For the Love of Books

I was raised in a reading family, by a father who showed his love for us in many ways, but none better than through books. As kids, my sister and I were never chided to go outside and get “fresh air”; if we were reading on the couch, then that was just fine. Weekends found me sitting on a tiny chair at the local bookstore, nose deep in the latest installation of The Baby-sitters Club or Sweet Valley High, tearing through them as fast as I could.

My love for print continued into adulthood. When I moved to New York from California, I shipped 10 boxes of books across the country, reluctant to weed anything out of my collection. I hold onto books that I have never read, might never read, but want to keep just in case. I buy more books than a person can physically read in a week, so that there’s always a backlog, a vast library to draw from if I’m in need of something new.

When I got a Kindle for my birthday, I found myself reading more, but in a different way. Books are expensive. Used bookstores are a wonderful thing, and most of my library is culled from the bookstore down the street or the guy that parks on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn and sells mass market paperbacks two for five dollars. To kill time before movies, I dip into the Strand Bookstore and roam the stacks. I rarely leave empty-handed. The books I buy on my Kindle are different than the books I purchase in real life. I find that my reading repertoire has expanded because I’m much more willing to spend $9.99 on a new release that I’ll read in a weekend than the $27 it would cost to purchase a hard copy.

My friend Greg is a reader, someone I talk to endlessly about books. It is part of the rock solid foundation that our friendship is built on. I have spent the better part of two years proselytizing the benefits of a Kindle, but he’s always resistant.

“I’m not anti-Kindle, it’s just not something I’ve ever budgeted for. I know that in the long run a Kindle would save me money, but when I have the choice to buy a used book or spend $140 (clearly, I would get the Paperwhite) on a gadget to then buy a book, I get the used book,” he told me. His financial concerns are valid. If I hadn’t been given a Kindle as a gift three years ago, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have one now.

The decision to buy a new book in print does not come lightly. I think about money an awful lot, but never so much as when I’m standing in front of the New Release table at the Strand, clutching two heavy volumes to my chest. Sometimes, I put them down, whispering, “I’ll Kindle you,” and leaving quickly. Other times, I belly up to the register with confidence, and plunk down my card, wincing only a little when I sign the slip. Print books, for all their attendant charms, are cumbersome and do not lend themselves kindy to one-handed reading on a crowded subway car, clutching an iced coffee and avoiding the soft bodies of my fellow commuters. To buy a book in print means that consuming that media will be an event, with tea, with a blanket, with the sun on my face and my bare feet warmed by the tar of my roof. This experience is best reserved for big, serious books that are worth the effort and worth the price. My Kindle purchases tend towards the frivolous, the fluffy, the quick reads I don’t have to think much about.

I have rules about what to buy. Short story collections read poorly on an e-reader, and are the kind of thing you want to have in paper, for reference and to pass on to others. The juicy, plot-heavy books of summer that you breeze through over two lazy days on the beach are perfect in their digital form. They are meant to be read laying down, with one hand, your other free to shield your face from the sun, to drink a beer, to idly trail your fingers through cool lake water. You will finish that book by morning, so spending less money on it seems fair. The Kindle promises the luxury of convenience, the power and vastness of choice that comes from being able to purchase any book I want with a few clicks. It imbues each choice you make with thought, and forces me to slow down a little. I find that I’m actually more thoughtful with my money when faced with the decision on whether or not to click the purchase button, or to pony up the $27 it costs to buy a new book.

And yet, I haven’t slowed down in purchasing real books. There’s more guilt attached to purchasing a book on my Kindle when I have a leaning stack of books to read on my bedside table right now.

“I shouldn’t get this,” I tell myself. “I’m in the middle of something else. I should finish one before I move onto the other.” My impulses always win.


Megan Reynolds lives in New York.

Photo: Sharon Hahn Darlin


24 Comments / Post A Comment

ceereelyo (#3,552)

Yes! I save all my fluffy, vacation reading for the Nook. Husband is a bookstore manager, so we still buy a fair amount of books, but they are the good ones that we’ve built a library out of. The only downside with the fluffy books on the ereader is that I can’t get resell them!

LookUponMyWorks (#2,616)

@ceereelyo I definitely feel like an online store for “used” e-books is coming. I get that there are some legal hurdles but I definitely think we’ll be getting one, someday.

ceereelyo (#3,552)

@LookUponMyWorks someday, yes! I do also like the ereader for certain magazines – it accomplishes the instant gratification aspect of buying magazines and the ones I buy are those that I don’t necessarily want to save articles from. Also some (health/exercise ones) have nifty videos to show you how to do exercises correctly!

Allison (#4,509)

@LookUponMyWorks I just want to be able to raid my mom’s collection, like I did with all the paper books she used to have! honestly I probably could, I’m sure I know her amazon password. Hmmmm

LookUponMyWorks (#2,616)

I shudder to think how much I’ve spent on books. The number is astronomical…but not really regrettable. A good book is something I’ll return to time and again.

calamity (#2,577)

Libraries though!! Especially for summer reads – I’m sure they’re great on the Kindle, but public libraries ALWAYS stock those bestsellers. Personally, I’d rather save the $150 I would spend on the device and e-book purchase and suffer through actually having to hold the book upright. These days I rarely buy books unless I know it’s something I’ll revisit again and again (which I usually find out by, you guessed it, reading the library’s copy first).

