Nathan Pyle/Buzzfeed

Well, we can’t say it would smell as sweet.

As a public-transit commuter, I have the opportunity to do a lot of people watching. All this surveillance sometimes leads me to notice patterns of behavior among my fellow train riders. One trend I’ve observed lately is the reappearance of “real” books.  Don’t get me wrong; they never disappeared completely. But, over the past few years, I’ve seen a preponderance of eReaders and those holding a paperback or hardcover book were definitely in the minority. Boston is a college town so, there are always textbooks visible. I’m not counting those when I say that it seems now the opposite is true. Of those people who appear to be reading for pleasure, more are reading a physical book these days.

The debate over which is better, “real” books vs. ebooks has been waging since the first electronic book was published. When and what was that? Arguably it was the King James Bible, available on a device sold for that book, and no others, in 1989.



Of course, “real” books have been around a lot longer. They began as tablets then papyrus scrolls. They didn’t start out in the form that we typically think of them – printed paper bound between a front and back cover – so might ebooks merely be the next step in the evolution of the medium?

There are those who believe that, in time, ebooks will replace paper books entirely. They will become “antiques” to future generations like typewriters and record players.

Now, I’m no Luddite, I do own a Kindle, but I have to disagree. We, humans, are tactile creatures. An ebook doesn’t satisfy the same needs that a paper copy does. All readers have their rituals, but those that share an affinity for actual books don’t want to forgo the pleasures associated with them. We like browsing through bookstores, especially a used-book store, where we can muse about the former owners of well-loved tomes. How does one collect and display e-volumes on a shelf?


I know we’re supposed to be able to “write” in the margins and make notes in an ebook, though I haven’t mastered that bit of technology. What about dog-earring the pages? (I know. For some the thought of doing that is shudder-inducing.)  Trading and sharing with friends is not the same experience when your biggest concern is whether your devices are compatible. And then there is the smell.  There is nothing like the smell of a book, whether it’s old and musty or hot off the press. Here at SS&S, with our first novel, “Eden’s Fall,” paperbacks have, so far, outsold ebooks by more than two to one. Will the trend continue? Only time will tell.


Jeff Stahler for UFS

Digital books, which are less expensive than physical books, and have led to a self-publishing explosion from which many a writer has benefitted, may look like copies of paper, but they can’t be designed or typeset in the same way as paper. Though the cover images may look terrific on a hi-res screen, they are still images rather than physical things.


There are advantages to having a book in digital form, like easy scrolling text, the portability of your library. If you forget your eReader, there’s always your ever-present phone on which to read. And, there’s the ability to sync with audiobooks and not lose your place.

Hipster-Kindle-cartoon-540x571 Matt Bradshaw

Matt Bradshaw

Digital technology, in any form, is not going away. But, just like in fashion, everything old is always new again. Younger generations that we assume will look at the trappings of the past with disdain (and for the most part, they will), will also want to adopt and keep alive analog tech like Polaroid cameras, rotary phones, and those record players. Remember when head phones needed to be tiny in-the-ear devices? Look around and what do you see today? Giant “cans” bigger than hockey pucks that almost qualify as a hat.  Technology needs to appeal to the physical senses. It might at some distant point in the future, but until then there’s still a need for things like lovely, fragrant, bulky, satisfying books.


Do you prefer one form over the other? Do you collect both? Let’s discuss in the comments.

Thanks for reading. Please enjoy some pics of the aftermath of this week’s snowpocalypse! What a difference a day makes.