Why I Will Never Buy an e-Reader

This story originally appeared on the Gents Cafe Newsletter. You can subscribe here.

I love books. Not just the stories and information and lessons they contain – which, I will not argue, are the most important element in any book – but I deeply love the physicality of books, too. Their weight. Their bindings.  The texture of their pages. Their smell (oh, their smell!). And the way their physical presence – either on your nightstand, on shelves of your home “library”, or even stacked in haphazard piles around the house – act as a visual measurement of sorts for your life, non-verbally capturing the extent of your interests, expertise, and fascinations you’ve experienced through your years.

In the 21st century, we are blessed with lots of modern marvels that simplify and add convenience to everyday living, and this list includes e-readers. And while I certainly understand their allure – lightweight, minimalist, searchable, convenient – I have absolutely zero interest in ever using one myself.
Reading is a romantic pursuit (at least it should be when you’re not studying complex metaphysics or theories on the valuation of derivative securities) and it’s this way not just because of the words on the pages, but the quiet moment you take for yourself to slow down and transport to a foreign land, new ideas, or another time from the past or into the future.

The choice between a physical book and an e-reader largely comes down to emotion vs. function.  It’s hard to argue that a physical book is more functional than an e-reader – you can’t search the book; you can’t take, edit, and erase notes cleanly; and physical books literally take up physical space and thus will always be more cumbersome than the convenience of an e-reader that allows you to carry around thousands of titles within a featherweight frame that weighs less than a mass-market paperback.

But a physical book is an emotional experience that enhances the words you’re absorbing by engaging the senses in a way an e-reader never could: the feeling of the weight of the pages between your fingers (thick and starchy as in a history book or tissue-paper-light and soft as in a well-produced novel); the artistic visuals of the book’s cover design, binding, and typography; the sound of the pages turning as a subconscious odometer of your progress; and the smell of the book, whether fresh and crisp from a newly published bestseller, earthy from an old paperback that’s been sitting in a used bookstore for years, or the intense inky smell of the full-color photography printed in coffee table art books.

There’s also the rebel mentality that when I read a book it’s on my time. Do you know what I’m doing when I’m not on my time? Stare at screens… all day, whether my computer, my phone or the screen in a conference room. So, keeping books an analog pursuit is my small rebellion against “the man” and the world’s endless pursuit of productivity.

Some of you may still not be convinced. But if you’re a loyal reader of this great Gents Café community, you already likely embody this value of emotion over function in many ways. Otherwise, why would you ever wear a pocket square or a tie? And when you think about it, who needs blazers and tuxedos? We have sweats and joggers that cover our bodies just as well and provide more “function”. But deep down, you know – as Robin Williams did in the Dead Poets Society – that “poetry, beauty, romance, love… these are what we stay alive for,” and that includes embracing the romance of the physical book over the functionally superior e-reader.

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