Why I Love Ebooks, Part 1

In response to my post on Printing to PDF, Stuart brought up the subject of ebooks. Oh Stuart, you had to get me started… I know this is a controversial topic here, and some of you fundamentally disagree with my opinion. But it’s an issue near and dear to my heart, and I just can’t refrain from pontificating on it. :-)

I have a love/hate relationship with books. I love the content, but I hate the physical format. It’s not that I don’t like to hold a book in my hands while reading it; I don’t mind that at all, and in fact, sometimes relish the tactile experience of diving into its pages.

However, that same physicality (the covers, the binding, the hundreds of pages—and the resulting weight) is what’s currently separating me from my collection! The fact that I can’t enjoy my favorite books, because they’re too heavy, unwieldy, and expensive to ship, is what gets my knickers in a twist.

Before I moved overseas, I culled my library to roughly thirty books. These are the tomes with which I’m loath to part. They’re primarily non-fiction, covering topics like art, architecture, philosophy, travel, history, cultural studies, and writing. I wish I could invoke my minimalist superpowers and simply let them go; but for the most part, they would be difficult, if not impossible (some are out of print), to obtain again if I so desired.

Now, I’d have no problem giving them up, if I could simply nip down to the library when I had the need to consult one. But unfortunately, only two were available from my local library system (one through Interlibrary Loan) the last time I checked.

(Fortunately, fiction does not pose such a problem for me. What I read generally falls in the Great Classics of Literature category, and many of my favorites are in the public domain. They’re readily available in libraries, from bookstores, and on the internet. Therefore, I don’t feel the need to own them in order to secure future access to them.)

So, out of my thirty books, only four currently reside with me (the most I could fit in my duffel bag when I moved). I’d intended to have the rest shipped over once we were settled. But I’ve come to realize that when living abroad on a visa, you’re never really settled (and for the record, I don’t consider that a bad thing). However, I’m reluctant to pay big bucks to transport them over here (the Post Office no longer offers the cost-effective International Media Mail), only to have to drag them around the next time we move.

Ebooks, then, are the answer to my minimalist prayers—well, theoretically. If I could replace every book in my “permanent” collection with a digital version, I’d do it in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, however, only a handful are currently available in electronic form. Amazon has an “I’d like to read this on Kindle” button on each book’s product page, that sends the request to the publisher. I’ve been clicking that link like mad for the books in question, with the hope that someday I’ll be (digitally) reunited with my beloved volumes.

Wow–this post is getting too long, and I’ve barely begun to wax poetic on the wonders of ebooks and how they’ve changed my reading habits. I think I’ll call this Part 1, and continue my discourse (I told you not to get me started!) in my next post…

As always, comments (both for and against ebooks) are welcome. This is one of my favorite topics, and I love hearing everyone’s opinions!

37 comments to Why I Love Ebooks, Part 1

  • Mia

    Sorry for the off-topic comment, MM, but would you mind enabling RSS for your blog comments as well? I’d love to be able to follow new comments to your older posts. It’s really a wonderful community you’re building here!

    As for the book-ebook debate. Since we’re on the road, our old books are currently staying at my parents and my in-laws’ places. Right now we just borrow books from the library and so far, we’ve been lucky to find everything we’ve needed. So we haven’t felt the need to get a Kindle yet.

    Actually I don’t just have a problem with regular books but with sheet music as well. They’re just too heavy to lug around. The only solution I’ve found so far is to have a selection of sheet music scanned and just print out what I need. I just find it a waste that I have to throw away printouts every time we move. I’d love to have a not-so-expensive Kindle-like gadget for sheet music, which you can mark with some sort of electronic pen.

    The ideal scenario for me would be to live right next to a huge (like really HUGE) library, with all the books and sheet music and recordings you’ll every need, that’s open 24 hours. :)

  • I’ve historically been a staunch opponent of the eBook, but the last 18 months or so, I’ve come around. The eureka moment for me was when we moved last March and I had five large plastic bins of books to haul out of my attic at the old place, down three flights of stairs, into my less than roomy Jeep Wrangler and then over to the new house. That was after donating over a hundred books to the library.

