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So, What About Books?

December 31, 2009 21st Century Learning, 21st Century Skills, Books 17 Comments

So, what about books?

How do YOU read, buy, store and (maybe even) write books?

Are you opposed to reading digital books? Are you clinging to the smell and feel of the hard cover? Are you a hybrid? Have you completely abandoned paper reading and writing or holding on to it? How do YOU purchase and store your books? I think we are part of history in the making and have a unique opportunity to document our thoughts and practices. Please chime in.

Reading through different "technologies" can be complimentary

I have always been a reader and a writer! The kind who spent all her pocket money as a child on books and dreamed of owning one day a book shelf big enough to to hold all these books. The one who suffered by having to leave books behind when moving several times across continents. The one who had been inspired by Anne Frank to write diaries at the age eleven and continues to do so thirty years later…

I am really intrigued by the way that reading, writing  and purchasing books is changing in my life time. Actually it seems to be changing right in front of my eyes.

  • I am witnessing how my own children, who are currently between 15-20 years old and respectively going to High School and College here in the USA, have a different relationship to reading and writing already.
  • I am very conscious of my own changing attitude towards reading and writing and habits of purchasing books.
  • I am curious how some of my friends are strongly opposed, struggling or are completely oblivious to this change.

The most common responses I am hearing are:

I just love how books smell.

Nothing compares to cuddling up with a book in your hand.

Handwriting a note is more personal.

It is just not the same.

I am completely in agreement with these responses…but… the difference is exactly what I am appreciating. I am not expecting reading and writing (digital and analog form) to be the same. I am seeing both versions as being complementary and not in competition with each other. Since I might be a hybrid being, in between generations by having experienced both, I am in the position to observe both sides of the fence.


I have written about Hyperlinked Writing and Reading before. Writing digitally allows me to write “multi-dimensional”. I am able to link to further information, reference my train of thoughts, insert an image to visualize my ideas better and embed videos or audio as references, inspiration or clarification.

Writing Diaries

That ability does not take away from my experience and enjoyment when I use a fountain pen and write in my personal paper diary. They simply fulfill two distinct functions in my life.


I am starting to maintain several types of bookshelves, a physical (Ikea), a virtual (Shelfari) and a digital (Kindle) one. They are not mutually exclusive and, again, fulfill different functions for me.

Physical Bookshelf

Standing in front of rows and columns of my physical books gives me a a feeling of seeing old friends, allows the physical sensations of pulling a book here and there to thumb through it, revisit old stories and “smelling” that famous smell only old books can give you. I am also able to hold the same copy in my hand that I held as a child with my 10 year old handwriting on the cover or the book my father gave me as a present.

Vitual Bookshelf

The virtual bookshelf on the other hand allows me to share titles of books of my interest with others from around the world. The virtual bookshelf also connects me to groups who have similar interests than I have. Once I hear or discover a book I might want to read in the future, I place it on my virtual bookshelf under “I plan to read” shelf. At a later time, when I will be looking for a book in a physical bookstore, I simply use my iPhone and log into my Shelfari account to remember the title and author of the book I wanted to check out and possibly purchase.

Kindle Digital Library

My Kindle now holds my entire digital book collection. I could store about 1500 books on it, which I can carry around with me all the time. No more picking and choosing which book to take with on a long plane ride. I can carry my entire library in my purse. When moving overseas in the future, I will not have to pack my books into boxes and leave them in storage. Another added bonus is the syncing feature of the Kindle to my iPhone. I am able to pick up the last “page” (screen) I read and continue reading from the other device my book.


My purchasing habits have also changed over the past few years. I used to exclusively make trips to book stores, browse for hours on end, then purchase a book or two. Once Amazon.com came along, I started pre-viewing books by reading online summaries and reviews before I either ordered them or,  if I did not want to wait for shipping, drove to the bookstore to purchase a copy in person.Then came along my iPhone and the Kindle. I am able to instantly download the electronic version of the book.The digital versions of the books are also cheaper than their analog brothers.

