A Celebration of the Physical Book

In this new world of digital media and new technologies, it can be very tempting to swap your old faithful physical books with a Kindle. This recent technology is light, easy and convenient, and can carry an entire library in an object the size of your palm. It must then come as a surprise the fact that book sales actually increased 5% over 2018. So what is it that makes books, compared to CDs or cassettes, stand the test of time?

I’m sure all the book lovers out there will agree with me when I say reading a book involves a distinctive tactile experience. The weight and size of the object. How your hands flip through it. The thickness of the page. All will shape your absorbing of the text. The detail someone put into designing the cover and using a certain font and character size have all been calculated to induce a specific experience and lead to the creation of a specific object. Which brings me to my first point.

As an object, a physical book can be owned. When you pay in exchange for a book you will now possess it and have every right to do what you want with it. It is not ‘lent’ to you like with an eBook, which could disappear any minute from your device because your rights rescinded. It is yours. And I believe how you use it truly defines the type of person you are. Having doggy-eared pages,  writing thoughts in it, maybe you spilt coffee on it that one time, are all precious details that make the book truly yours and will affect how you’ll remember the story.

A second thing that would drive me crazy about reading an eBook would be that I can’t lend it. More people can download the same copy but there is something deeply intimate about sharing a book with someone. With the object you also share your reaction and experiences you had with it. I’ve always found it a meaningful gesture being lent a book. Seeing what someone underlined or the bits and pieces forgotten in between the pages. There is a sense of trust that cannot be replicated with an electronic book.

These may seem all sentimentalisms that can’t be compared to the efficiency and cheapness of eBooks. I’m sure people were feeling very sympathetic towards horses when the cars started replacing the carriages but that did not stop them, right? So if you are feeling a bit sceptical with my initial sappy response here are some more “scientific” reasons as to why books to eBooks are like the Beatles to the Spice Girls.

Firstly because of the reduction in the diversification of tactile experience, eBooks can reduce comprehension. Especially a younger audience will easily get distracted with all the options of an electronic device and not be as focused. A book, on the contrary, doesn’t really allow for multitasking (except for you magical beings out there that manage to read in the shower without getting the book wet).

Secondly, in addition to general comprehension electronic and physical readers were both tested.  The results showed that the former readers had a diminished concept of the timeline compared to the latter. Because electronic devices don’t include the process of going through the pages systematically, but is always fixated on the same layout, a reader may therefore remember a book in a confused order. 

Ultimately, reading on a screen is generally more tiring and a higher percentage of eBook readers leave a book unfinished compared to their counterparts.

I don’t deny that eBooks have several advantages.I had a deranged inspiration that made me start reading Tolstoy the other day and my hand cramped after the first ten pages. Also, the times a book has fallen on my face when I was reading in bed cannot be counted on two hands. Nevertheless, I believe the object that is the book, defines humanity in their need to communicate stories and the want to know that an object can be shared and passed down through generations with personal experiences tied to it. I don’t believe an eBook can do that for us.

– Greta Sanna 


One thought on “A Celebration of the Physical Book

  1. I was given a kindle a few years back, it did come in handy when I was reading game of thrones and didn’t want to lug it to work every day. But as someone that has worked in a bookshop, nothing beats a book in your hands. The smell of a book! The way the pages sound as you turn them and the dread as you see the pages left to read diminishing but can’t bear to slow down because you have to find out what happens.

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