Almost since Amazon started its line of Kindle e-readers, I’ve been using one. My family first started using Amazon in the late 90s because they made it easy to find books that were often difficult to find in bookstores, and the Kindle seems like a natural extension of that. I’ll often extoll the virtues of its e-paper system, which does not have a backlight or traditional electronic screen (I would not read on a traditional tablet), reducing glare and making for a much more book-like experience than reading on a tablet, the ease and relative inexpensiveness of buying Kindle books, especially classics and older works, which are often free or close to it on Kindle, and the advantages of portability, allowing you to carry thousands of pages of reading material around in your pocket.
That last point especially has been a major selling point for me, since in the past few years I’ve been moving around frequently, and lugging a linearly accumulating collection of physical books would have been impractical and challenging. It made perfect sense to simply buy such books on Kindle (and I am a book buyer, as I do like to re-read or reference most of the books I read – as much as I enjoy libraries, my wife is more a library person than I am), and have them available in my Kindle “library” whenever and wherever I might be.
None of those advantages have changed, but I’ve recently reached a position where the possibility of having bookshelves again is more viable, and I’ve been thinking about what kinds of books would be on those shelves. Mostly, my physical book collection consists of nonfiction tomes, and books from my childhood. Contemplating this, I’ve been thinking how nice it would be to have some of the books that I’ve read on Kindle, the ones I’ve really enjoyed or reference/re-read very frequently, as “real” books. Yet buying duplicate books seems terribly inefficient.
There’s also the fact that, contrary to the impression given by the word “buy,” you apparently don’t entirely own Kindle books – it’s more of a long-term loan. I came across this fact when I was looking into the publication decision on the controversial Dr. Seuss books: Amazon’s terms of service for the Kindle let them remove books that you’ve already purchased from your Kindle library if they decide to stop publishing that material. Now, it’s not that I read a lot of books that would be considered incisive or controversial, but if I’m paying for something and being told that I’ve purchased it, it seems to me that I should have control over what happens to what has become my property.
In truth, none of this reflection will likely cause any profound change in my reading habits. I will most likely still read the majority of books on my Kindle, and I will continue to take advantage of its portability and ease of use. I’m not one of those people who claims that physical books are innately superior, though I do enjoy them. Yet maybe, as I come across books that I particularly enjoy, or that I find myself re-downloading to reference frequently, a few of them might eventually make their way from the digital fantasy world into the physical realm of my domain.