Thursday, 24 February 2011

Ten Things I Hate About eReaders

When I go into a bookshop and see the eReader promotional stand, I want to kick it. Hard. I make loud declarations, like, “These are evil devices. Stealing the soul of literature…” and  “Only pretentious people use eReaders. They’re not really reading. They’re just standing there posing.” 

Husband ducks away from me down the nearest aisle, nervously flicking through anything to hand, be it the Aga Cookery Book or The Guide to Organic Baby Birthing for Vegans until I’ve finished my little rant.

Recently he’s taken to suggesting that perhaps he might like an eReader, but I know he’s only doing it to start a debate; we like to discuss such things loudly and forthrightly on long car journeys. 

So here is my list. Ten things I hate about eReaders. The list has been substantially edited, to preserve sanity; some of my reasons were, if I’m completely honest, bordering on petty. But the ones that remain, I feel, are totally valid.

1. E-readers don’t smell like books.

2. If you leave your eReader on the bus, you will feel very upset and spend hours on the travel hotline trying to get through to lost property. If you leave a book on the bus, you feel mildy annoyed but hope someone deserving will pick it up and read it.

3. You can’t borrow eReaders from the library and return them with curious little pencilled notes down the margin for the next borrower to puzzle over.

4. You can’t visit the home of an eReader advocate and make random, wild assumptions about their personality by looking at the books on their shelves. You would have to pinch their digitized library for that.

5. eReaders give nothing away about the journey you’ve taken with a book. No dog ears, smells or smudges. They don’t express a life shared with a story. In the future, people won’t lovingly pass on the battered books they read repeatedly as kids.

6. eReaders threaten the survival of our little buddy the humble Silverfish, who survives on polysaccharides, paper and glue.

7. eReaders are expensive and perpetuate the advantage of those with money over those without and are being dallied as an catalyst to speed up cuts to library services. A politician interviewed on the radio recently suggested that libraries would become redundant as more people took to eReaders, using this to justify their closures. He failed to see that the whole point of libraries is free access to texts, learning and technology for all. He had the cheek to suggest libraries could be run by volunteers. However well-intentioned and eager, volunteers will never replace our brilliant librarians. I wish I had noted the politician’s name. I would write a twisted little story with his name thinly disguised as the baddy who comes to a slow, sticky end, probably involving a swarm of bees, and stoning with faulty eReaders.

8a. An eReader will break if my cat sits on it.

8b. If I drop an eReader in the bath it won’t be fixed by a couple of hours wrinkling dry on a radiator.

9. You can’t browse for books with an eReader. Yes, I know They say you can. But I like to get off my bum and go to an actual shop and explore shelves of actual, tangible books and I like to actually open their actual pages, and smell and feel...

 10. They rely on a battery which is bad for the environment, and impractical for camping / far flung travel / power cuts / if you forget to charge it. And to be honest, I struggle to remember to charge my phone.

However, because writing is supposed to be ‘What I do now…’ I ought to be able to see the other side of the (electronically distributed) story. What if, for example, I have a character who is heavily into tech? And in her hi-spec airport-scattered flat she had replaced all her books with a large projected digital bookcase. She never leaves home without her eReader; she wouldn’t dream of it and doesn’t know how she lived before. How on earth could she read words off an actual bit of paper, placed there in actual printed ink. How did she manage before when she couldn’t change text font to her exact preference? Could I stop my sneering disregard for eReaders from sneaking, commando style, into the text?

So, let’s see if I can present the other side of the argument.

Things that aren’t so bad about eReaders:

1. They save on shelf space.

2. They are shiny and make you feel superior and cool (a bit like that kid at school in the 90’s who got a Gameboy before everyone else.)

3. They don’t melt in the sun and fall apart.

4. They don’t require as many trees to be cut down to make them.

5. Unlike your favourite book, you won’t lend your eReader to a friend (why would you?) then spend the next few years wondering how you can ask for it back without sounding rude and petty, or stealthily sneaking through their book case.

So, they have their place. And I’m going to have to suck it up because I'll probably get given one for Christmas when they get cheaper. I’ll mutter darkly about it, whilst secretly enjoying the eNote-scribble facility or authentic page-turning soundFX.
And, ultimately, if someone published me, and I ended up on an eReader, I wouldn’t be that cross. In fact, I’d probably kiss them. Everyone has their price.  


  1. Just discovered your blog thanks to this post! I adore your top 10! Especially 8a. If my cat sat on a Kindle, the Kindle would be dead.

