Over at Mashable, MJ Franklin declares that he is “a millennial, and (he) will never give up reading real books“. If you were wondering, he defines “real books” as the paper-and-glue sort, not those filthy ones-and-zeroes people keep locked up in their e-readers. Audiobooks don’t even enter the discussion, so his post is already inadequate as far as I’m concerned.
At the heart of Franklin’s thesis is a study of “300 university students in the U.S., Japan, Germany, and Slovakia” that reveals how millennials, the internet’s favorite generation, say that they prefer physical books to digital ones by an overwhelming margin. The study focused on the students’ medium of choice for textbooks, but Franklin repurposes the statistic as a generalization about the state of books, and not for the first time.
I’m technically a millennial, although I’m at the top of the cut-off, so I exist in that uncomfortable middle-ground where I’m old enough to side-eye the newest whine/rant but young enough to get lumped in with bullshit trends. Even still, from an anecdotal perspective, I feel like I’ve definitely seen evidence of this particular trend in my life. My parents love their e-readers, but many of my peers seem to prefer physical books. Also, I won’t deny that I love physical books. Anyone who has seen my apartment knows that for a fact.
When Franklin says that he recently bought a new shelf to house his “to-read” collection, I had to laugh, because I have five bookcases full to overflowing with “to-read” books. I keep buying physical books even though I ran out of space years ago. I don’t think the demand for hardcovers and paperbacks will go away any time soon.
It’s fair to say that I agree with some of the sentiment behind Franklin’s post, but I don’t agree with his conclusions. He portrays the choice between physical books and ebooks as a pitched battle, as if only one format can survive and Your Loyalty Will be Tested. It’s a strangely petulant and exclusionary stance.
It doesn’t help that I’ve never been able to relate to people who like to write in the margins of books. I shudder at the thought of ruining a book by writing in it, and I thoroughly hate it when I buy a used books only to discover writing in the margins. I’ll admit that Franklin’s love of marginalia didn’t really improve my opinion of him, but I suppose if that’s how he likes to read, who am I to stop him?
That’s really the main point, though, isn’t it? How does my enjoyment of audiobooks and ebooks interfere with Franklin’s appreciation for the printed page? The answer is that it doesn’t, not one bit. Every reading format has positives and negatives, and they can (and should) co-exist.
Audiobooks are great for times when I want to keep my brain occupied during a mindless or repetitive task like driving, exercising or washing the dishes. I love audiobooks, but I would never sit down on the couch and listen to one unless I was doing something else at the same time.
I definitely love physical books as objects, especially when they have a cool cover design. I also feel like reading the printed page transports me into a world of my imagination like nothing else. Problem is, I hardly ever have the time to sit down and do nothing but read for more than half an hour or so. I can maybe squeeze in a chapter or two of reading during my lunch break, but I finish books faster if I listen to them during my commute.
Ebooks are by far the most convenient medium. I’ve read books on my iPhone while waiting for the subway, and my Kindle is crucial when I travel. I also love that I can put my Kindle or my iPhone in my pocket and carry hundreds of books with me wherever I go. The biggest downside, though, is that it is incredibly easy to forget about all of those ebooks I’ve impulse-purchased for $1.99 over the years. I never look at them, so they might as well not be there.
As I grow older and my life becomes fuller, I have to squeeze in reading for fun when I can. Focusing on the “realness” of a physical book over more practical considerations like storage space, free time and convenience is a luxury I can no longer afford. It’s the kind of lesson you can only learn by growing older and understanding how your priorities have changed.
I’ll probably never stop buying physical books because I have terrible impulse control, but that doesn’t mean I think they’re any better or worse than other mediums. I want books in every format so that I can read as much as possible.