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I was a book hoarder long before hoarding became fodder for reality television. Right now the kitchen table holds stacks of books, the spare room has piles everywhere, the bookshelves in the basement are crammed full, and my Kindle folders are overflowing. There will never be enough time to read everything I have set aside or downloaded, and yet I continue to accumulate more.
E-books have increased my ability to horde books, and they have changed the way I read them. Getting a new book by a favorite author the day it is released at the touch of a button is definitely a plus, and it is often cheaper in e-format than in a print copy. I also prefer to read for information on my Kindle. I can highlight, annotate, and search for relevant or marked points more easily. And the portability can’t be beat. I can sit in a professional meeting and access the information I have marked on the e-copy, without digging through papers that I have to haul to the meeting just in case I need them. The convenience of being able to read anywhere with my phone, iPad, or e-reader has come in handy more than once. And I don’t have to find a place or a home for the book once I have finished it; it stores in my cloud. I hear people say all the time, “I still like the feeling of a book in my hands.” And while I do as well, I am finding more and more that I prefer the crispness of the text on a screen, the ability to change the font size to suit my changing vision, the cost of the e-book compared to the hard copy, and the ease of access and portability.
For all their benefits, the biggest drawback of e-books is that they limit the social relationships I have built around books in the past. I try to book talk to my students often, and it is a must to have the books I talk about in hard copy to lend out when getting students excited about books. But when it comes to talking about books with my adult book buddies, I rarely can hand a book to a friend and say, “You HAVE to read this so we can talk about it!” My friends and I often attend author signings as a social activity. I have many books in my basement library that have been signed by those authors we have met. Now, when I go to see an author, I most often have already read the book in an e-format, so I don’t buy one to have signed. Occasionally I will buy two copies of a book: one e-book to keep, annotate, and refer back to, and one hard copy to lend out. But I only find myself really doing this with professional development books anymore, and that has limited the literary aspect of my social life.
My students also seem to be split between their reading of traditional books and e-books, with some not liking to read on their devices if given the choice between that and an actual book. Students also like to share books with each other. When we go to the library to get books, I watch them “trade up” on the way down so that they can check out the book their friend has just read and recommended. Our classroom is built around a community of reading, and being able to share actual books with each other is integral to the building and maintenance of that community. While blogging about their books has broadened the ability of my students to share information and ideas about books, that exchange of ideas can’t really reach any depth without the readers having access to the titles being discussed. I do not book talk or blog any book that our students can’t access in our school or classroom library, because many students cannot often afford to purchase the books I talk about, and they still don’t like to borrow from other libraries.
The positives and negatives of e-books is still a fine balance, and ultimately is a personal preference for the individual reader. This weekend I have a stack of four print books that I want to read from the library shipment we got this week, and several e-books that I am dying to get to, including one that I have from a week ago that needs to be finished first. And I am expecting a copy of Falling in Love with Close Reading to be arriving shortly in the mail today. No matter what the format, reading is reading, and the more we and our students read and talk about what we read, the better we can connect to the world around us.