Why I Love Real Books

Getting back to my blog’s main purpose, after some shameless self promotion, I address an issue many people must face in this digital age. How do we convince them these new books aren’t books?

For example, what would you say to an alien who has just landed on Earth when asked where our history and traditions are kept? Well, of course you would go to a library and show them books, right? RIGHT? But what if the new electronic book craze leaves us with a world of no libraries like Fahrenheit 451. No ancient books showing pictures and writing of the world’s history. You won’t be able to see the age on the tattered pages or smell the breath of the author on the pages.

Barnes and Noble suggests that by the year 2015, digital book sales with either match that of paper books or surpass it completely. Now for tech geeks like my boyfriend that is a testament to our ability to adapt and change. But for me, it means that all of the things I adore about books is threatened.

While I understand and respect the uses and need of electronic books, I struggle every day to give up my old “purist” ways and get e-books instead. Did you know that scientists are now using that “old book smell” that we love so much to tell how decayed historical documents are? Usually they would just take samples of the paper, but you can tell the history of the book or document by its smell.

According to Perfumes: A Guide, there is a chemical in older paper closely related to vanillin that has been broken down over the years, “which is how divine providence has arranged for secondhand stores to smell like good quality vanilla absolute, subliminally stoking a hunger for knowledge in all of us.”  The smell of old books is a gateway to our memories, taking us back to a different time and creating a bond between you and the book. These sniff experts go on to say that smelling is a direct experience, it can’t be recreated with sprays and imitation smells like this one attempting to make these digital hybrid into real books:


But we know the truth. That no matter how many realistic additions you add to the e-readers, you will never replace the feel, smell, and experience of a real book. It’s not some cop out that old fogies use to get out of changing. It’s about respecting the package the story comes in and how it affects your experience. I enjoy odd editions of books because of the personality that comes with it. Writing on the inside of the cover, underlining, notes in the margins, and that all too familiar musty book smell. There is also the flip side of a freshly pressed and wrapped book.

There is joy as a little kid, having mom or dad read a book and imagining the epic story unfold in your imagination. Once you learn to read yourself, holding the book in your hand, you become the master of the adventure about to be discovered. Each turn of the page, you wait in anticipation as you reach the bottom. When you finally get there, you flip the page so furiously that you get a paper cut or rip the page, but you don’t care. The story is too good to stop and worry about it.

To me, true readers never lose that joy while reading. When you take away the ability for the reader to be the master, you give up a fundamental right we have to do so.  When you can ctrl F key words or at the flip of a screen go to the end of the book, the mystery of the story is lost. Yes, technically you can do that to a real book, but there are unwritten rule when it comes to reading a real book. One of them is that you never skip to the end of the book to find out what happens. Unless it’s one of those choose your own adventure, a true reader just doesn’t skip to the end, but stories in electronic form don’t keep to the reading code.

There is a code for reading. You may not think it’s important to the experience, but reading has an important place in the history of our species. It is why an alien would be in awe of the collection of vanilla scented, leather bound books that has documented our history since the beginning. It is the reason I have cardboard boxes full of memories and a dream to have bookshelves line an entire room in my future home.

My favorite author, publisher of both electronic AND print books states his claim about real books in the following quote, which I find to be insightful and comedic.

I'm sold! Why buy a virtual book for $9.99 when I can get the same one with character in my hand for $0.10?


Regardless of what new technology graces the market, I know others will agree with me on one important point.  As long as there are tree growing, there will always be people buying real books.



Filed under Idea of the Day

10 responses to “Why I Love Real Books

  1. knudsens

    Books are made from paper, thats that. I like paper books, not tablet books and other kind of digital books.

    • Well said, my friend. You see, there is an automatic comradeship that comes with meeting a person who loves real books, too. The recognition that another person shares the same joy as you do when they read a book and can discuss the things you love. The community of people who read real books connect on such a unique level that it can’t be replaced by a lighted screen. The joy you see on a friend’s face when he’s read a book you lent him and your friendship deepens as you share your experiences. All of this is possible with real books and the connection is lost with the devices that take away from the person to person relationships.

  2. I disagree completely with you. Books are words put together. The better the words, the better the book. Hard-cover binding doesn’t improve Nicholas Sparks, electronic format doesn’t diminish Dickens.
    Real readers read real books, I agree with that much, but I disagree with your definition of “real book”. It has nothing to do with where it is printed. NOTHING! Moses would probably say that “The smell of old stones is a gateway to our memories,” or ” That no matter how many realistic additions you add to the printed book, you will never replace the feel, smell, and experience of a real rock.”.
    People just have no perspective to understand that we’re just used to something, which makes it better than what will come next.

    • It’s just my opinion. My definition of real books is what I stated. However, I do believe how something is shown and smells does greatly affect how we view it. People will spend hundreds of dollars for specific editions and leather bindings because it adds character to the story rather than just words on a screen. We taste mostly with smell as we do with things we buy. More importantly, electronic books limit the editions available so that you may never find an original edition of a book you truly enjoy. They restrict the ability to own books physically altered to be one of a kind. An electronic version may be more convenient, but there is a lack of actual material that you are receiving. An electronic form of Dickens is radically different from a bound book because you can experience Dickens in the way it was first created. Moses is also a character from a story in a book that I bet has been purchased almost completely in print form.