Julie the T (#1,022)

@calamity Yes ONE THOUSAND TIMES. It took dating then marrying a librarian to convince me, but I will never pay $25 for a giant hardback again, especially if I’m not sure I’ll ever read it again. Library cards are like solid gold! And librarians are smart and fun and have great recommendations!

Allison (#4,509)

@calamity but with a kindle I can check out ebooks from the library at 11pm on a Saturday night (I live an exciting life) and have it immediately! although I guess you can read them in your browser, too.

but yes, libraries are wonderful for their mix of physical and digital materials and in case anyone is a chicago public library card holder and HASN’T seen the new website. Go check it out, it’s AMAZING.

RachelG8489 (#1,297)

@calamity Library ebooks! Best of both worlds! I got my first Kindle as a gift and then ended up buying a replacement when I lost it on an Amtrak train, because I no longer know how to function without being able to carry around half my library in my purse. But I only buy one or two books a month, and the rest I get from the library. I’m on the waiting list for so many best sellers, which I then forget about until I get the email from the library that I can download it.

LookUponMyWorks (#2,616)

@calamity oh no doubt. I love my public libraries and am a super regular patron. But I’m also happy to support authors I love by buying their work…and also, what if I just *neeeed* to re-read that specific passage at 3 AM, when the library is closed? Insomnia is just one of the reasons I’m so happy to have my own personal library.

calamity (#2,577)

@Allison I will admit I only tried to check an ebook out of the library once – my attempt was thwarted because it was ALREADY CHECKED OUT. I guess they have a limited number of licenses, or something. I put myself on the hold list, but by the time it made its way down to me they’d already given me the physical book.

And I’m pretty sure that if I actually had a kindle and that happened to me, I’d just be like “well, screw this” and fork over even more of my hard-earned money to Amazon. Rinse and repeat, ad nauseam …

Allison (#4,509)

@calamity that’s why I just search by “what’s available” and put things on hold/forget that I’ve done so, so then surprise! book

@calamity Same here! The only book I’ve been able to successfully download as a library ebook is Twilight (I refused to pay for it and I refused to be seen with the library copy), otherwise the books are always checked out OR just generally not available as an ebook. I think my library’s selection is getting better but I’d rather just get the hardback.

RachelG8489 (#1,297)

@Allison I’m such a fan of the “surprise! book” option that I just put myself on the hold list for anything that looks possibly interesting. It’s a great way to read.

honey cowl (#1,510)

@RachelG8489 Agreed, the best way to read. I love being surprised with books that I wanted to read months ago. Kindle library books are THE BEST THING. Even better, it is impossible to accrue late fees with them. I am an expert at accruing late fees!

Marille (#5,933)

@calamity I always used to feel like I was a bad “books person” because I rarely bought books, preferring to get them from the library until I had check out the same book three or four times, so I knew I could justify its purchase. Now, the best perk of my job at university is access to its library–and as staff, I can hold on to the books for a year!

Nick (#1,548)

@Marille Hoarding books for a year so that others can’t read them is a dick move. And, you know, directly opposed to what a library is for and about.

annabanana (#5,919)

I was always very opposed to ereaders, but I got an iPad and have used the library’s ebook lending to read several books on the iPad. (I’m also a big fan of borrowing tangible books from the library.) I don’t think I’d ever buy an ebook. I typically buy books only at used book stores or on Amazon–and even then, typically used. My library here has a great used book sale twice a year. There was one last weekend and I bought 11 great books for about 20 bucks. I don’t mind buying books when I know I may not get around to them anytime soon.

Slutface (#53)

This was such a delight. Always love your stuff Megan!

There are places to buy ebooks online that aren’t Amazon/Apple, FYI! There’s, Diesel ebooks, Kobo, and others. You can also get free, out of copyright ebooks from Project Gutenberg.

That being said, I get most of my books from the library because, while I love books, there is no “dinner and drinks with friends” library so: the money’s gotta go somewhere. I do LOVE my kindle, mostly for my New Yorker subscription, though, and if I had more disposable income I’d be spending tons more on books than I do.

Does anyone else worry/wonder about how our kids are going to end up introduced to media? We were able to thumb through a parent’s CD or record collection and bookshelves, and I want my kids to have the same ability. I get the feeling I’m going to be purchasing a lot of books I enjoyed as a library book/ebook as my kids grow up, just to have them around the house.

cryptolect (#1,135)

@polka dots vs stripes Yes! I am whittling down my library pre-move, but am holding onto books I think my son may want to read someday. He is 11 months old.

Eric18 (#4,486)

@polka dots vs stripes Plus +1000 for Project Gutenberg. As well as The amount of great old books on there is astounding.

Riaana (#2,520)

Great post – my books are the first think I unpack after a move. The spines I see are my most constant companions and make me feel at home! Particularly after I’ve burned friend bridges, making them lift box after heavy box of books helping me move…

EmilyStarr (#4,035)

As someone who travels a lot for work, the Kindle has been a life-saver. I have been known to lug 14 books in my suitcase for a 2-week trip (including hardcover library ones…), so having access to hundreds of books without taking up more weight than a mass market paperback is amazing. I still read a fair number of “real” books, and we have bookshelves in every room of the house (except the kitchen, I think, since the cookbooks are in the dining room), but for work trips… absolutely worth it.

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