Graham Heslop
Graham Heslop Graham has an insatiable appetite for books, occasionally dips into theology, and moonlights as a lecturer in New Testament Greek at George Whitefield College, Cape Town. He also serves on the staff team at Union Chapel Presbyterian Church and as the written content editor for TGC Africa. Graham is married to Lynsay-Anne and they have one son, Teddy.

Doodle: 3 Reasons Physical Books Are Better Than Digital Ones

Doodle: 3 Reasons Physical Books Are Better Than Digital Ones

Last week a friend returned a book I had lent her. As she handed it to me I noticed that despite buying it new, less than 2 years ago: the spine is badly damaged, the corners are bent, and the cover is warped as well as faded. But I didn’t scold my friend. The book wasn’t in much better condition when she borrowed it. The reason it looks so weatherbeaten is that, in addition to both my wife and I reading that particular book, we have lent it to no fewer than 3 people. While receiving my borrowed and broken book, it dawned on me: physical books and libraries are better than digital ones. In fact, I would go as far as saying that owning a relatively small amount of excellent books in hard copy format is better than possessing an immense digital library.

I do not mean physical books are better in the ways that book lovers can typically be heard waxing eloquent about them. Yes, you can’t beat the delightful smell of new pages. Similarly, the scent of a second hand book store is almost rapturous. Added to this, a well-arranged book shelf provides considerable aesthetic joy in the home. I am also not ignoring the numerous points that must necessarily be awarded to digital books. Moving twice in the last decade has emphasised some of these benefits of digital books. Physical books are heavy. They also take up a lot of living space, which not everyone has to spare.

Yet I am more convinced now than I have ever been, at least since the advent of PDFs, ebooks, and Kindle: physical books are a superior investment to digital books.

1. Physical Books Can Be Lent Out

Already touched on above, physical books can be lent out. They are easily shared—so long as you aren’t overly precious about their condition. When I have guests over and I’m boring them with details about whatever I’ve been reading lately, I can walk them over to our bookshelves and hand them the book. Once I’ve read a book others can too. Alternatively, if I know I won’t read a book again I am able to give it away. With local libraries fast becoming a thing of the past, personal libraries may present us with precious opportunities for sharing, generosity, and community.

2. Physical Books Are More Conspicuous

Because physical books are, well, physical, they are more conspicuous. Being materially tangible, or visible, they are difficult to ignore. On the other hand, it is easy to accumulate digital books unthinkingly because they disappear into the cloud. Physical books line the walls of my home. I walk past them when I open the curtains in the morning and water my indoor plants at night. I honestly cannot tell you how many digital books I own on Kindle. Most of those digital accruements were free and others were deals to good to pass up. Yet most of them remain unread. I don’t think I am alone in this regard.

3. Digital Books Fuel Undiscerning Consumerism

Finally, following the above point, digital books suit rampant consumerism. For they require less discernment when it comes to making purchases. It’s too easy to think, “Keller, for only $1.99 on Kindle? Buying the hard copy would probably mean not eating for a few of days.” So I buy it. One click. But have I read it? Probably not.

Linked to this is the absence of logistical (read: physical) limitations. Because ebooks require no space I can easily justify owning more of them than I actually need to—or will ever read. How can I turn Keller down when it’s only $1.99? Justified by savings alone, the book is added to my invisible bookshelf where it is very likely to be forgotten forever.

There you have it. Repent and believe. Go and spend all your money on physical books, but only after you’ve denounced Kindle and thrown your e-reader into the sea. Unless you live far from the sea—or are concerned about the environment. Perhaps you should rather give it to someone else. Let them ruin their lives by hoarding more digital books than they’ll ever read as a result of their unchecked consumerism and the inconspicuous nature of digital books. That is all.

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