than turning pages when your arms are full.
2. It’s easier to search an e-book
I’ve been a book reviewer for a number of newspapers and websites for more than a decade, and I always use lots of quotes from the book. Sometimes I can’t find the quote I want, no matter how many times I flip through the review copy, looking for that pencil mark I made. But if I can remember even a word or two from the quote, I can find the passage instantly in an e-book or through Amazon’s “Search Inside This Book” feature.
My husband has been trying to read my novel on his iPad, but he’s making slow progress because he says it’s too long and there are too many characters. (He’s a minimalist; I’m a maximalist: There you have it.) Whenever he comes across a character name that he can’t remember, he searches for the first time the character was introduced to refresh his memory.
3. Some book apps are irresistible
Usually the only magic I want from a book is the kind I conjure in my own mind when I am transported by an incredible story. But some designers are coming up with fascinating reading apps. My favorite is the The New Yorker app for the iPad, which comes free with a magazine subscription. On the iPad, I enjoy reading those front parts of The New Yorker that appear in please-don’t-read-me small print in the magazine. I don’t feel guilty when I skip parts, which for some reason I do with the magazine. (Is this a Catholic thing?) When you come to a cartoon in the app, you can go ahead and gorge on all the cartoons in a row first, which is what I like to do with the magazine anyway. Also, seeing The New Yorker issues that I haven’t read yet arrayed on the iPad does not induce the flurry of panic, shame, and existential dread that seeing the decaying pile of printed New Yorkers in the corner of my living room does. I try not to visit that corner.
4. E-book readers make it easier to acquire foreign-language books
My husband has been raising our kids to speak French, his mother language, and one of the challenges of this is finding plenty of books and DVDs for them to enjoy. We have a sizable collection, but still, the kids get bored. Often my daughter would rather read the new books in English that we checked out from the library than the same old books in French. There are lots of Spanish language materials available here in Colorado, but for any other language, it’s tricky. The library only has a few dozen books in French that we’ve checked out so often the kids have them memorized. Ordering books from France is expensive, and carting them home after we visit family there is difficult.
Recently, my husband discovered a trove of children’s story e-books in French from GoodBye Paper Éditions. They are fun, interactive stories that include games, so my daughter doesn’t drag her feet anymore when it’s French story time. (Our favorite: “Marcel, le cochon qui avait peur de se salir” — that’s, “Marcel, the Pig Afraid of Getting Himself Dirty.”)
5. See photo at right? This is my desk
I’ve been using these books you see piled around my computer to write book reviews, research author interviews and an anthology I’m helping with, and study for the writing class I teach. I can tell by the publication dates of the lower strata that some of these books have been on my desk since February. I need to move them somewhere — but there is no remaining bookshelf space. I need to buy a new bookshelf, which I’ve learned over the years only inevitably leads me to buying another bookshelf.
When former Apple CEO Steve Jobs died, my husband showed me a photo of Jobs in his 20s, sitting in a room furnished only with a lamp, a stereo, and a cup of tea. “This is how we should live,” my husband said.
In my case, it would have to be the lamp, the tea, the stereo, and a couple thousand books. I love books. I will never stop bringing them into the house, but yeah, there are some books that I maybe don’t need to own a printed copy of.
Jenny Shank is the author of the novel “The Ringer” (The Permanent Press, 2011). The Ringer was a finalist for the Reading the West Book Awards, sponsored by the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association, and is a Tattered Cover Book Store Summer Reading 2011 selection. Her stories, essays, and reviews have appeared in many publications, including Prairie Schooner, Alaska Quarterly Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Onion, Poets & Writers, Bust, Michigan Quarterly Review, Image, CutBank, Calyx, Sport Literate, Rocky Mountain News, Dallas Morning News, Boulder Daily Camera and The Huffington Post. One of her stories was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and another was listed among the “Notable Essays of the Year” in the Best American Essays. She has won writing awards from the Center of the American West, the Montana Committee for the Humanities, SouthWest Writers, and the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund. For six years Jenny Shank was the Denver/Boulder Editor of The Onion A.V. Club, and she was the Books & Writers Editor of NewWest.Net/Books, which was named “Best Literary Blog” in the Westword Best of Denver issue. She lives in Boulder, Colo., with her husband, daughter and son.