As every literature student, instructor, collector, lover, etc. knows, bound books take up valuable living space. A lot of space. As every literature lover who has had to move knows, bound books are HEAVY. As a rabid reader of fiction since junior high school, I have accumulated A LOT of books though the years, as anyone who has helped me move can attest. And every time I move, I determine to downsize. But I can never part with my books, and since I continue to buy more each year, my collection continues to grow.
E-BOOKS AS SPACE SAVERS?
As I am currently once more in the process of moving, the dilemma caused by my extensive bound book collection is fresh on my mind. I have too many boxes of books to count packed and stuffed into the one-bedroom apartment I currently share with another. We won’t move into a two-bedroom apartment until August, so I tried to anticipate my writing and reference needs by filling a suitcase with “necessary” books for easy (or simply easier) access.
A family friend who helped move me from Michigan to Minnesota lamented (repeatedly), “More boxes of books?! Why do you have so many books? Haven’t you heard of e-books?”
In theory, I have no problem with e-books. I own a number of them actually. But there are many reasons I continue to use and purchase bound books.
1. I owned the bound book before the e-book was available.
A lot of my books, in particular my non-academic, mass-market paperback genre fiction novels, were purchased before the release of the e-reader. These are the books I tend to purchase as e-books because it is simply easier and saves space; it’s also more convenient for vacation or relaxation (aka “fun”) reading as you can access a variety of texts anywhere, anytime with an e-reader. But as much as I’d like to simply replace these bound texts, it is not financially feasible on a graduate student budget. I keep telling myself I’ll do so when I get my (dream) job and can afford to do so.
2. Bound books are easier to use as sources for literary analysis.
When I’m analyzing a text and writing an argument about it, it’s a lot easier (for me) to reference a bound version of the primary text. This is because I can mark relevant quotations, make marginal notes, and skip around within the text as needed. Finding unmarked passages that I need is also easier to do in a bound book, as you can fan through the pages as needed and have a better idea of physical location (for example, I’m looking for a passage in the middle of the book so I’m fanning/skimming in that area). While I can mark, take notes, and sometimes search through e-books, skimming really doesn’t work, and I can’t move quickly back and forth between difference notes, marked passages, etc. as I can with a bound book. Furthermore, MLA citation requires page numbers that are usually unavailable in a digital format.
3. Bound books are easier to use in the classroom.
For many of the same reasons listed in the previous point, a bound book is easier to use in the classroom, as the class moves from passage to passage, not necessarily in any chronological order. This is especially the case as an instructor, I think. I’ve used e-books in the classroom as a student (it’s hard to pass up free 19th-century texts) and have found them clunky and unwieldy. Even using the search function to locate specific passages, I am inevitably behind in the conversation, unlike those students who can simply reference a page and paragraph number.
4. Used bound books are cheap.
I love used book stores. One of my favorites is Half-Price Books, and I’ve found some excellent deals on both literary texts and literary criticism/theory texts at their stores (particularly if I visit a store located near one or more college campuses). Cheap bound books are also available on Amazon. While e-books are often (but not always) cheaper than their bound counterparts, used bound books are often cheaper still. So until I can purchase a “used” e-book, I cannot overlook the deals available on used bound books.
5. A lot of critical texts are unavailable as an e-book. Numerous academic monographs, anthologies, etc. are not available in any form other than bound hardcopy. This means access is limited to purchasing the bound book or borrowing the bound book from a library. While the library is often a good source, purchasing the book allows unlimited, repeated access and reference, and it can sometimes be quicker as well.
6. Bound books are more aesthetically pleasing. Sometimes it’s just nice to admire a book cover or unusual binding, to hold a book in your hands and smell its pleasantly musty scent. In my opinion, personalized epigraphs and signatures in books received as gifts also adds value. Yes, they’re dust-traps, but don’t they look nice displayed on your books shelf???
BOOK STORAGE CONCLUSION
I think these are pretty good reasons to keep my collection of bound books. I obviously didn’t explain this in detail to the lamenting family friend, but his lament’s did encourage me to think about this in more detail. (My response on moving day was “I’m an English major.”)
And regarding storage space, I’ll simply have to invest in another bookshelf to make up for the loss of the built-in shelf I sadly said goodbye to in my Michigan apartment. Off to Ikea I go! I’m also looking to purchase a rolling book cart (like those used in libraries) to store some books in my closet. Maybe some day I’ll use that same cart in my own home library…