Who needs books these days? Everything is available online. Digital is better. I can carry 1000 books in my pocket on one device. These arguments and more are made all the time in favour of doing away with physical books. I’ve heard them called a waste of paper and space. Lots of people think that we just don’t need them anymore. I disagree. There are several reasons to hold on to physical books.
There is a very specific feeling of picking out a new book. Browsing through a bookstore is an experience that I live for, walking between the stacks in a physical bookstore, checking out the cover art, and absorbing the sheer volume of titles. It’s different than scrolling through Amazon for a kindle title. In that world of digital titles and thumbnails of cover art it would be easy to miss those hidden gems that become your favourite. I remember digging through the fantasy section at my local bookstore when I was young and finding a cover depicting a young man looking over a winter landscape with a wolf walking next to him. That book was A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin. Who would have thought that that book that I found would blow up 15 years later into one of the biggest television franchises in history.
Another important factor in favour of the physical book and that is how great it makes your room look. Your kindle does not show off your book collection in the same way that hundreds — or in my case thousands — of books displayed on a shelf does. No one is impressed by your kindle storage capacity. No matter how many digital books you have, your kindle will still be the same size, it will still take up the same amount of space. The best you can hope for is buying an interesting case for it and making it look more like a physical book. And really, you could spend less money and carry around your physical book. The kindle books are not free and you have to spend money on the device itself. Plus, physical books never run out of batteries.
Aside from the beautiful display of books, having things on a shelf allows you to see your collections. As someone who owns four separate copies of the entire Harry Potter series, I like to have my beautiful books on display for everyone to see. With all of the illustrated editions that have been coming out, there’s a lot to show off. You don’t get that with a kindle book. You might not even see the illustrations. In association with those books, I also have my collectibles on the shelves. My Dobby funko has a place atop a stack of books. Putting him on top of my kindle case would not have the same gravitas.
Aside from all of those aesthetic reasons for having a collection of physical books, they are better for your brain than a screen. A study in 2014 showed that physical books are easier to remember than digital ones. That might have something to do with the way we’re used to skimming text on a website. For example, when scrolling through social media we tend to only take in the headlines. That allows us to decide which thing we want to read. In a novel though, that doesn’t really work. Skimming makes you miss important details, which greatly reduces your comprehension of the text. E-readers that are backlit have the same effect as the bright blue light of your phone or computer. That light, which you are probably staring at all day while you attempt to do your homework, disrupts your circadian rhythm. Instead of putting you to sleep, which is what a lot of people are reading for, it will make it so your brain thinks the sun is out, which stops you from sleeping, which is exactly what watching Netflix for three hours will do, defeating the whole purpose of reading a book.
By far the best thing about a physical book is the community aspect. Sharing a book that you’ve read several times, highlighted, written in the margins, allows you to connect with people on a level that you really don’t when you say “you should download this ebook that I read.” The new reader doesn’t get your thoughts and feelings with the stark and sterile digital text. It’s sending it off like a like on facebook, which as we all know amounts to basically nothing.
Physical books have been a part of human culture since the invention of writing and I feel like they are something that needs to continue. Support real books. Read real books. Carry them around so I can see which books you like so we can be friends.