No more trips to the bookstore and no more wait time… Do I still go to Barnes & Noble? Do I still purchase hard copy books via Amazon? Yes! The different methods of purchase “books” complement each other and fulfill different needs for me.


So, how is reading a book changing and why are some people so passionately opposed to it? While I like holding paper in my hand and feel and smell the “traditional” book, I also like to read on the computer screen to enjoy the multimedia and functions that a “flat” book does not provide for me.

  • How often have I wished I could simply use the CTRL- F (Apple- F) function to find a word or phrase I was looking for in a hardcopy book?
  • How often have I wished to be able to click on an idea to get a further explanation or for being directed to more resources?

I am increasingly liking being able to read with my Kindle too.

  • The time from getting a recommendation (word of mouth, twitter, blog, newspaper, etc.) for a book, to checking a summary out (from reading the book sleeve to simply downloading a sample of the book) to being able to start reading the book is seamless with time not being a consideration.
  • I am able to “look up” words in the build in dictionary, that I am unfamiliar or unsure of (English is my third language) by simply moving the cursor to it. The phrase “look up” will probably have to be overhauled  to say “look down” since the definition is on the bottom of you screen :) Reading the definition is becoming seamless. There is no interruption of my reading by putting the book down, picking up a dictionary, looking for the definition then going back to the book and placing the definition within the context. I am learning new words, which before I would have over-read and forgotten, not taking the time to look them up.
  • Being able to “highlight” and annotate passages is becoming increasingly convenient and interesting. This is especially convenient, when I want to blog about a quote I read later on.
  • The syncing function to my iPhone is awesome!

Lately the topic of

  • e-books taking over
  • paper on the verge of disappearance
  • the art of writing being lost

is popping up on my RSS reader, in the news and several books on the subject are being published.

I am realizing that history seems to be repeating itself (as it does frequently). The fear, the euphoria, the reluctance, the pioneers, the refusers have been there. Every time new “technologies” are emerging and start threatened the ways things were done up until that point.

by Robert Darnton

An interesting book by Robert Darnton is titled The Case for Books . Darnton is the Harvard University Library director and notes that

The explosion of electronic modes of communication is as revolutionary as the invention of printing with movable type. and we are having as much difficulty in assimilating it as readers did in the fifteenth century, when they confronted printed text.

Although many are having difficulties or simply don’t want to accept that new technologies are changing our options of how we can read and write, it looks like there are a “few” people who are willing to try. On Christmas Day 2009, Amazon sold more electronic books than physical books

by Dennis Baron

Dennis Baron in his book A Better Pencil- Readers, Writers, and the Digital Revolution says:

The journey from pencils to pixels is just a start. Computers and the internet are neither the best developments in the history of writing, nor the worst. They are simple the latest in a series of innovations of how we do things with words.

The CBS Early Show, aired on December 29th, 2009, asks the questions “Kindle sales soar. Is paper a thing of the past?” Jeff Jarvis, author of the book, What Would Google Do?,  explains:

You can use these devices [iPhone, Kindle] and it saves time, money and effort and it is a way to get to more stuff than ever.

Jarvis, also says that digital books

can be easily updated, discussed, include multimedia, fund through search… the form of the book itself must change.

Here are some other articles I ran across about how reading and writing is changing:

So, what about books? What is your take on them?

Let me ask again. Are you opposed to reading digital books? Are you clinging to the smell and feel of the hard cover? Are you a hybrid? Have you completely abandoned paper reading and writing or holding on to it? How do YOU purchase and store your books? I think we are part of history in the making and have a unique opportunity to document our thoughts and practices. Please chime in.

Currently there are "17 comments" on this Article:

  1. With the exception of children’s picture books, I will have no emotional attachment to the paper form of the book that we’re all comfortable with (even for children’s books, however, I see room for a dynamic, multimedia form factor of some sort). My emotional attachment was lessened even further when I read about some of the dirty secrets of the print industry-something like 50% of the print content that is produced ends sadly ends up getting pulped.