    I'm not a eBook or eReader fan, I definitely prefer my paperbacks, hardbacks in all their beautiful dog-earred glory :)

  2. Hi there! Found your post thanks to Bella (the previous comment maker up there). Great post. So many points I agree with. I have one myself...wait before you get the tar and feathers out...but it was given to me as a gift with the knowledge that A: It'd bed used as a back up ONLY (if I needed an extra copy of the paper book I was alredy reading); B: It'd be used for free domain classic books that I might not already own (but would buy in PAPER one day); and C: It's be used for those RARE occasions when I read an ARC that was in eGalley format only and I couldn't say no (at least til it came out in it's beautiful paper version for purchase). So you see...definitely on board with you...with the few exceptions that seem to plague any "rule". Happy reading (whatever your format)! ^_^

  3. I'm here because of Bella, too. What sort of cats have you got? If my cat (if I had one) sat on my Sony, it would be fine. There you have it, the superiority of the Sony over the Kindle, :).

  4. Hi Bella,
    yes; dog-earred is good. Cat-flattened is bad! I like your blog and I like your cats - they are beautiful. Have you got two? Mine's a one-eyed mog. I'm sure I'll write his story here one day. It's a bit epic! Thanks for following!

  5. Hello GMR, thanks for confessing to being 'one of them'!! But I totally agree with your reasons. and I think if I'm honest I will probably succumb eventually. I had a similar rant when everyone starting getting mobile phones years ago, on the basis that it would mean the death of the beautiful british red phone box. (if I'm honest, they used to mostly smell of pee and old chips and mostly were broken, so they weren't really that amazing) but there we go. I'm just a luddite, I think. Your thoughts in defence of the ereader are most welcome here.!
    Thanks for reading!!

  6. Hi whereisrikki,
    cat damage inflicted less from actual sitting action from cat, more based on the claw-on-delicate-screen action! Alfie, my cat, knows that this flat box thing I sit typing on every day is somehow important, and likes to sit on the keyboard so I will look at him not the screen. I wouldn't trust him with either kindle or sony! But thank you for the cat proof assessment of ereaders. This is valuable info, for when I do, inevitably, go over to the dark side of techy reading! and far more relevant spec info than screen size or capacity.
    Thanks for reading!!

  7. hahaha! I just read this out loud to my husband, and we really enjoyed ourselves! I recently blogged about receiving a Kindle for my birthday, and when someone commented that they did not support e-readers I, as someone who loves books and will always keep a house filled with books regardless of owning an e-reader, wondered why. So, I googled something along the lines of "why I hate ereaders" and found your article, and I am so glad that I did! I love it! :)

    P.S. E-readers are really great for finding rare books that I couldn't otherwise read -- I just search and there it is! Usually free, in the public domain. Now, I'd rather have an old smelly edition of the Real Book, BUT a Kindle edition is better than no edition at all, don't you think?

  8. I agreed with you until you presented the pro-side. Also your favorite author can't autograph your e-reader and why would they when it's like a digital book ipod. Also to text on screen isn't real and is easy to change and erase. But in a book it's real. A e-reader is velveteen rabbbit book, that will NEVER become real and doesn't want to be because it has no soul.

  9. I hope you're being sarcastic.

    I bought an e-reader for $100 a few months back. I downloaded 400+ books for free within 2 months. I read everyday on my way to work and back - that's at least 2 to 3 hours - and a few more in addition if I feel like it. I'd say the e-reader purchase was definitely a good decision.

    Don't get me wrong, I love the feel of a good old book while reading. Unfortunately, I can't download physical copies of books from the internet.

  10. I just got an ereader for Christmas and I'm torn about whether to let him return it or whether I suck it up and keep it. I've never wanted one and never pictured myself using one. I don't buy books I use the library. I love using the library. I can't lie in a bed holding an ereader. Sigh.

  11. Hi Hannah!
    Thanks for your comment. Great point about the rare books. I hadn´t thought of that and that truly is worthwhile. I am SLOWLY coming round to the idea that ereaders are not the death of great books, but just a new way of accessing them... ! enjoy your ereader AND those lovely old fashioned paper ones too!

  12. And, A. Moore - great point about the author signiture... I wonder what the digital alternative might be... some of my most treasured possessions are signed copies of books.

  13. Hello Dave, thanks for your comment! I am being a tiny bit sarcastic... (only a bit) It´s great that it opens up a great reading experience for commuters... but ruins my enjoyment of being nosy about what people on trains are reading! perhaps ereaders could develop some sort of outer screen with a colour image of the book crrently being read?!

  14. Hi Raven Create,

    keep hold of it for a bit... it will either grow on you... or you can sell it on ebay and buy a pile of gorgeous paper books instead. I, too, love my local library and the fantastic people that work there. Although one great feature about the kindle that I´ve discovered is that it shows sections highlighted by other readers, a bit like the pencilled sections in library books that I find fascinating to puzzle over! And, from borrowing my husband´s kindle, I´ve mastered the reading-in-bed-kindle-position - because there is only one ´side´to the text, it means you can lie on your favoured side for longer! I still find it a bit heavier than a normal book though... Good luck! and happy reading either way!