    Oh, not that you mentioned it, but I’ve heard it from other minimalists before…the thought that you can donate your books to the library and then go check them out whenever is a bit of a fallacy. As near as I can tell, they haven’t kept any of my books, instead opting to offshoot them at the quarterly Dollar Book sales they have.

    I still have a couple dozen books. If I had to leave town in a hurry, I’d grab a couple leather bound ones, that’s all.

    I’ve started buying Kindle books and reading them on my IPOD recently, but again, I’m not trying to overload myself with information, so I only have a dozen or so. Everything is non-fiction, except for my Paulo Coelho books.

    – Charley

  • I have the same mixed feelings about eBooks…I have a couple that are in the public domain (thank you Gutenberg Project!) On the hand, I love the feel of a book. I love the smell of new pages (or new to me as I buy most secondhand), and I love settling in for a good read. On the other hand, I live in a non-English speaking country and can’t get much of anything without paying out the nose. And seeing as how I’m on a mostly unpaid sabbatical, I can’t really afford to do to much of that. And that’s the same reason I don’t have a reader device, I just use Stanza on my Macbook.

    For now I’m dealing with the dozen or so that I still have from what I brought with me and am hoping to not have to buy too many before I return to the states in March. After that it’s the library for me!

  • Carrie

    count me in as an ebook fan – when I decluttered, I donated almost all my books to my local library. I read hundreds of books a year, most of which my library doesn’t carry and I hate to see all the paper gathering dust on my bookcase after I’ve read each a few times. I kept the volumes I absolutely adore, but everyday reading I now do in electronic formqat. I bought myself a Sony reader for Christmas and LOVE it (Kindle’s selection is too limited for Canada yet). Bought one also for my grandmother when I saw how easy it was to use – she was a hardcore reader until illness made it impossible for her to hold a book or to turn pages for any length of time. However, she can lay a reader down flat, and press the button to turn the pages – honestly, it’s made a massive difference in her life too!

  • Dorothea

    I bought myself a sony reader for my birthday. I have more novel reading material than i could wish for. Plus we have a very good charity shop in town. £1 a book, and a lot of them unread, or barely read. I use it almost like a library.
    My problem are the non-fiction books as well. Cookbooks, pattern books, craft magazines, exercise books etc etc. Seeing the list there are two things in common: need pictures and need to be handy in weird situations. An ereader just won’t stand up to being splattered on, clipped to holders and stood on.
    I can second the difference an ereader makes for joint issues and the like as well. Now i just need my mum to stop giving me huge hardcover books.

  • Michelle

    As a follow up to what Charley said, I have also had trouble donating books to the library. I called ahead and checked if they accepted donations, and was told yes. Then when I went to drop them off I noticed that 3 of my books were on the posted list of requested books, so I made sure to mention that to the girl who was taking them. A few weeks later a friend went to check out one of the books I had donated and couldn’t find it, so I went in to ask about it and was told that they didn’t have ANY of my books in the system, INCLUDING the ones that were on the request list! I was quite surprised and spoke with the manager who basically told me that as a rule, the library will accept donations but they just sell them in their “Friends of the Library” store, or throw them away (unless they are kids books which go to the schools). I pointed out that three of the books were ones that the library would soon be buying since they were high on the request list that was posted at the counter, so what was the point of selling the book for $4 when later they were going to order it new for $20? The manager agreed that it made no sense, but that it was just the way “the system worked”. Needless to say, I have stopped donating to the library anything that I expect to see again and have since added to the list all the books that I had previously donated. So far they have bought back 4 of the 10 books that I donated since they were requested numerous times by other people. Bureaucracy at it’s worst!

    • Patricia

      I’ve been volunteering at library book sales for about eight years. Almost every donated book in good condition is put up for sale. It’s a fantasy that each book we donate to a public library is put on the shelves for “everyone” to read. It just doesn’t happen. And you know what happens to the countless left-over books that don’t get sold at these twice-yearly book sales? They’re sold to shredding companies, who pay the library a tiny amount per ounce.
      So ultimately, when you donate your books to a library, you’ll NEVER see them on the shelves, waiting to be checked out. Their “new” home will be a shredding machine.

