Shelley Bridgeman: Do you love or hate eReaders?

There are two sides to the eReader debate - Shelley Bridgeman is pro paperbacks, while Joanna Hunkin has turned for the hi-tech device. Read their thoughts then have your say in the comment section below.
Books or eReaders - which is better? Photo / Thinkstock
Books or eReaders - which is better? Photo / Thinkstock

What Shelley says:

Once I develop an uninformed prejudice about something, it takes a lot to convince me to adopt a different perspective. So my antipathy towards eReaders remains well entrenched. When they were first released I viewed them with suspicion but, having eventually embraced plenty of technologies that initially seemed gratuitous, suspected I would succumb in due course.

But I can report that to this day I remain as suspicious as ever about these newfangled reading devices. Call me old-fashioned but I love reading a real book - usually fiction and always paperback. (The combined bulk, weight and expense of a hardback novel are not conducive to it being treated with the carelessness and freedom I see as essential to the process of recreational reading.)

I'm hard on books. I bend them backwards to increase the margins between the facing pages and I fold down the corners to keep my place. I drop biscuit crumbs in them and spill hot tea on them for no good reason whatsoever. I get sand in them and (accidentally) immerse them in water. A really good book might get splashed with oil or spaghetti sauce as I cook dinner.

To me, books are approximately as disposable as magazines. Their cost-per-hour stacks up well when compared to the price of, say, a movie ticket. Books, for me, have a sole purpose: to provide a reading experience. They are items to be used with relish. It's fitting they become battered and rough around the edges. They are not prized possessions to be kept and displayed in pristine condition. I seldom read the same book twice, anyway.

Aware that my uncertainty about the new technology could be related to my age, I decided to research the views held by the youth of today. "If you were allowed to, would you like to have an eReader?" I asked all the 11-year-olds in my household. (The sample size totalled one. Fittingly, she was lying on a sofa reading an old-fashioned novel at the time.) "Gosh, yes," she replied with enthusiasm. "Why's that?" I asked. "Because then I could have a million books all in one place," she said.

Leaving aside what it would cost to download a million books (if indeed a device exists that has such a capacity) and how many hours it would take to read them, this is, of course, an inarguable benefit of the eReader. The sheer volume they are able to accommodate is surely a key appeal. The idea of having your own personal library contained in one slim-line portable unit was once itself the preserve of fiction. Mind you, there's a downside to this feature. I'm terrible if I have even two or three books on the go at once. I enjoy reading much more if I devote myself to one book at a time. I'd be hopeless with an eReader. I'd probably sample dozens of novels - and possibly never finish any of them.

But the main reason I continue to eschew the eReader is that I don't want my recreational time to be dominated by screens, switches and chargers. I work on a computer and, thanks to my iPhone, many other daily activities are now also screen-based. Reading a novel is an escape, an opportunity to dip into other worlds. It's also surely our chance to have a break and free ourselves from the tyranny of the screen.

For the record, I've never actually used an eReader. (I'm not sure I've even seen one.) I've no plans to try one either. A closed mind and blinkered approach are part and parcel of a staunchly held bias. Yet I've discovered that my stance isn't really about loathing eReaders per se. It's more about loving real books. For me, the experience of reading is not about simply absorbing the author's words. It's also about the romance of the written word on the page, the whisper of the paper between your fingertips. The feel, the sight, the smell of an old-fashioned book easily trumps the perceived convenience of the eReader.

What Joanna says:

For years, I was convinced I would never become one of them. How could I turn my back on my beloved books? With their lovely thick pages and weightiness. Who wants to read from a cold, hard, little calculator, I thought.

And then I went on holiday. Quite a long and far-flung one, where hauling books around simply wasn't an option (shoes take precedence, of course). My father, the early adopter in the family, insisted I take his Kindle. Within a day, I was hooked.

So too was my husband, who kept squabbling with me over it. By the end of our six-week sojourn, we were sporting matching tans and matching eReaders. Bless.

I understand why so many people are anti the eReader but their arguments simply can't trump the endless benefits of the magical new technology.

For years, I've struggled to manhandle books in bed. Yes, yes, very funny. But truly, anything over 500 pages becomes a maddening brick to handle. You end up fidgeting every ten minutes to try and find that elusive pose that doesn't feel like you're doing weight training for your wrists or leave you with a permanent crick in your neck.

My eReader is so light you can hold it with one hand. And in winter, when it's too cold to leave any flesh exposed, you can read under the covers, thanks to the self-lit display. (Plus, it's like being in a fort. Bonus!)

EReaders aren't just a Godsend when travelling. Day-to-day, they're more convenient. Before I converted to the e-side, I never carried a book in my handbag. Why would I haul something around that I may not use that day? But with an e-reader, it's always there, on hand should I miss the train or be left waiting for one of my terribly fickle friends to turn up.

I also find I read more now that I'm on Kindle. Both in quantity and variety. When you start purchasing electronic books through Amazon, it makes personal recommendations for other books you might like. You can see what other people are buying and what they thought of the purchase.

I've discovered new authors and books that I never would have found staring at the shelves of Whitcoulls for an hour.

I'm also a terrible person (we could end that sentence there...) when it comes to judging a book by its cover. But with Kindle, the cover is an afterthought; a tiny icon to the left of the screen. The blurb, reviews and recommendations are what really drive your choice. And the price. I can buy three e-books on my Kindle for the price of one new release paperback.

Of course, there are still some places I wouldn't take my Kindle. I can't trust myself to read it in the bath, for instance. Or the beach. But then, I wouldn't take a good book there either. There are few things in life more annoying than opening a book in bed, to find half the beach trapped between the pages slowly trickling over you.

But for the beach, or bath, or lying by the pool drinking frozen mojitos, there are trashy mags. For everything else, there's Kindle.


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