Why I’ll Always Own Books

There seems to be a lot of discussion about the virtues of books vs the Kindle. Pros for this medium, cons for that one. I thought I was a die-hard print book supporter. I love the feel of a book in my hands. I love the weight of the paper, the anticipation as I prepare to turn the page to read the next word. About the only downside to physical books were their weight when I traveled. My work trips kept me gone for many weeks at a time, and I usually hauled four or five books with me. That weight adds up when you’re trying to pack light.

I bought a Kindle about a year ago. And after one trip with it, I fell in love. It’s lightweight. I don’t feel guilty about taking four books on a trip and only reading one. I don’t feel frustrated when I finish all my books in the first three days of my trip. I have options. I can read what I’m in the mood for, not necessarily limited to what I’ve brought with me physically. I can download new books at any time. If I feel like a historical novel, it’s there. If I feel like business strategy, it’s there. If I feel like a sappy novel, that’s there too.

The one feature that I love/hate about the Kindle is the built-in dictionary. I love the instant gratification of understanding an unknown word. The definition is right there at the bottom of the page. It’s easy and efficient. I understand the meaning and continue with my reading. So why would I hate this feature?

When I read a printed book, I mark my place with an old business card. When I come to a word I don’t know, I write down the word and the page number. When I get to a stopping place, I pull out my print dictionary (yes, I still have one), and look up the word. I let my eyes roam over words near the one I’m looking up. I marvel at all the words I’ve never heard of before and study their etymology. I look up the word in question and I volley the meaning around in my head. I go back to the page in the book and see if the passage makes more sense. And then, when I’m finished with the book, I toss the scribbled-upon business card into a drawer. Weeks, months, years later when I find the card, a memento of the original reading, the story returns to me.

As much as I love many features of the Kindle, the one thing I think I’ll always miss while reading on it is my convoluted process of documenting and discovering the meanings of new words while reading a physical book. Which is why you’ll always find a bookshelf overflowing with books and drawers filled with scribbled-upon scraps of paper in my home.

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