  • I have found that it comes down to how good your public library is. The library were I currently live is great and thus I have almost no reason to own books at all. I can just borrow them.

    I have had some kind-lust in the past but my main issue would be the cost of buying books: You pay new price. I prefer to get the regular format used at a lower or no cost. This way I can sell/swap/give them back again with almost no cost. It does mean that I have to be patient in the sense that I can not get all the books I want _now_. Instead I have wish lists at the size of about 50 books and so once in a while I get one of them in no particular order.

  • The books were hard for me to let go of, but in June of last year, I simply purged them–all of them! Eeek! Books I’d had since college, books I loved and enjoyed. I think I even had grown to associate my identity with my books. I solved the problem by carefully dividing up my books and giving them to people who would appreciate them. It ended up that some of these people gave me a book or two back–which, I felt free to pass on because I got them free. Also used paperbacks are great to take on vacations because you can squash them into a bag, forget them on an airplane or give them away when your done and it doesn’t matter.

    I’m often quite disappointed by libraries (at least the ones I’ve been to in California). You can get all the fiction you could ever read (the new stuff takes a LONG time, though). But current political, philosophical, economic stuff is harder–in my opinion. In the states I had a practice of just going to the book store and reading a book right there in their cozy couches. I’m a fast reader, so I figure why pay twenty dollars for 2 hours of reading–unless you want to keep it for reference, but in my case, that’s the LAST thing I need since I move so much.

    I have yet to try an e-book, though. Maybe I’m just being closed-minded and stubborn but . . .I get kind of tired reading on a screen and I don’t want to take my computer on the bus with me or in the bath (yeah, I’m serious.) Also, for now, I’m actually going through the libraries of friends and family in France–my brother in law has tons of books on Buddhism which I find interesting and my mother in law has a ton of French classics. I haven’t run out of reading so far. There are lots of people out there who are drowning in books and who don’t mind if you borrow them. (Except borrowed books aren’t so good in the bath either.)

  • Ada

    Mia–the Kindle DX has a larger screen, and I believe you can scan sheet music and send it to yourself (via Kindle e-mail) so that you can have access to it. That is what my ex-dh does. . . he travels internationally 2/3 of the month, and likes to be able to play his travel guitar while he is on the road.

    Miss Minimalist–for a future post, I would be curious as to which books made your list of “30 books I just couldn’t live without”! I, too have my own personal stash of reference books and beloved classics but I am pretty disciplined with myself about what has made the cut.

    As for me–I was anti-Kindle (or other e-book) for quite awhile, but I recently purchased my ex-dh’s Kindle from him at a deep discount when he upgraded, and I absolutely adore it! It is chic, simple, and gives me lots of reading material at my fingertips. I am a big fan of the free classics, but have allowed myself to purchase a few newer books that were on my wishlist, thanks to amazon.com gift certificates I received for Christmas. When I travel, it will be a huge asset. As a fast reader, I typically take up too much space with books when I’m on the road, so the Kindle takes care of that problem. Would I have purchased one if I had to buy it new at full price? I’m not sure. . . being in school means I am strict with my budget, but I am grateful to have been able to get one at a discount.

  • I’d love an ebook reader, but our selection here in Canada seems so limited!
    I won’t buy a Kindle on principle unless they change a few things (I have no desire to “rent” the books instead of buying them).

    I’m sure I’ll end up with one eventually. I’d love to be able to carry around a hundred books in my purse!

  • meagan

    mia: Super expensive, but… http://books-videos-music.musiciansfriend.com/product/Freehand-MusicPad-Pro-Plus-Version-4.0-Electronic-Sheet-Music-Display?sku=241190 Exactly what you were wishing for. I don’t have it, but had a piano student years ago who did and I coveted it greatly! :-)

    Re: books…ya, I struggle just the same. I’m down to about 30 also, miss M., after purging in stages over the last few years. (This doesn’t count the music books, though!)

  • I am yet to venture into the world of ebooks, mainly because of the cost of a Kindle or similar.

