My E-Reader and Me: A Match Made In “Meh”

This year, around the holidays, I finally broke down and bought myself an E-reader.  Actually, it was a gift, but it was one of those gifts.  You know the ones.  I told my wife that I was interested in getting one, and spent so much time telling her exactly what I was looking for that she finally said, “It sounds great.  Order it, and when it arrives I’ll wrap it, slap a ribbon on it, and hand it back to you.”

What did I want that was so specific?  Well, I wanted something small, that I could use as easily out in direct sunlight, say at the beach, as I could in bed late at night when she was already asleep.  So it had to be one of the old fashioned black-and-white readers with a matte screen and back light — an iPad Mini, which I REALLY coveted because they’re just so cool, wouldn’t work.  Too much glare.  I wanted it to be compatible across as many ebook platforms as possible — I did NOT want it to be specific just to Kindle format or the equivalent.  In fact, I really didn’t want to buy into Amazon’s empire at all, nor Barnes and Noble’s, nor Apple’s.  And I wanted to be able to read not only published books, but also unfinished manuscripts, be they my own or those of colleagues.  So it needed to be able to handle .pdf files, and, if possible, .doc and .rtf files as well.  And finally, with our first kid in college and our second not that far away from same, I didn’t want to spend a lot.

In the end, I ordered a Kobo Glow.  It was relatively inexpensive; it handles computer files and a variety of ebook formats.  The screen is glare-free; the back light works well.  It’s not too big, and the cover I bought with it works nicely and looks classy.  And I liked the idea of buying something from a plucky little Canadian company instead of one of the behemoths.

So, now I have an E-reader.  And despite getting pretty much exactly what I was after, I’m not sure how I feel about it.

Oh, the device itself is fine.  Kobo’s online bookstore interface is a little clunky, and there are things about the Kobo utility software that annoy me.  And it’s not an iPad Mini.  Those things are so cool . . .  I guess I said that already.  But the Kobo does what it’s supposed to do, and it has enabled me to read through a number of manuscripts with ease, and without having to lug the pages around.  On the whole I’m pleased if not overwhelmed with the purchase.

But I like books.  Paper ones.  The kind that I’ve been reading since I was a little kid.  My wife has an iPad — not a Mini (which are so cool) but one of the full-sized ones — and she reads on it almost exclusively now.  I know lots of people who are like that.  They got their E-reader and haven’t touched a paper book since.  I still read paper books by default.  In part that’s because I have so many of them sitting in my office that I have yet to read.  It could take me years to get through all of them, and by then my little black-and-white Kobo will look about as new and exciting as a Smith Corona Selectric.  (For those of you who don’t get the reference, that’s the brand and model of electric typewriter I received as a present when I graduated from high school.  [Cue crickets]  Okay, for those of you who don’t know, an electric typewriter is a device that . . . Oh, hell, ask your parents.)

Sometimes I enjoy the E-reader.  I love gadgets, and I will admit that carrying the Kobo with me when I travel is a lot better than carrying a couple of books and two or three manuscripts or bound galleys.  I’m not a Luddite — I’m not at all tech-adverse.  I love my computers (yes, I have a couple) and my smart phone.  And I’m also aware of the environmental arguments in favor of ebooks:  from production, through transportation, to warehouse storage, we as a society pay a hefty cost in carbon expenditure for our paper books.  I get that.  But on the other hand, on a purely personal level, I spend the better part of just about every day in front of either my desktop or my laptop, or fiddling around with that phone.  The last thing I want to do when I decide to kick back with a “book” is stare at another screen.  And it’s not as though the manufacture of electronics is easy on the planet.

In the end, my preference for “real” books is probably pretty basic.  It comes down to aesthetics.  People talk about the smell of a paper book, the tactile quality of turning pages, the comforting heft of holding a hardcover.  I can relate to all of that.  An E-reader is more convenient, but much of that convenience is tied to eliminating those sensual elements of reading that I like most.  An E-reader is sleek (but there’s no paper smell or feel).  I can turn pages with a tap of the screen (but I like turning real pages).  It’s light and easy to hold (it’s almost too light).

I’m not saying I’m going to ditch my Kobo.  There are times when convenience is more important than aesthetics.  And it is a cool little device — I mean it’s no iPad Mini, but what the hell.  That said, though, I won’t be getting rid of my paper books any time soon; in fact, I’ll keep buying them for as long as they’re available.

What about you?  Where are you on the whole paper versus screens thing?

David B. Coe

Filed under publishing, publishing trends, reading, the business of writing, writing life. You can also use to trackback.

There are 9 comments. Get the RSS feed for comments on this entry.

  1. 1. Paul (@princejvstin)

    On my long (and often delayed) flights to and from the East this last weekend–my ereader was a godsend. Not having to carry extra books around, having choice to pick what I wanted to read next? Bliss.

