From gobbling paper books to byting ebooks

I’ve always loved books. Always read a lot through libraries, and bought a lot of books. As my father was often transferred, this sometimes ended up in a race where I would buy books and my mother would persuade me to give them away, and many of my favorite purchases (huge piles of comics, lots of other stuff including Agatha Christies, Perry Mason and Chase) would vanish between the times I would go to hostel and return for vacations at a new location where my father had next got transferred. Later, when I moved away from parental packing and disposal techniques, my collection became unwieldy enough for me to offer books free to friends and neighbors. But the overall trend has always been upwards.

Last year, I moved house. As I dusted and packed shelf after shelf of books, and later dusted and unpacked them, I had to admit to myself that I was rather over-dosed with books, split equally between fiction and non-fiction.

There are science fiction books, fantasy books, children/ YA books, historical romance, mystery, literary books, bestsellers, classics, anthologies, you name it. There are Hindi books and English books, and even a few in other languages I am trying to learn. There’s poetry. There are books on science, math, religion, philosophy, neurology, ageing, dementia, business and strategy,health, exercise, self-improvement, writing craft. References, too, dictionaries, thesaurus, reverse dictionary, grammar books. And more, but you get the point. It is said that there is no such thing as too many books, and I’ve always thought so too, but I had to admit (duster in hand) that though I was unwilling to part with my collection, I possessed many books I would not have bought had I known the quality and content of the book in advance. I also had to admit that I was unlikely to read or refer to most of my books in future–partly because I lacked the time and energy and partly because I thirsted for fresh books. I even discovered scores of books which I had not read (a plus point of relocation 🙂

(Here, BTW, is a collage of some of the book shelves I populated)

my book collection

I’ve also found myself often at a loss for which books to carry along when I travel–I want to carry a whole bunch, but that’s not feasible, and looks a bit…greedy.

So around 8 months ago I decided to try out a few changes in my reading and acquisition approach (1) use libraries to read books and buy only books I felt I wanted to read again or that I felt I needed as reference (2) when buying a book, buy the ebook version (3) if a book was not available as an ebook, think and think again before buying the paper version.

I’ve stuck to that for most of the last 8-9 months. I’ve bought only around a dozen paper books, and the rest of my purchases have been e-books. I’ve done a lot of my reading by using libraries instead, or online stories/ articles. I’ve found that using libraries allows me to be more adventerous–I am less hesitant to try out a new author or read an introductory book on a new non-fiction topic. For many months now, I have used a Kindle, and also used my “Kindle for PC” app for a significant of my reading.

kindle readerI must admit that, though my actions probably bode well for trees, for my wallet, and also my back (which protested all that dusting and lifting), I miss paper books–the smell, the feel, the weight, the physical satisfaction of turning pages–and as I don’t want to buy more paper books, I find myself standing in front of my bookshelves and easing out an old favorite to savor. It’s fun in a way, like meeting old friends and finding I still love them.

4 thoughts on “From gobbling paper books to byting ebooks”

  1. I think the problem of acquired and unread books is not confined to paper books 🙁 I’ve got a bunch of unread e-mags and e-books on my hard disk (and some on my Kindle)…the only plus point is, they don’t gather dust like paper books do. But they are more difficult to remember as they lurk in nested directories that I never notice. Paper books are more visible.

    The dilemma of reading new books or an older, unread book is tough. I usually opt for reading whatever I want, whether new or old, depending on the whim of the moment. That’s not some well-thought-out stategy, though, it’s more like picking up what I want to do and think I’ll be able to concentrate on. Sometimes I read three-four books simultaneously, picking up one or the other depending on my mood.

  2. Hi Swapna,

    I can very much relate to your experiences with paper books.

    Have lost many of my cherished collections due to what you have alluded to as “parental packing and disposal techniques”.

    I also went through a passage of time when I realized I was purchasing books, which I already had, but did not remember having, partly because they were piled up on the attic which was too dusty and painful as a process to retrieve or verify for existence, for reading some day in that future “when I have ample leisure time”.

    And on every travel, I pull out a few to read “on the flight” or “in hotels”; go through a painful decision process on which ones to pick from the shelf to clear my conscience and backlog of “so much to read but have not done yet”.

    My other anxiety is this knowledge I have about books that I started reading, but could not complete, because maybe the “flight just landed and lights went off” or due to myriad interruptions on my attention.

    Having been used to in most of my school and college days to picking up a book and reading it end to end in one go, I feel very bad about not being able to do so in the past 7-8 years of my work life (a trail of unread and untouched books and half finished ones haunt me). And they all pile up on the book shelves and available corners on the attic with a promise to get back when I have time:)

    While I have not yet decided on migrating my reading habits to “e-bytes”, purchasing paper books and piling them into crammed shelves and attics at home
    does not look a sustaining proposition.

    However with ebooks too, the urgency seems to last only till they are purchased and downloaded. And my worry is that they will end up taking a lot of e-storage.

    Should I be reading the ones that I already have or do I pick up a new one to read, is my eternal dilemma.

    What would you call this psychological condition?


  3. Nice write-up Swapna. You have covered all the points we greedy readers enjoy and don’t. I now have a good balance between e-books and the rest. I still do enjoy sitting down with a traditional book and marking pages with copious notes, needless to say I seldom go back to them except when re-reading the book. Thanks for this blog.Interesting co-incidence, I have just written a blog on books with a different take and my dilemma was how to post photo of interesting nooks of my many bookshelves. You have solved it with a collage.Good idea.


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