E-Readers Made Me Forget the Author

I had coffee this afternoon with a friend who is a novelist and a publisher.  We’ve frequently talked about the pros and cons of the e-reader vs physical books, but today I shared with him how e-readers have entirely changed the way I interact with a book and author.

Kindle Love

I’m a huge fan of e-readers.  HUGE!

There are so many obvious advantages, all having to do with saving. Saving space…saving trees… saving money (sometimes)…

In the past five years, I’ve had four different e-readers. My first was a Nook of some sort. I can’t remember which one it was. Then I moved on to the Kindle Paperwhite. Then the Paperwhite 2.  I was enthusiastically fond of my Paperwhite 2 and I thought it was impossible for an e-reading device to get any better.  (Mine was particularly awesome because I had adorned it with a Tardis skin. Get it?! It’s bigger on the inside!)

Then last year for my birthday I ended up with the Kindle Voyage and I’m in love. I’ve had it for almost a year and I’m still smitten. The form factor is better, the display is better, and I love having the power button on the back of the device instead of the bottom edge so that I no longer accidentally power it down while I’m reading.

When this version of the Kindle was first released, the big controversy was whether the differences were actually worth an additional hundred dollars, effectively double the price of the Paperwhite. At the time, I was skeptical. Honestly, I was skeptical for the first couple weeks. But now that the Kindle Voyage has been part of my daily life for so long, I know it would be excruciatingly painful to go backwards. Yes, it is worth the extra $100.

Paperbound Nostalgia

As much as I love how I can carry countless books inside a device that weighs only 6 ounces (Kindle, where were you when I was in college!?), I’ve come to the realization that I have started consuming books the same way I consume movies: appreciatively, but superficially.

Before e-readers, books were a very intimate experience for me.

I enjoyed the smell of the paper and ink. And each book smelled a little different so that unique scent became part of the experience of reading that particular story. Every time I picked up a book, the title and the author’s name were reinforced in association with the story I was engrossed in.  When reading a physical book, I would often flip to the title pages so that I could see the date of first publication – just so I could understand the context in which the author was writing.

I also spent quite a bit of time organizing my books. Even when I was a child, I’d organize my bookcases by genre and author. It was no surprise to anyone that I ended up working in three different bookstores at various points of my early work experience.

Ultimately, I was a person who knew the title, author and publication dates by heart for almost every book I’d ever read. And I have read so many books. Sometimes I could even recall which publishing house the book came out of.

But now my reading experience is completely different. Without the constant reinforcement of the cover, I forget titles and authors of books I truly enjoy. Friends will ask, “Hey, have you read (fill in random title here) by (random author)?” and I’ll assume I have not, since it doesn’t even sound vaguely familiar. But then when they start describing the story to me, I finally recognize what they’re talking about and realize not only had I read that book, but also the entire eight book series.

Even more upsetting is that I find I feel less connected to the stories I read because I haven’t taken the time to memorize the author’s name.  I don’t look him/her up so that I can learn a little about why s/he needed to write that particular story.

So…what?

I’m going to keep reading books on my Kindle knowing that my experience is not the same.  It’s a conscientious trade-off.

I’m very aware of having lost something special, and I can’t say that I’m “OK with it”. It makes me really sad.

But then I think about how much paper I’m not wasting by choosing to read digitally. And I think about how nice it will be next time CJ and I move and we don’t have 40 boxes of books to heft. I look around our tiny condo and appreciate how spacious it feels because I don’t have books stacked in every corner.

So, yeah…I think I’m making the right choice.

Has anyone else had a similar experience?

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