    But (cough) I do work in a library and yes, most of the time we don’t want what is being donated! Space is at a premium so if the item is held somewhere else in the library system it’s unlikely that we’d hold a copy at each branch (unless it was hugely popular, of course). We’re also encouraged to purchase ebooks, too, so they are downloaded by the person “borrowing” them, again much of it is space related.

    I am weeding out my collection actively (keeping the “last copy held” of course), but I’ve often said that I’d like my library to be a shelfful of books and a chair. A minimalist library!

  • Chris

    I want to buy a nice ebook reader soon, since I read a lot of classics and those are easily available online. I do love real books, but I don’t love having to move hundreds of books – and the content is what really matters anyway.

  • Scott

    My iPod Touch with the free app Stanza is great for 20 minute reading sessions or less. It works out because dedicated reading time is hard to come by. Among a million other functions it performs, the Touch is a nice reader, and best of all, I always have it with me.

  • miss minimalist

    Wow, thanks for all your fabulous comments!

    Mia, ask and you shall receive–RSS for comments is now enabled. :-) That’s a great idea for sheet music. And by the way, I’d move next door to that giant library too!

    Charley, I think moving would make anyone an ebook fan! I had the same experience with a local library many years ago: I donated some very nice books thinking they’d be put on the shelves, but they ended up in their book sale (in which books were typically sold for 25 cents to $1).

    Jesse, I totally understand–I’m also trying to refrain from accumulating books, as they’re too hard to drag around the world!

    Carrie, I feel the same; I don’t like to keep books I’ve already read, and ebooks seem to eliminate a lot of waste (better to save the trees!). Glad to hear how the reader has helped your grandmother!

  • miss minimalist

    Dorothea, I agree about the non-fiction books. I hope that an ereader with picture capability is in the works (maybe the Apple tablet?), as a good number of my “permanent” collection are art books.

    Michelle, it’s sad that people feel compelled to follow “the system” even when they *know* it makes no sense. While I love libraries in general, I had a similarly disappointing experience with donating (see my comment to Charley above).

    ERE, great point about the cost of new books versus used ones–that’s the major drawback of the digital format. I’m hoping that someday we’ll be able to borrow ebooks from the library, or trade them with friends. (I think Barnes and Noble’s Nook allows some limited “lending.”) In the meantime, I’m reading mostly from the public domain, and limiting purchases of “new” ebooks to what I can’t get from the library, and what I want to keep for reference.

  • miss minimalist

    Trish–LOL, I haven’t read on my Touch in the bath, but it’s wonderful on the bus! :-) How impressive that you purged *all* of your books, and don’t have any regrets. Very inspirational for the rest of us!

    Ada, I’m a fast reader too, and hated packing multiple books for long plane and train rides. Now I can take as many as I want, with no extra weight! Interesting idea about sharing my 30 books–I will definitely consider that for a future post.

    Caitlin, that’s exactly it–being able to carry your library in your purse is amazing!

    meagan, very cool (but yes, expensive!) sheet music display. I imagine prices will fall quickly, though, as ereaders and tablets become more ubiquitous. It took me a little while to get down to those 30 books, too–and now I feel like it’ll be a very slow process of letting them go, one by one (hopefully as digital versions become available!).

  • miss minimalist

    Michelle, that’s very interesting that your library encourages the purchase of ebooks! I hope this becomes more common. Can more than one person download an electronic “copy” at a time–or are there still waiting lists for more popular books?

    Chris, I agree. The content is what matters, and the digital format seems more efficient at delivering it than the physical one.

    Scott, I read on my Touch as well (more on this in Part 2). You’re right, it’s perfect for catching a little reading time when waiting for appointments, on the subway, etc. I’ve also read on it for hours at a time (at home, and on longer trips) with no problem–and haven’t yet felt the need for a dedicated ereader.

  • Mia

    Ada and Meagan, thanks for letting me know about those gadgets!
    MM, thanks for enabling comments RSS!

  • Alisha

    Came across your site by chance (or fate?). Don’t have much to say about e-books, but just wanted to say how much I LOVE your blog(?). I live in Tokyo, which is probably one of the most energy consuming places in the world, with so much information and STUFF to consume and process. I’ve been constantly decluttering for more than two years now, and finally realizing that becoming a minimalist is a total change of how you embrace life itself. Please keep us inspired!

