Don’t get me wrong: digital formats are fantastic. They increase access for library users who are OK with reading on their phones. Ebooks are often cheaper than print and paper. Goodness knows that personal digital libraries completely thwart the long-despised portability conundrum. But some books need to be flipped through, thumbed, and even—so help me—dog-eared. They need to be marked, highlighted, and scritch-scratched. Others are particularly suited to physical format and convert to digital poorly, if at all, and lose a great deal of engagement in the attempt. I’ve identified five types of books to read on paper. If you’ve got to spring for anything, spring for these.
If you’ve ever tried to borrow a comic from a digital library collection, then I don’t need to explain anything else about this. I’ve never had a completely satisfactory experience reading comics in a digital format—and if you have, I want to hear form you. From oddly shaped action sequences like those in John Williams III’s Batwoman to comics with fine lettering like Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me, you won’t get that immersive, forget-that-you’re-reading experience from digital that you will from print.
You probably know that people get super into comic books, but graphic novels are also ideal collectors’ items. They’re not just books—they’re also art. Displayed on your shelf, they’re beautiful as well as enlightening and entertaining. They start conversations on your coffee table. There’s also an ancient magic to the process of handing your friend a comic that you liked. It’s a secret language that forges new connections and finds you new geeks for your life. Plus, have you seen what complete sets of Marvel collections look like when they’re all in order on a shelf? Nothing fills my inner 10-year-old with more excitement.
Certain ereaders have done their level best to incorporate note-taking in a user-friendly way. That said, there’s something natural and pleasant about taking a pencil and circling a word you like or annotating a paragraph that you hated. I remember marking Nietzche’s Beyond Good and Evil all to heck when I came across an old (OLD) copy that one of my grandparents had picked up for 35¢ back in the day. I must have marked that thing six ways to Sunday with my own high school-level critical analysis, which was, of course, terrible. But the act of annotating the book became something of an active discussion with the book. I believe that physicality of the book being a distinct something that I was talking to through my pencil would have been lost if I’d had to read it on a Kindle.
Everyone ought to have a few paper books around just in case. Space, of course, is an eternal issue, but that’s why ebooks exist: so you don’t have to crowd your shelves with the entertaining stuff that you know you’re going to zip through once. If you find a book that you know you’re going to read over and over again, it’s love! Just buy it. You’ll never have to worry about long power outages or ereaders dropped in the toilet again.
Furthermore, your book collection says a lot about you as a person. That’s not to say that your books are decor. However, when you meet someone new and bring them to your place, your books say as much about you as the food you cook and the music you play. It’s a way for people to know you, your mind, and what you care about on a deeper level. Plus, when you do meet that interesting new person, your overlapping favorite titles will give you something to discuss while you warm up to each other.
Parents probably already know where I’m going with this. Kids, especially young ones, are kind of hard on property. This is particularly true of anything that can be dropped, thrown, sat on, chewed, dunked in milk, vomited upon, slept upon, drooled upon, or defenestrated. In other words, from a purely materialistic perspective, it’s a terrible idea to give a young kid an ereader.
From a child-rearing point of view, it’s just as important to engage all your kid’s senses as they’re developing. Soft books and board books can’t really be replaced for infants and toddlers, and older babies develop important dexterity skills while turning delicate pages. The ereader might be a good tool for school-aged kids, but these in particular are books to read on paper.
Books You’re Worried About
It’s easy to forget that books that you buy through Amazon aren’t really your books. You have more of a license to read that book. That means that what happens to the parent company affects your access. The book can undergo post-publication edits and be retconned without your permission. Because, as I recently mentioned, it’s not actually your book.
If there’s a book you’d like to keep as-is, or a book from a publishing company that you think might crumble to dust someday, then buy that thing! It doesn’t matter if your government might someday decide that it’s seditious (theoretically!) or if your corporation might someday decide that it’s not profitable. Endangered books are books to read on paper. Buy them, love them, and give them a home on your shelf.
Not convinced? You’re not alone! Check out our piece by Romeo Rosales straight from the first all-digital library in America! For more on the print vs. ebook debate, check out this piece from Book Riot’s Abby Hargreaves.