Back to the Book: Is It a Trend?

Jackson Street Booksellers, Omaha:  Wouldn't we rather be here than in an e-library?

Jackson Street Booksellers, Omaha.

Are people turning off their e-readers?

Are they going back to the book?

Is it a trend?

Or is it just me?

I have an elegant Nook, stocked with free e-books by Mrs. Humphry Ward, E. M. Delafield, Charlotte M. Yonge, Stella Benson, and Elizabeth von Arnim. Conventional wisdom says that e-books of new hardbacks are inexpensive (half-price or less), but I have found that used books are still cheaper.

I have journeyed from true e-love back to paper.

In my very first post here, “Friendly Persuasion: Why It’s Okay to Have an E-Reader,” I wrote:

On a recent journey, I was much occupied with my new e-reader. Like many of us in the electronic age, I spend as much time with “e”-things as I do with human beings. My e-reader feels like my friend. It is basically a small computer that supplies me with infinite choices of books; allows me to open my email and surf the web; plays music; and provides me with crossword puzzles. It is tactile. I have my hands all over the screen every day. I tap, click and drag, swipe, and read.

And so it went on for a couple of years.

Then suddenly I tired of reading on the screen.

In 2013, 21% of the books I read were e-books.  This year, although the number is only slightly lower, 19%, it is emblematic of my return to real books.

The Means of Escape Penelope Fitzgerald 519CFN92NAL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

The book: a lovely object.

On a plane from London to Chicago, surrounded by the loud e-silence of people on machines,  I  turned off my e-reader and took out a paperback. I read Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Means of Escape, Gerald Heard’s mystery, A Taste for Honey, John Lanchester’s What We Talk About When We Talk About the Tube, and much of Maggie O’Farrell’s Instructions for a Heat Wave.

It was a long paperback trip.

And I discovered I concentrate better with paper.

There are too many e-distractions with e-readers–checking e-mail, etc.  Once I tried the Kindle app, and that was much less satisfying than the Nook.

Others, too, concentrate less well when they read e-books.  A study released last summer found that readers of the Kindle comprehended a mystery less accurately than paperback readers.  When asked to reconstruct 14 events in the plot, Kindle readers did “significantly worse” than paperback readers.  The Norwegian lead researcher also said that paper supports reading better than text on a screen.

I take notes on e-books, because it is so difficult to find things later.

The general consensus is that everyone is reading e-books now, but it is hard to find statistics.

The Pew Research Center says that  younger readers read more e-books:   Thirty-five percent of of 50- to 64-year-olds and 17% of people ages 65 and over read at least one e-book, but the number jumps to 47 percent in 18- to-29 year-olds  And since Christmas 2013, the number  of Americans owning e-readers or tablets has jumped from 43 percent to 50 percent of adults 18 and over.

I am not a trendsetter.  If I am reading less on my e-reader, others are, too.

Mind you, I have read some wonderful e-books.  I recently read Edith Olivier’s The Love Child ($2.99), a charming fantasy about a woman whose childhood imaginary friend materializes as a real child after her parents’ death.  I was never able to get hold of the Virago, and pounced on the e-book.

But when I can get the real book, I prefer it.

8 thoughts on “Back to the Book: Is It a Trend?

  1. I hope it is more than a passing trend, because I personally prefer paper. I’ve only just tried an e-reader and although I can see the advantages, I *definitely* don’t take it in the same way as I do paper. So I will probably continue to use it as a handy tool, but my *real* reading will be tree books.


  2. I should explore the blogosphere and see if anyone is chatting about this. I’m not anti-e-reader, but paper i much nicer. It’s satisfying to see those books on the shelves.


  3. I’m glad to read this, Kat. Last weekend I sent back a tiny Kindle Fire that I had ordered Thanksgiving weekend because it was so inexpensive and I thought I should get out of the Stone Age. After putting in all my info, my eyes were hurting. Maybe it was just too small but it also felt heavy for its size. I’m sticking to paper. For now.


    • People love their Kindles, but they are clunky, aren’t they?:) Good for you for sending it back. It’s everyone else who’s in the Stone Age. Books don’t have to be recharged, but these devices do. I have gotten a lot of use out of my Nook, but paperbacks are really much easier and nicer. The best thing about the e-reader you can adjust the size of the print. Otherwise, I wonder if we’ve been sold a bill of goods, trading in our beautiful paper books for reading on a little machine. Brilliant marketing, isn’t it?


  4. I love both. My ereader is great for out of print books that I can download for free or borrow from Open Library but I do love my physical books. A lot of the books read by my 19th century bookgroup are out of print but available as free downloads so I’ve read many books I wouldn’t normally have had the chance to try. I also love my ereader for lunchtime reading as I go for a walk, ending up at a cafe for coffee & 20 mins reading before I go back to work – much lighter to carry than a hardback. I read in whichever format is more convenient. I agree that there has been more discussion about the virtues (or otherwise) of the ereader lately. I think the numbers of readers bought has started to flatten out, I suppose they had to reach critical mass sometime. I also think that people are now more likely to buy a tablet as it’s more versatile. Dedicated ereaders like the Sony or the original Kindles will probably stop being made in a few years.


    • This is why I’m still thinking about an e-reader. It’s great for downloading classics from Gutenberg and when you want a book immediately from the library. I almost bought a Kindle Paperwhite this weekend. I think when my laptop dies I might get an iPad but for now….I just can’t decide.


      • Cynthia, yeah, a dedicated e-reader would be good. I have a tablett, and itis a very nice machine, but too many choices, if you know what I mean. There are advantages: I’m thinking adjusting the print size will be a good thing in a few years.


    • Lyn, I, too, have read many out-of-print books on my e-reader, and have a huge e-library. I know what you mean about carrying big books to cafes: I read my huge Trollopes on an e-reader out in public, and in papeback at home. I do love the physical books, and did read an article today–perhaps in The Guardian?–about sales of physical books and e-books both going strong.


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