  • miss minimalist

    Hi Alisha–it’s great to have you here! Tokyo is one of my favorite cities; I’m very interested in Japanese culture, and would *love* to live there someday.

    You’re right: minimalist living is about *more* than just decluttering; it’s a whole different (and liberating) outlook on life!

  • Lorraine

    There’s one thing that bothers me about e-books, and that I’ve never seen addressed anywhere. Unlike paper books, which will always “work”, all technology is dependent on having some source of power – electricity, batteries, etc. I find myself pondering the situation if our whole area were to be plunged into, say, a week-long power outage. (It’s been known to happen.) Suddenly nothing works, and every year, there are fewer things that work. So not just inoperative stoves, lights, furnaces, and washing machines. Now we suddenly have no access to our money (computers and ATM’s all down), we can’t use or recharge our phones, and…our books stop working!!! Sorry – I know this sounds extreme, but I hate the thought of a society where literally nothing functions without an external source of power.

    That said, as a lifelong book lover, I’m thinking of getting a Kindle. I’ll still keep some favourite paper books, though, because I love how they look and feel. And so I’ll have something to do during the Big Blackout, sitting with my candle!

    • miss minimalist

      That’s definitely a valid concern, Lorraine! Yet, I’m willing to accept a bookless week or two, in order to avoid schlepping them around each time I move. :)

  • […] house: two bookshelves full of books Tiny flat: a handful of books Thoughts: Ebooks are my minimalist dream come true. If I can’t get something from the library, I purchase the Kindle version. Since another overseas […]

  • […] most of you know, I’m a huge fan of ebooks. They save trees, they save energy, and they save space in our […]

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  • […] Why I Love Ebooks, Part 1: In response to my post on Printing to PDF, Stuart brought up the subject of ebooks. Oh Stuart, you had to get me started… I know this is a controversial topic here, and some of you fundamentally disagree with my opinion. But it’s an issue near and dear to my heart, and I just can’t refrain from pontificating on it…{read more} […]

  • William T.J. Kerr

    Just came across your site with your ebook blog. I like you have just finished an extensive move across a country and in paring down my physical books found the small number that still had some relevance.

    My solution, which may make some book people squirm, was to cut them up and scan the entire book into a PDF format. I separated the pages very carefully with a sharp box cutter and once they were scanned, placed the pages back in their covers, boxed and stored them. I now have the content of these 20 or so books taking up a few bytes on my itouch and if I really want to read the real pages, I can pull the books out and read again. I will most likely get rid of the physical books once I’ve finished unpacking and purging my move.

    The scanning took a bit of time, a few hours for each book, which was done while watching a bit of television or a movie or two.

    The best of all worlds.


  • Zoe

    I have very, very, very serious issues with ebooks and ereaders and DRM. Until DRM is dropped, I refuse to buy an ereader. I’ll continue “sticking it to the man” (lol) by buying used or checking out from the library.

    But I’m not a mobile person either; as in I don’t travel all over the world. Not that I don’t want to, but I just don’t have the monetary resources.

    If I were more mobile, I’d buy a kindle and hack the DRM, but until the day I can buy a kindle DRM free, I’ll pass.

  • The area of books and educational stuff has been my most difficult as we are still home educating 7 of our 9 children. And this week our 6yod had an eureka-moment about all the deforestation for all the wood and paper products, etc., been really disturbing her, and so that’s another issue to deal with.

  • Paula

    I too love ebooks because I can take several books with me anywhere. I also have a short attention span, so I can read a few pages of one then flip immediately to another. I always have several books open at once. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if I get into a really good book, I enjoy the tactile experience as well. In my small town, the library is quite sparse, especially in the nonfiction section. I have begun donating my read books to the local library, so they can store them for me. Any time I want to re-read an old favorite, I simply stop by while I’m in town and bring it back home.

  • Tina

    So far, the issue hasn’t come up. We live next to a huge public library connected to a large system. I have only bought books second hand to take to my mom at her nursing home. Our temple also gives away religious books and I’ve taken her some of them.

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