      Yes, the actual material has changed from papyrus to cloth to paper, but the idea is the same with all of those materials is that you can feel the work involved into writing it. Making an e-book doesn’t take the same work or investment as a print book does. I understand that most people refuse to change because they are set in their ways. But has it occurred to you that some people just prefer a more personal, individual experience that an electronic device can’t provide for some people?

      For kids that are growing up in this time, they are going to be used to working on a computer all day and all night. On a screen, you are desensitized to the experience as we are right now instead of having a face to face conversation. It may seem fitting for them to read books on devices, but the relief of looking on paper after a day of computer work is comforting to me. I don’t have to strain my eyes, click buttons or worry about battery life. It’s cheaper, more intimate and limitless (until the paper deteriorates, but by then I’ll be dead). There are plus sides to the digital books as I stated at the beginning of my post and I don’t claim to refuse the use of electronic books.

      However, the idea that digital books can replace the print ones doesn’t have to b a reality. Not all advances in a medium have to entirely replace the old one. If that were the case then print books would have replaced the act of story telling, which we use in our daily lives. Writing things on paper was initially a more permanent way to document stories and share it on a mass scale. If that is development of a medium, then digital books will increase in popularity. There will always be a place in society for print books as the more personal and intimate way of reading books, which to me makes them more real.

  3. Maeve

    “I have serious doubts that you can provide me with an answer that makes me re-think my position since any answer you might give me will probably arise from your biased love for the medium.”
    ^ This makes me believe you don’t understand the point of her post. The title of the post is “Why I Love Real Books,” not “Why Everyone Should Love Real Books.” When she says the word “real,” it’s obvious she means “tangible,” and this a completely acceptable use of the word.
    You seem to be expecting a non-biased response to an opinion post, and that is idiocy. No one is unbiased, not even you. You don’t think the medium effects the story, she does. Who cares? You say you have “serious doubts” that someone can change your mind? Did you consider that there’s nothing you can say to change hers?
    You’ve both made your points abundantly clear, and it isn’t that poor arguments were made, it’s that neither of you agree with each other. That’s allowed to happen.

  4. Maeve

    That being said, I prefer the real, physical book as well. I too feel more intimate and close to the story and characters when I can feel it in my hands. I love flipping back and forth through the pages every time a reference is made that I could have swore I read before. I love referencing the hand-drawn maps (for fantasy novels) every time a new place is mentioned. I love taking a few moments to adore the cover art and trace the raised surface with my fingers. It’s a full-on experience for me, and e-books can’t replace that. Even if the words are the same, I will not get the same reading experience. It just isn’t possible.

  5. Maeve

    “PS. And by “real books” I’m pretty sure she means “printed books”, or else she wouldn’t counterpose them with a “lighted screen”.”
    ^ I’m really not sure how this is different from “tangible.” You can touch and feel a printed book, the words you are reading. Words coming up on a screen can’t be touched. It’s the same screen the whole time – you’re just touching the e-reader.
    This post-script, therefore, must have been meant as “demeaning,” (something you were just attacking her for supposedly being). I find that you want to discuss the validity of print vs. e-book, but your manner comes across very abrasively. That isn’t welcome here. You could have posed your point any number of ways, but you chose this.

    “In the first paragraph you can find “How do we convince them these new books aren’t books?”. Sure, it’s just an opinion, but is a demeaning one for anyone who reads “unreal books”.”
    ^ I disagree that this is demeaning. The definition of books, prior to e-readers, specifically mentioned that the medium had to be “printed.” E-books were only added to it in recent years, and if you really want to get picky, e-books aren’t books because of the “e” in front of the word. That changes the word completely, thus the definition as well. So you see, she isn’t wrong. By definition, a book is printed. An e-book is not.

  6. I agree, I love real books. I want a house where the walls are lined with books, not…screens? Hahaha.
    I take comfort at least in how Stephen Fry expressed his feelings about whether real books will be affected by e-books – “Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs by elevators.” His post of course went on for several pages, if I remember correctly (his blogs are always enormous and oh so eloquent), but yeah, it was nice. I think real books will still exist both due to demand by people who aren’t keen on the electronic equivalent, but also because for much of the world, real books are a lot more affordable.
    Anyway, great blog!

    • I concur, which is why I didn’t do a full on discussion of which one is better. That’s like saying that print books are better than audio…I think it’s the convenience that changed the medium. Just like nothing will change the quality of records now that the mp3s are the more popular technology, nothing will change the reliable nature of books. I have only come to this conclusion after (shamefully) bashing e-books. At the same time, I had (shamelessly) utilized them for years through project Gutenberg. While I’m not normally against new technology, my bias got in the way until I came to respect e-books as good ideas for other people. If other people like them and use them to read, why does my opinion matter. If I can continue to by my 10 cent books on half.com, then I can attribute the low cost to the e-books everyone else wants. Even Barnes and Noble who has built an empire on coming to stores and buying books believes that the electronic form will stay even with the print form, just because it is a preference. I probably will never have a discussion of the pros and cons because there just isn’t enough information on e-books yet. It’s just not fair, but I will always tell people the things I love about print books. Always.

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