    The last 10 books that I’ve read have all been on my iPhone using either the Stanza, Kindle, or Barnes and Noble eReader applications. I feel as though I’m able to read much more quickly on my phone – this might have something to do with being able to customize the font size to my liking (the back lighting is great as well, which which ensures that I always have adequate lighting).

    Finally, I think eBooks will be quite beneficial to regions of the world where traditional book distribution is simply too expensive. I’m guessing many of these regions will have cellular infrastructure before they have the resources and infrastructure needed for traditional paper books.

    Great post here, Syliva. I agree with you…we’re definitely at a watershed moment in history.
    .-= Matt Montagne´s last blog ..The Perfect Student Laptop =-.

  2. Matthew says:

    I like the distinctions between digital and print. To me there is a place for both. I do enjoy the heft of a book in my hands, and the resolution of ink on paper is hard for a screen to match. The ability to extend and link in the digital world is also a benefit on which I rely. There is something personal and visceral about printed material. While I like my computer, or digital reader, the emotional connection doesn’t run as deep. I know that eventually my technology will fail and be replaced. In fact, some of the charm of technology is the anticipation of something new. Print, on the other hand, remains consistent and reliable. Books may be a way to look backwards and digital media forward looking, but I think I need to see in both directions to better understand where I am now.
    .-= Matthew´s last blog ..Happy Little Birthday! =-.

  3. Russ Goerend says:

    I’m that smell/touch book curmudgeon. Here’s what could probably ween me off, though: I would pay an extra $2ish to buy a real book (see what I did there?) and get a digital copy with it. DVDs are doing it. It would be a decent transition strategy.

    Of course, someone would have to gift me the Kindle. There’s no way I’d spend $260 on a uni-tasking gadget like that.

  4. A fascinating post, thanks for sharing.

    I started reading books on my mobile phone (HTC Touch) about 2 years ago and since then have changed my habits considerably. I used to have 3 or 4 books going simultaneously – one in the car, one in the bathroom, one in the bedroom, otherwise I’d be stuck somewhere with 5 minutes spare and nothing to read!

    Now I buy virtually all my books electronically, stick them on my phone and always have a full library to read from.

    I do treat myself to the occasional paper book – but these are usually larger non-fiction books and I hold no particular attachment to paper.

  5. Fran Lo says:

    Very interesting post. I find that since I got my Kindle

    1) I am reading even more, because I can hear about a book, research it and then get it into my hands so quickly,
    but 2) I am also still purchasing “real” books. I use my Kindle for fiction. When I’m reading something that I want to write on – which frequently happens with a professional book, I want to write on it. Sorry, I just hate the annotation feature in Kindle. I’ve never gotten much out of highlighting, but I’ve always gotten a lot out of writing my ideas, underlining, arrows. Maybe it’s from all those years of holding a writing implement – perhaps this won’t happen with our children.

    One downside of the Kindle is that I don’t take it to school. I don’t see it surviving the enthusiasm of 12 and 13 year olds; I have seen how they handle their cell phones. This means if I think I’ll want it for school, it has to be a physical book.

    My house is still cluttered with books. I buy them on Amazon, but also at local stores, and I buy lots and lots of used books through Amazon.

    I don’t want to read everything on the Kindle, but I sure do like having it.

  6. Dodie says:

    I haven’t purchased an eReader yet, but will probably get one in the new year. I love reading, both for pleasure and professionally. I’m not stuck to the actual feel of the book though. I’ve noticed in the last year I prefer to read my educational journals digitally because clicking on links it definitely easier and makes more since then marking links and visiting them later when I booted up my laptop (like I did with the hard copy of the journal).
    My biggest issue it seems is what to do with the books, magazines, newsletters when I am finished. I’m trying to simplify my life and, except for a few treasured books, and my professional books, I hardly never revisit books once finished. So, what to do with them? I give some to friends, but other then that many simply get either recycled or donated.
    That is why the eReader is appealing to me, and probably why I will try one in the new year.
    It’s all about purpose, and individual preferences. I don’t think the written book will ever completely go away, but think about the trees saved when more of us go digital.
    .-= Dodie´s last blog ..2009 Reflections =-.

