The Great Format Debate

As someone who spends a lot of time reading books, I also spend a lot of time thinking about how I read. In today’s world, that thinking is dominated by the question of format; should I be going with print, ebook, or audio? It’s not a question that I have an easy answer for.

I should first make it clear, however, that I don’t think that there is an objectively superior format. I think all formats have their own advantages, and I don’t really care what format other people use (as long as they do use some format!).

For the longest time, I used print books exclusively and religiously. I loved the feel of them in my hand, and I loved collecting them onto my bookshelf and being surrounded by them. ‘A room without books is a body without a soul’ (Cicero) and ‘I cannot sleep if I am not surrounded by books’ (Jorge Luis Borges) were quotes that rang particularly true for me.

But then I moved to study in Scotland, and my 600-book library wasn’t something I could fit in my carry-on. I could only read the books that happened to be with me, and during vacations back home, I had to try and decide what I would like to read for the next four months before my next vacation. This started making me much more sympathetic towards ebooks.

So I got a kindle, and I started buying ebooks. After a while, the convenience of it overwrote all my previous hesitations enough that I stopped buying physical books entirely. As I kept reading more ebooks, I noticed that what my girlfriend’s mother had said rang true: when you’re immersed in a book, it’s the words that matter, not where the words are displayed.

I also discovered that ebooks were the solution to my compulsive book buying habit. That 600-book library? I’ve only read half of them, and at the time that I moved to Scotland, I was buying books faster than I could read them. Ebooks solved this problem because of their constant availability; living in Finland, I had a restricted selection of English books that I could find in bookstores, and ordering books was quite expensive. With ebooks, I had access to all books at all times. So, I made a deal with myself: excepting exceptional circumstances, I could buy any book I wanted, but whenever I bought a book I had to start reading it immediately. That solved my compulsive book buying.

That’s where I’m at today with ebooks. But I do still read physical books at times as well, and whenever I do, I’m struck by two things: I still love the feel of holding a book (during all those times between being immersed in a book); but, a kindle is much more comfortable to hold, and allows for a wider range of reading possibilities. At times, this makes me feel torn about my commitment to ebooks. But, the practical concerns are always so strong I don’t ever seriously consider switching back to physical books.

My past with audiobooks is a much shorter and simpler one. After I became open to trying ebooks, I also became more open to trying audiobooks. But I quickly noticed that I’m not the sort of person who can sit still and read audiobooks without doing anything else; whenever I tried, my mind quickly started to wander away, and I had to consciously try to refocus onto the book. So, I realised that I needed to figure out a mindless task that I could do while listening to a book. And that’s where I am today, still trying to figure out that mindless task. I did find that walking while listening to audiobooks worked for me; but I also found that I’m too lazy to go on walks consistently.

What about you? Which format do you prefer? Any recommendations on mindless tasks to do while listening to audiobooks?

One thought on “The Great Format Debate

  1. The wandering-mind-phenomenon happens to me too! Though I also don’t like audiobooks because I like how I intonate the sentences in my head.

    But if you are looking for something to do while listening to an audiobook, I’d suggest something that would make your life easier/nicer: a chore, or a hobby like knitting, or gardening… whatever that will lighten your day-to-day life.

    I’ve never tried ebooks, but I’ve been seduced by Kindle since many years ago. I don’t like the DRM format… but I agree that it’s a hell of a convenience, to be able to read whatever book, literally singlehandedly.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s