Skip to main content

Print Books Versus E-Books: Which One is Best?

A stack of books on a book shelf
Old books, new books, big books, small books. 

Dr. Suess could have written a story on the diversity of books and their wonderfulness.

One of my best friends and I talk about books versus e-books a lot. Which one is best? 

She and I are both writers. This means we write as much as we read, and we vacillate between using actual physical books and e-books. But we've come to terms with these multi-faceted feelings; sometimes an e-book feels better, and other times we grow weary of the digital page.

Here's what we always end up saying to each other: "There are days when we have to feel a book in our hands." It's also a way of clarifying that we're not cheating on print books when we choose the e-book.

I think a small part of us feels guilty for using our e-readers as much as we do. But why?

Books, the smell of books, the look of books, the way books feel in the hand... that's all part of the mystery, charm, and charisma of physical books; I love the pages turning in my fingers. Books are like little blessings you can walk around with.

These little capsules of paper give us knowledge, wisdom, creativity, and imagination. There are both escapism and reality. 

If we feel like being a part of the physical world, we grab an actual book. If we use our e-readers, I use a Kindle (and love it), then that's from which we read.

So, is there a better choice? 

I'm of the assumption that there's room for both in our society. And it's not about me placing one better than the other, it's about using what works best for me at any particular time.

When digital books began to take over, there was a huge uproar in the literary world: Real books could become obsolete! But that never happened.

It's true. At first blush, it could seem that if we went the way of digital, why would we ever need physical books again? Because that's just it: we don't need real books. There isn't a need for physical books if we have digital ones.

And yet, books are still here, still going strong, and threatening to overrun my local Goodwill store!

As a minimalist, I've pared down my library. I've done this probably once a year for the last seven years. But this year, I really cut off the dead branches and got rid of books that I would never read again. 

Is this extreme? Does this mean I don't love books? Does this mean I'm not a real writer if I don't have a 1000+ book library?

It could be viewed as extreme, but after paring down books for years, I'm seeing one thing that pulls in front of the book-keeping mystery debate: books are for show. 

They're good as props in decor, and they're good for making your library look fabulous. They're also great for making you look "well-read." But the question I should be asking myself is... am I reading all of my books? 

I equate this to collecting vintage Pyrex. I have a collection, it's huge, and I can't use it all at once. But I do use it every day. It's a utilitarian collection which is how (again, in my opinion) collections should be. Use them!

But, I wasn't even doing this to my books. 

I had a book or two (maybe three) that I would reference over the year, but that was it. If I was being honest with myself, I kept books that I liked, but most of my collection was not books that I loved.

Today, my bookshelves only have books I love. 

Minimalist Joshua Fields Hillburn, who co-authored Everything that Remains: A Memoir by the Minimalists (fantastic book, by the way) said this about books: "I thought my books made me somebody - someone important. Ironically though, it was a few quotes from a particular book I owned - Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club - that inspired me to start getting rid of some of my books ... 'Reject the basic assumptions of civilization, especially the importance of material possessions,' and 'The things you own end up owning you.' Both quotes kind of woke me up."

If I truly love the book, that's what only needs to be on my shelves. So if real books aren't needed, does that mean I'll never buy a real book again?

Probably not. I love libraries, I love bookstores: I love the smell of books. There is no way I'll ever not want some print books in my life. 

I mean, correct me if I'm wrong, but there's something monumental about a paperback purchased from an airport that a digital book will never convey.

What I do know is having a digital option has simplified my life tremendously. I only have the physical books I love or books I collect (The Great Gatsby is one of my favorites. I have a few editions, some vintage, some new and I'm okay with that.) But my bookshelves aren't filled up with frivolous reads.

This simplification continues because I primarily purchase digital books or check out digital books from my library. But that doesn't mean I don't love a good physical book. 

If I read a book that I'll need to reference in the future, I would much prefer a print book. Sometimes, I just don't want to reference a book on a digital device; I want to find it in my hands.

Stats say that most people like books and even prefer them. In the digital age we live in, that's a beautiful thing to read. Digital is easy, it's instant, and it's everywhere my phone goes (I use the Kindle app on my phone to read too).

Despite the ease of e-books, I still love a book in my hand. There is pure joy in holding a book, something to tote around; the book you dig into in the doctor's office waiting room.

Whatever you choose, even if you go back and forth like I do, I'd suggest only keeping books you really love. There's nothing like going to your bookshelves, looking at all the titles, and smiling knowing each one is there because you truly love them. They give a tangible joy that digital books can't give. 

(But, I love my Kindle also.)

The books in my library, whether print or digital, are both intentional and ones I adore. In the end, that's all that matters to me. 

Digital book, physical book, ebook, print book. 

Dr. Suess didn't break it down for us, but he didn't need to. There is no right or wrong way to read. It comes down to what you want and what works best for you.  

Happy reading!