  7. Heather says:

    I love this post…because this is exactly where my thinking is at the moment. I have decided though I am a hybrid that is certainly learning towards the digital side depending upon whether it is reading or writing.

    For Reading I have been using digital for the past 4 years beginning with my HP Pocket P, moving to a iPod Touch two years ago and now finally my new 64G iPod Touch. In the past year I have gone almost exclusively to the digital format for my personal reading though it is still easier for some professional reading to use a hard copy. I am one of those people that has a hard time letting books move onto new homes and so my shelves are full but I also have over 700 books on my Fictionwise bookshelf.

    I would love to own an ebook reader but as I live in China many of them are unusable as long as they stay wireless. So it will be years before I get a Kindle though I have been looking at a couple of other readers that can be shipped into China and used here with a USB.

    I used to carry a book with me everywhere I went just so I wouldn’t be without a book to read in case I was stuck somewhere, like a stop light, but it was always heavy. Now I carry 80 books with me all of the time digitally and can read to my hearts content or until the battery needs to be recharged and I have solved that problem with a battery adaptor.

    As far as writing is concerned I still love my pretty journals and coloured pens. In fact when I was in Macau earlier this week I took the ferry over to Hong Kong just so I could go to a special shop there to buy journals. I have found that when it comes to clearing my mind or actually figuring out what I am thinking I need to go through the process of handwriting and not typing. I have tried both and only handwriting seems to work well.

    The other thing I have realized is that other than my fiction reading I only read books that have been mentioned on my PLN. I am using people who think like me but whom I have never met guide my reading habits. I think it is great.
    .-= Heather´s last blog ..A Week of Highs and Lows =-.

  8. Ben says:

    Very thought-provoking. I love reading books at night and enjoy the lack of electricity involved. I have not read an ebook to compare, but am from the generation when my parents told me I would get square eyes from looking at a screen for too long…
    I am also a bit of a hoarder, but am willing to share finished books round to friends when I have finished. I get comfort from casting my eyes over shelves of Ian Rankin or books which form a link to times in my life, places and experiences.
    I would be very interested to find out about the relative energy consumptions of paper books v ebooks.

  9. Kim Glasgal says:

    I love using my iPhone to read and, just recently, my Kindle. Many books are still not available in e-form, so the physical book is still a necessity.
    One question – how do libraries figure into the e-book paradigm? When will libraries start lending e-books? Will e-books make libraries less relevant? If libraries have to scale back, does this discriminate against those who cannot afford to buy books? (I guess that’s more than one question!)

  10. [...] love my book shelf and my books. Recently, I wrote a blog post, “So, What About Books?“, about how my reading, writing, storing and purchasing books is changing. I have also [...]

  11. [...] Langwitches Blog » So, What About Books? [...]

  12. I guess I’m a hybrid although I have hardly embraced the e-book. One format you didn’t mention is the audio book. I’ve listened to a few of these on my iPod so I guess it is another digital format as well.

    I have read several e-texts on a pocket pc because I was able to download project Gutenberg books and read them in it’s reader. I don’t know how to do that on my iPod.

    I’m reluctant to buy e-books because I too like having my “old friends” to physically visit from time to time. I have a hard time envisioning a similar relationship with a binary data file.

  13. [...]  Email This Post  Print This Post I am enjoying my Kindle tremendously. I am also trying ot be aware how the Kindle is changing (or not) my use, reading, storing, buying habits and general attitude towards books. [...]

  14. [...] generation I was intrigued with this new technology gadget.  After reading this blog post, So, What About Books? these are some thoughts about  Kindle.  I realize that there are so many pro’s to this new [...]

  15. [...] exploring for some time and when I came across these two articles, A Library without Books, and So What about Books, I decided to ask….how do you [...]

  16. [...] digital book. The writer of Langwitches blog, has also considered the differences on 2 other posts: So, what are books? and Commuting between [...]

  17. [...] I am reflecting on the process of buying, storing and reading books nowadays. [...]

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