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“Paper or plastic?”

April 4, 2012

“How do you like to read?” has become as much part of the discussion about books as “what do you like to read?” or “who do you like to read?”

E-books or paper books? What kind of e-reader? Do you use both paper and electronic books?

The fact that it can be summed up as a question of “paper or plastic?” tickles me.

I’m still figuring out my own distinctions between paper and screen reading choices. My readings for grad school are often available online, through class reading lists. (Though I saw a bit of news recently, positioning that practice as slightly naughty regarding copyright. Fodder for another post, as well as library school discussion.)

The pleasure reading I’m squeezing in, in between grad school and work, has largely been e-books from the public library. Because, with one thing and another, I’ve requested physical books on hold, and the holds expire at the library before I can pick them up.

I like reading genre fiction on my Kindle. It’s nice and straightforward for pelting through a book and wolfing the story down.

When paying attention is more important, I need paper. I prefer paper review copies to e-books, because it is easier to take notes as I read. There’s a way to take notes on the Kindle, but it’s no substitute for being able to riffle through pages to a specific spot I’ve marked with a note in the margin, or a sticky note or flag I’ve put in the book.

I find academic reading easier to do on paper for the same reason. So I’ve been printing out endless pages of my readings for class, highlighting them and taking notes in the margins. I like to highlight in multiple colors. It helps me think. I feel guilty about the trees I’m expending, though! Also, given the nature of my studies, I feel an extra layer of sheepishness. Reading about digitization practices and Internet search modes after having printed my digital readings onto paper sometimes makes me feel silly.

When I’m lingering over language and specific images, I want to be reading paper. When I’m reading something that has a nonlinear, browsing element, like poetry or short stories, give me paper. But also for writing that relies heavily on image or delicious turns of phrase.

When I check foodie memoirs out of the library as e-books, I wish for them to be paper books that I actually own. However, as often as I have that thought, I don’t reread my foodie memoirs very frequently. I need to remind myself of that. Foodie lit is definitely a genre I can see overrunning my bookshelves, if I keep deciding I need to own it.

Talking with other readers about their book format preferences is interesting as well. For some, it’s about timing more than genre. Reading while traveling either on a commute or on a specific journey, seems to point people to e-books. I’ve heard people talk about the ease of changing the font size, or using audiobook aspects of an e-reader. For some, e-readers are about library books or pleasure reading, or being able to get books at a discount. Or about wanting to hide the evidence of reading a guilty pleasure book, like a romance.

E-books are a point of transition. For libraries and the publishing industry, that’s a point of logistics and business models. Individual preferences and behaviors are in transition as well.  It will be interesting to see how the question of paper or plastic plays out.

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