E-books vs. Books

Once upon a time, I had terrible reading comprehension but loved reading anyway. This disparity between ability and desire was most apparent when I was entered high school. After miraculously testing out of remedial English and into Honors classes my junior and senior years, I remember being given The Plague, The Stranger, As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury, Fathers and Sons, and Pride and Prejudice. I probably would have loved reading all of these books had I understood them better. The problem wasn’t understanding the themes or plot; discussing these novels in class made me realize I did love them. It was my inability to synthesize what I was reading. I remember straining to finish Pride and Prejudice before it was due and the words looking like hieroglyphics. No matter how many times I read over the same page, I couldn’t see what was happening in the novel in my head. This was a bit distressing after reading countless R. L. Stine and V. C. Andrews books where I had no problem with this. I felt like my brain was broken.

Over the years, I did get better at absorbing what I read. Probably just practice and cramming for exams in college. Sometimes, certain books dredge up my old flaw and the accompanying fear of inadequacy. It happened recently when I checked out Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows about a MAGICAL HEIST from my local library. I checked it out as an e-book. Though I liked the novel, I was still slogging through it three chapters in. Then my best friend and partner in reading shenanigans started it and fell head over heels for it in a way that I hadn’t. This was not a matter of us merely liking different things. I knew I would have liked the book more if I followed it better. Sometimes it takes me time to get into an author’s writing style, and Bardugo certainly has a lot of lush world-building happening right at the beginning of the book. But, but, I had a feeling this book would be better read physically. So I purchased the hardback, and my reading experience between the hardback and the e-book was night and day. (I definitely recommend the hardback, because this book is just effing gorgeous inside and out.)

Yep, already devouring the second book

The book has these epic maps and character designations in the front. The e-book does too, but the ability to physically return to the maps while marking the page you’re currently on with your finger is a luxury you didn’t know you’d miss until you don’t have it! Also, just being able to flip back through the book to reread something for clarification is another simple pleasure that reading an actual book affords, while an e-book does not; this book kind of lends itself to rereading certain parts because of how deliciously complicated the plot is (seriously, I feel smarter for having read this book). Also, somehow, being able to see how far I was in the book with regards to the unfolding plot helped me situate myself in some abstract spatial way. Reading purists or anti-e-bookers often cite reading as a physical activity. And I totally get it now.

Let it be known, I am in no way declaring myself a reading-monogamist here. This book has shown me that I read more complicated, involved books better when I can hold it. Novels that don’t require so much…involvement are great for downloading as an e-book and popping out while traveling, standing in line at the grocery store, or waiting for you doctor who never seems to be on time for your appointment.

Any purists out there? E-book or anti? Do you notice a difference in how you read  certain books physically versus on a reader?


21 thoughts on “E-books vs. Books”

  1. I read better with physical books, too. I don’t have a problem with my kindle, but I can’t figure out books when I read on my IPad. I’ll read a book, love it, then realize that I have no idea what’s going on.
    What do you think of Six of Crows? I absolutely love the book. I’m rereading Crooked Kingdom right now.

    1. I loved Six of Crows as well! And Crooked Kingdom is not disappointing in the least. I’m a little more than halfway through. Yes, these read so much better with the actual book in hand. Thank you for commenting!

  2. This is a very interesting post. Thank you for sharing your perspective! I’ve actually never read an entire electronic book. I don’t have anything against them, and I truly don’t even know if I would like or dislike reading in that format. I just love the physical feel of books and the smell of paper pages too much to “branch out”!

    1. I think my love of the sensory experience definitely contributes to my ability to absorb what I’m reading. You never finishing an entire e-book seems telling on where you stand 😉 Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

  3. I buy electronic books all the time. Mostly for the convenience because I’m all about the instant gratification. That being said, when I really love something my first instinct is to buy it in hard copy. I don’t feel like a true fan unless I have the physical book. I got lucky with Six of Crows, I impulse bought a hard copy not even realizing that I would fall in love so hard. And I have to say, that now that I’m reading the first Grisha Trilogy, I feel like it would have been easier to keep up with Six of Crows already having that base knowledge of the world. We kind of jumped in at the middle instead of the beginning a little bit, even though the two series are not about the same characters.

    1. Great point about e-books and instant gratification! Yes, every time I really love something, I want it in hard copy too (sometimes more than once, like Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle 😀 ). Good point about reading the prequel trilogy; but it’s also a testament Bardugo’s skill as a writer that we, as new baby readers to her Grishaverse, plopped into Six of Crows and still loved it to death.

  4. I love how you describe your relationship with reading and the coping mechanisms (for lack of a better phrase) that you’ve learned to help you interact with more difficult texts. I bet there are SO many students out there who can identify both with your love of stories and your struggles with reading some of them. Thanks for sharing this!

    1. Thank you, Carie! Yeah, there’s probably something going on here with kinetic learning…? Buying more and more and more books is DEFINITELY a coping mechanism. We’ll go ahead and call it that.

  5. I loved reading this! What a victory that you went from a struggling reader to an honors reader!

    I have an e-reader, but I only use it when I travel or during those boring lag times at the doctor’s office.

    Thank you for sharing. I’m impressed with you even more now.

  6. Do you realize how amazing it is that you’ve become a super reader through that much a challenge? It’s pretty dang cool. I’m fascinated by that particular struggle and how the physical book helped you in this case. I’m also glad you didn’t denounce ebooks; I agree that they have their strengths and benefits. Thank you for sharing this!

  7. I’m Mr Analogue really – it’s not a book unless there’s a dead tree involved. But obviously each to their own.

  8. Hi Ash. Interesting concept here, but I get you on absorbing better from a paperback. I’m with you, there are certain books I much prefer to reading in paperback. notably, deep reading stories, reference books, and books on writing in particular. I also like the ability to flip back and forth and dogear pages and highlight passages. So there is definitely a market for both. 🙂 ❤

    1. Yes! Deep-reading stories is a good way to put that, and reference books and writing books. Exactly! Dogearing pages is like COMPULSION for me. 🙂 Thanks for reading!


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