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