I should love them. I’m a lifelong believer in never going anywhere without something to read. About the only time I don’t carry a book with me is when I’m taking out the rubbish. E-books, e-readers and I should be soul mates. They make it easy to take a whole library wherever I go.
Who wouldn’t want that? With your own personal library at hand, you put an end to wondering if that book you’ve just started is going to be the right accompaniment to the tram ride or lunch on the go.
No more worrying that the cover of the book you’re currently obsessed with tells others too much about you when you’re reading in public.
And you never have to struggle lugging more than one 1000 page tome with you, just in case.
But I’ve tried and tried, but I just can’t love them. And here’s why.
First, I spend most of my days working at a computer. I know, so do most people these days. What difference does that make?
I also suffer from dry eyes, and by the end of every day, my eyes feel like they are too big for their sockets and my eyelids could substitute for a rasp.
Second, I’m very near-sighted. I can see things close up without my spectacles. By the end of the day, that’s how I’m most comfortable reading up close. My eyes are tired (did I mention they are dry and sore?). My eyes don’t cooperate with the specs any more. For close work, what that really means is that my eyes are tired from constantly readjusting from close to far work. In the evening or in less than perfect light especially when reading or using my mobile or tablet, I need to take my glasses off.
Switching between TV and book or newspaper (yes, I sometimes buy a paper copy that doesn’t make me a Luddite or a cave woman) is okay, but the static focus of an electronic device makes the close accommodation worse and it makes the dryness worse too.
If I stick with just close work on a screen, my eyes lock on close vision and everything, even with the specs in place is fuzzy. Headache central here I come.
Third, I like to read in bed. When I use a device, like my tablet, my ‘holding’ hand and arm go to sleep. Don’t know why. But it happens all the time. Doesn’t happen with a book.
Third and a half, my page flipping hand, fingers get sore. This happens with my tablet and phone no matter what I’m using them for, if I use them for a long time. I think that’s because the ‘flip’ or ‘swipe’ action is identical every time.
When I read in bed, it’s always for an hour or more. So by the time I’m getting ready to turn over and fall asleep, my left hand is asleep and my right hand is sore. Not conducive to falling asleep.
Fourth, for as long as I can remember when reading in bed, I have had a ritual. When I’m about ready to give up and go to sleep, I flip forward to the number of pages I think I want to read before sleep. Like most rituals it’s part meditation, part superstition and a bit of practicality. I really like it when the last page I plane to read for the night is a chapter ending.
Trying not to fetishize it too much, the pleasure is tied up with physically flipping through the pages, to find that next stopping point, placing my bookmark there and then (this is the best part) as I’m reading my last allotment of pages, occasionally holding the remaining pages with my right hand’s fingers and feeling how many pages are left and getting a physical sensation as they last pages slip away until I get to my designated stopping point.
There is nothing like that physical enjoyment when reading an e-book. So, even if the dry eyes, close vision, pins and needles in one hand a ache in the other can be avoided, that end of the night ritual is not something I’m willing to give up. Not for convenience, anonymity, portability or infinite choice.
Fifth, I don’t like e-books’ restrictive licenses. What you can do with your purchased copy of a printed book, is pretty much anything, except violating the author’s copyright. When I buy a printed book, I can lend it, trade it or sell it to a used book store and buy more books with it. I can even will the physical books I own to my descendants. I can’t do any of these things with an e-book.
So there it is. Yes, I occasionally read an e-book. Usually borrowed from my very good local library.
And no, I don’t think I’ll ever be a real convert.
Because sixth an unlimited trove of e-books would never give the visceral thrill I get when I see a room full of books.