  2. 2. Barry

    I was given an iPad a couple years back. I have noticed a shift towards using it over dead tree versions. Additionally, it’s great for rulebooks for the table top games I play. Much easier to carry an iPad then multiple 300 page paper bricks. The real killer app for me has been comic books. I don’t even want to know how much I’ve spent on the 500+ comics that I’ve picked up.

  3. 3. Angela Korra'ti

    For my daily commute reading, I VERY much prefer reading on a device, since my various devices (I have multiple ways to read ebooks) are a lot more able to withstand me hauling them around in a backpack than paperbacks are. And I’m not going to lug a hardback around on a commute if I can help it.

    That said, I also buy paperbacks for my most treasured authors, the people about whom I’d be sad if the power went out and I couldn’t read any of their works.

    But really, at the end of the day, what’s important to me is the _story_. I don’t care what form factor it’s delivered to me in. Tell me a good enough story, I’ll read it off the back of a cereal box.

  4. 4. michelle

    I prefer paper books as well, but will read on the iPad if I can’t get a paper version.

    In theory, the idea of ebooks is very compelling; the books take no physical space in an otherwise book crowded house.

    But in practice, picking up an electronic device to read *books* feels in some ways like … work. Like proofing pages, etc. I know it’s not the same – but there’s some part of me that twitches that way because I *do* work on the iPad.

    Whereas picking up a physical book doesn’t push those buttons. I mean, if it’s a physical book, there’s nothing I can do about anything in it at that point.

  5. 5. Ric Day

    I am a senior, a retired book publisher, and someone who enjoys technology. I currently have in my home office a Sony PRS 700 (early touchscreen reader about the size of an iPad Mini), a basic Kobo reader, an iPad 2nd gen, my daughter’s iPad mini, and my wife’s iPad Air. I have to beg to get brief access to the last two devices.

    I was long convinced that screen glare made the iPad line unsuited to reading outdoors. Which is true, but it turns out to be mostly easy to line the device up without screen glare.

    I currently buy ebooks from Apple and direct from publishers. I have dropped Amazon as a place to shop because of their sudden shift to the dark side. Kobo us also off my list – I have known many of the people there from the start, but their current relationship with Rakuten is tainting Kobo with the enormous involvement Rakuten has in selling “protected” wildlife parts (notably whale and elephant parts) – the EIA say Rakuten is the world’s largest seller of these.

  6. 6. Tim

    I have a Kindle – 3rd generation without ads. I like reading on it, especially for travel and especially since it can go days without a charge. I still like paper books as well – but I buy primarily hardcover books – once in a while a new book from a favorite author, otherwise steeply discounted books from a catalog I receive in the mail if they look interesting. I like the aesthetics of actual books, but the convenience of the Kindle is increasingly winning. I can send pdfs to it directly, or use Calibre to convert other formats, so I’m not inconvenienced by their proprietary ways too much although I do worry about it a little bit.

  7. 7. KatrinaK

    Your description of how you feel about books hits home with me. I like paper books. I have plenty of gadgets – a Kindle, a Nexus, an iPad, and they’re nice gadgets, but when I have a choice between reading on paper and reading on a gadget, I choose the paper. The gadgets are useful on trains and plains and other times when I don’t want to carry a book. I end up getting quite a few free books for them and I’ve bought e-books that aren’t easily or affordably available on paper but I have trouble convincing myself that I want to buy e-books when I could be buying paper books that I can hold in my hand, see on my shelves, and lend to other people as desired.

  8. 8. carmen webster buxton

    I was an early adopter; I’m on my 6th Kindle. The simple fact is, with a Kindle in my purse, I have a lot more time for reading than I did before. If I’m stuck waiting in line at the bank or at the dentist’s office, I whip out the Kindle. What used to be down time becomes reading time.

    I also have a Kindle Fire, for color illustrations and to read manuscripts aloud to me (best way to proofread!), but I prefer reading on my Kindle Paperwhite. It’s not back lit, it’s front lit (the Kobo Glo is, too), easily adjustable to any lighting, and very easy on my eyes. I love the highlighting and annotating features, and getting a definition by tapping a word. On some books, I rely on the X-Ray feature, to keep track of obscure characters who reappear after a 10-chapter absence. I have actually reached the point that I am impatient with paper books because I can’t adjust the font.

    I still buy paper books when I want to get them signed by authors, but on the whole, I am content with a digital library.


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Author Information

David B. Coe

David B. Coe ( is the Crawford award-winning author of the LonTobyn Chronicle, the Winds of the Forelands quintet, the Blood of the Southlands trilogy, and a number of short stories. Writing as D.B. Jackson (, he is the author of the Thieftaker Chronicles, a blend of urban fantasy, mystery, and historical fiction. David is also part of the Magical Words group blog (, and co-author of How To Write Magical Words: A Writer’s Companion. In 2010 he wrote the novelization of director Ridley Scott’s movie, Robin Hood. His books have been translated into more than a dozen languages. Visit site.



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