I hate clutter. I often throw away items I know I should keep, but just don’t care enough to store. And I hardly regret it afterwards.
When I was given an e-reader as a gift in 2010, I started dreaming of all the space I’d reclaim in my apartment when I no longer had to store books that I’d purchased and read. The thought of replacing them with their compact and convenient digital versions was exciting, and I couldn’t wait to modernize my library. The task of de-cluttering is easy when it comes to old shoes, and broken jewelry, but as I dove in, I quickly learned that purging my life of once-loved books was a much more daunting task.
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To begin the clean-out, I carry a box to the bookshelf and pick up my Little House on the Prairie box set of novels by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It is a large, clunky, yellow eyesore and should easily be the first to go. But as I clutch the old cardboard box, filled with worn-in books, deep creases grooved into the binding from years of repeated openings and closings, I immediately get re-attached to them, remembering past afternoons I’d spent in the backyard reading and imagining I was living in Walnut Grove with Ma and Pa.
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So I move on. Laura Ingalls and the bright yellow box set aren’t so bad to look at when you consider the precious years we’ve spent together.
As my eyes scan the shelves for books that I could easily discard, I find none. I see Harriet the Spy, once the source of my parents’ frustration when I refused to wear nothing but overalls, a yellow raincoat, and a makeshift tool belt for weeks before they bought me another book to help me move on to a different, less obvious, obsession.
The tattered and torn copy of Eat, Pray, Love that I purchased in JFK airport on the way to visit a friend during a summer where I found myself unemployed, living at my parents’ house, and depressed, serves as a reminder of those helpless days that feel so far removed from me now.
I find the first Romeo and Juliet I ever read, covered in scribbles and earmarked pages of favorite lines, their meanings written beside them in pencil. “Take him and cut him out in little stars, and he will make the face of heaven so fine.” No, this insight into my early days with the Bard cannot be replaced, I think to myself.
My original plan has clearly backfired, and I throw the overzealously-sized box back into the trunk of my car, empty and defeated. My shelf of books—once categorized as items just taking up space—quickly transitioned to a cherished shell, housing important pieces of my past, preserving what I’ve learned and loved at different ages. Picking up each one and feeling the pages in my hands remind me of what I felt when I first read them, and that solidifies their rightful place in my heart, as well as in my home.
I now resign myself to having both a physical library and digital library, and so, decide to get acquainted with my e-reader as I sip a glass of wine. After setting up the appropriate password, username, registration and credit card on my account, as well as initially charging the device, I am finally ready to venture out into this simple world of instant book buying. It feels almost effortless to browse through thousands of titles and with the press of a button, have them in my possession at the very moment I wish to read them. The element of having to drive to the bookstore and browse shelves for physical copies is replaced by the convenience of lying in my bed at midnight and clicking “purchase” for instant gratification. The thrill of chasing after the book you just had to have is no longer part of the equation. I could own any book I wanted at a mere moment’s notice. It doesn’t take very long, however, until the novelty of convenience wears off and my patience for technology wanes before becoming entirely non-existent.
A physical book doesn’t alert me that the battery is dying right when I reach the most riveting part of a chapter, interrupting the very moment of suspense I’ve spent the last twenty-three pages building up to. A book doesn’t over-sensitively respond to the touch of my hand. Too often, I make the mistake of trying to turn the page, but accidentally touching my finger to page scroll at the bottom screen. This causes me to relocate fifty pages ahead and thus forces me to maneuver the tiny little scrollbar meticulously back to my place—an unnecessary challenge when your fingers are too fat to navigate with such precision and dexterity. Not to mention it triggers every reader’s worst nightmare: being forced to look at pages ahead and, as a result, accidentally reading something revealing before you were ready to!
The font size, a synthetic digital screen mockery of the authentic ink-on-page freshness, causes strain on my almost-20/20 vision. And unlike a book, I can’t just place the e-reader in my unmade bed for the next evening’s read, or stow it on the nightstand shelf for easy reach—In order to re-charge, it needs to be plugged in. But I don’t have an outlet beside the bed, which is where all of my reading occurs. This is a problem I’ve never encountered before, and for a split second, I entertain the idea of having an electrician install one there to solve this problem.
The sound of a book opening, especially if it’s a hardcover, and aged about ten years, is as irreplaceable as the feel of ivory pages and fresh ink between your fingers. These sensations subconsciously lend themselves to the satisfaction of physically turning a page, rather than unceremoniously swiping. Especially if the paper is the rough-cut deckle edge—the kind of pages that feel handmade, are satisfyingly uneven, and are inserted into only the fanciest hardcover books to match the time period of the novel or the prestigious notoriety of the author.
The mere subject of cover art is another element in itself! Matte, satin, or velvety jackets with embossed lettering and titles stamped in gold and silver foil are all textures that are just as important to the reader as the characters themselves. In fact, while it is urged not to judge a book by its cover, it is hard to deny that a cover doesn’t offer just as much personality to the story as characters themselves.
My relationship with my e-reader is irresponsible, unsatisfying and not long-lasting. When I finish a book, I am greeted with an abrupt blank white screen, rather than the climatic closing of a back cover. The convenience of instant gratification via the little “buy” icon next to each title results in poor impulse selections. Too many late night purchases leads to early morning shame at my terrible literary decision-making. The Baby-Sitter’s Club? The Complete Guide to Quilt Making? Hobby Trains and You? My habit of book-buying whilst falling asleep is wreaking havoc on my previously selective book collection, as well as my pride. I need an intervention. I decide it’s time to break up with my e-reader.
There’s no denying the convenience of traveling with an e-reader filled with a plethora of books to read on a beach vacation, or on a cross-country bus ride. Having once dragged five hardcover books across the world in a duffle bag, I’ll admit it makes no logical sense. However, when it comes to choosing a traditional physical book over the e-version for the sheer purpose of having the full physical experience, disconnecting mentally, and more importantly, disconnecting digitally in a world inundated with technology, what could be better than a good old-fashioned printed book? It’s what I gravitate towards every time.
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