Reading enters new chapter: Electronic books tempting, but they can’t replace paper

By Kristen Tribe | Published Thursday, April 8, 2010

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No trip – car, plane or train – is complete without a book.

Or two.

Road trips mean reading time for me. My husband likes to drive, and I don’t, so it works out.

Before every trip, I gather my stack of reading materials. It usually consists of whatever book I’m reading at the time, a handful of magazines and now, books for my kids.

Sometimes I find a bag for my travel collection, but usually the car is already running by that stage in the packing, so I dash to the van with an armload of literature.

They end up stacked precariously between the two front seats of our van, wedged between a CD case and my purse. The slick magazine covers make the stack slip and slide, and inevitably the Post-It, doubling as a bookmark, falls out and I have to skim several pages of a novel to find my place.

All of this could be resolved with an electronic reading device, like a Kindle or a nook.

They, along with Sony’s e-Readers and Apple’s iPad, allow users to purchase, download and store hundreds of books, newspapers and magazines on one small device.

E-readers will hold 350 books, while the Kindle boasts enough storage for 1,500.

If I had one, I could eliminate my stack of books by storing them all on a gadget the size of a paperback book. Only the iPad is ridiculously huge.

The devices are a little pricey. The cheapest is an e-Reader for about $170, and the most expensive is an iPad at $499. It was just released last week. The most popular devices, the Kindle and nook, both retail for $259.

Electronic books are about $10, even for new releases, and they can be purchased, downloaded and ready to read in minutes, which is appealing.

There are also many out-of-print or public-domain books that can be downloaded for free, like “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” by Lewis Carroll or “Little Women,” by Louisa May Alcott.

The screens on the devices are surprisingly easy on the eyes. The Kindle and nook use a technology called E-ink, making the reader feel as if they’re looking at words on paper and not on a computer screen. You can even use them to read outdoors because there is no glare.

Only the iPad has a full, LCD screen, which is like reading on a computer screen.

Last weekend I borrowed a friend’s Kindle, and as I scrolled through her list of books, I was giddy with so many choices at my fingertips. It was fun to explore its features and easy to use.

But I’m still not convinced I need one. I missed the tactile pleasures of reading.

You can’t feel the weight of a big book in your hands, and I missed the feel of paper pages. iPad features a touch screen, and users do actually swipe the screen with their finger to turn a page, but that doesn’t elicit the same feelings as a browned, brittle page or a crisp, brand-new one.

While the idea of having books instantaneously is appealing to me, it also saddens me to think it could eliminate trips to the bookstore – one of my great joys in life.

And if all of my books are electronic, I could never loan my favorites to family and friends. The Kindle and nook have made feeble attempts recreating the act of sharing a book, but it’s limited.

The nook allows users to share books between devices, but a book can only be shared once and for just 14 days. The Kindle allows you to sync five devices (other Kindles, phones or computers) to it and share books with those devices, but that’s a limited circle when you consider how many times an actual book can change hands.

Also, I don’t want my reading to depend on electricity. Although many of these devices can be used for days on a single charge, reading is supposed to be a simple pleasure – no batteries required.

Many of my friends have Kindles and absolutely love them, but for me, the experience was cold. I’m not ready to turn over another facet of my life to the virtual world.

I like scanning my bookshelf and seeing an array of colors, shapes and sizes. When a friend asks to borrow a book, I like looking for the one I know would be “just right” for her.

And besides, even though my husband groans about everything I lug to the car, it must be somewhat endearing now because he said, “It just wouldn’t be you without your ‘stack of books.'”

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