English: A whole lotta books in my personal li...
English: A whole lotta books in my personal library (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I write this, my personal library is somewhere between the Bay Area and New York, heading east. I don’t know if the truckers have read Kerouac, but the books themselves may be experiencing a sense of adventure. Some of them have made this American road trip before, though in the opposite direction; others are new to the road but confident that where I go, they go — my external, analogue hard drive, the picture of my consciousness, my personal library.

About two years ago, when my wife and I decided to move back east — or East, which is not the same thing — we began to take stock of our collection of books. This was in part the natural pruning of any flowering plant that had grown beyond its allotted space, but also an economic matter. We had been told that for every carton of books carried from the Left Coast to the Right, the cost would be $30. We calculated that we had about 100 cartons of books, so that came to $3,000, which seemed like a lot of money to carry around books that we had already read. So we decided to cut the number of books by half, a big effort, which resulted in some arguments and countless trips to our local used bookstore, the marvelous Logos Books and Music. This task was complicated by the fact, familiar to all bibliophiles, that even as we were selling off our library, we continued to buy more books. Particularly treacherous was the semiannual library book sale, where donated books are sold by the pound. Fill a shopping bag for $10. And why stop with one?

The irony of this is that for the past 20 years, I have principally made a living helping publishers publish e-books and journals and other forms of digital content. I am a signed-up member of the Gadget Society and carry a smartphone, Kindle, or iPad everywhere, all stocked with books, if “stocked” is the right word for ephemeral electrical charges that travel mysteriously from the Cloud to the device and back. I read print books because I already own thousands and cannot resist browsing in a used bookstore, which is in fact one of the few things that gets me to leave my study and its capacious desktop machine to venture out of doors.

Culling the library can be painful. There is no parting with “Ulysses” and “Middlemarch,” but Thackeray, Dickens, and Mrs. Gaskell? Tossing the complete Shakespeare is almost an impure thought, but Hart Crane, Byron, John Donne, and Emily Dickinson? The case for keeping poetry is strong if you have a propensity for rereading, but fiction is not such an easy call. Nonfiction is easier to toss, though there are some titles (“Civilization and Its Discontents,” “Understanding Media”) that I continue to return to. What makes this such an arduous task is that it is not about books at all but about a dialogue with your own mind. Is this volume something you want to engage again — load it into RAM, so to speak — or is this title so central to how you think about yourself, or how you want others to think about you, that parting with it is tantamount to giving up a piece of your self?

People have always culled personal libraries, of course, but the process is different in the age of the e-book. The literary classics that fill an entire book case are now all available electronically, most of them for free.  Why carry “A Hazard of New Fortunes” or “The Brothers Karamazov” around when they can always be recalled from the Cloud, loaded onto a Kindle or the virtual shelf of the iBookstore? Thus do several hundred paperbacks make their way to the used bookstore, where groaning undergraduates will pick up copies of “Villette” and “Wuthering Heights” for a dollar or two. (I lie:  I could never part with Emily Brontë.)

Prior to the advent of the e-book, there were few alternatives to carrying your library around with you, but now that digital books are mainstream, consituting perhaps 25% of all new trade books sales and about a third that amount for scholarly books, new aspects of the printed book come into view. For example, what are the environmental issues of owning a large library? If I were bookless, I could live in a house that was at least one full room smaller, perhaps two. That would require a less costly house and a lower heating bill. Or there is the aesthetic dimension of printed books. As we house-hunted, we stepped into a stunning house in Bronxville, NY, whose every room was lined with bookshelves. And the books! Perhaps the owner was a professor of political science or an editor at the New York Times. Or perhaps he or she was simply one of the thousands, millions of people who work in law and real estate and finance for whom books come second only to family. The books made a powerful and beautiful statement, but I could not help to think (as I checked email on my phone and posted to Twitter) that the house was a monument to a soon-to-be-bygone era. In a few years, that personal library will be as rare as a house with stables for horses.

So what are the books themselves thinking? I don’t mean their content — their tales of the lives of Einstein and John Stuart Mill or the fable of a distinguished intellectual who falls hopelessly and tragically in love with a young girl — but their private reflections on their role in the lives of their readers and owners. They are iconic — a picture of a human mind in five hundred or a thousand running feet — but not for much longer. They can feel themselves losing their hold on the imaginations of the reading public. Does “Howl” howl? Do we have a new candidate for the saddest story ever told?

Now a personal library is something that resides on a computer server somewhere, accessed through your Amazon account. You can sell your house and traipse across the country or overseas, but all that changes is the IP address from which you access your “library.” The books do not become dog-eared, they are never misfiled. A guest in your home will no longer note that Gibbon or Boswell lies next to your easy chair. If someone wants to know who you are through your books, the place to look is GoodReads and LibraryThing. The printed book is aware of the passage of time.

Reducing the size of my personal library made me aware that I had probably bought my last new print book. There may be exceptions to this, as when I purchase a gift for someone, but otherwise my new books will be e-books. Used books are a different matter, though, as the pleasure of browsing is something I will not give up until the last bookstore closes. I will continue to read print because I already own so many unread print books, but the e-book revolution is well on its way in this household. Oddly, it is easier to contemplate a world of e-books than a house without stuffed bookshelves.

Two footnotes to this tale. At the closing for our new house, I asked the seller what he had done with his extensive personal library as he prepared to move out. It was the wrong question — disposing of his library had pained him deeply. He talked feelingly about the books and with a sense of loss for the many volumes that he had had to  consign to a rare book dealer. He will never have a library like that again, and he feels diminished, older, for it.

The new owner of our old house in California had a diferent take on things. He is a professional writer, with books and screenplays to his credit. As we walked around the house the last time, with me showing him all the intricacies of home ownership — the irrigation system, the pool filter, the solar panels — he turned to me and asked, “Could you recommend a good carpenter? I need to have a great many bookshelves built.”

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Joseph Esposito

Joseph Esposito

Joe Esposito is a management consultant for the publishing and digital services industries. Joe focuses on organizational strategy and new business development. He is active in both the for-profit and not-for-profit areas.


95 Thoughts on "E-books and the Personal Library"

If all I want to convey is information, then I use E-books, or just the web. I used to need hundreds of technical reference manuals, now I just need the Internet.

My physical books convey emotion as well. I remember reading my book about King Arthor as a child hiding under the covers with a flashlight. I remember the feel of the cover, the smell of the pages and I remember how the marks and stains on the cover were made. That doesn’t translate well to Kindle.

Maybe my children will fondly remember the feel and warmth of their tablet.

I’m with you on the hiding-under-the-covers-reading-a-book feel. Like you said, a question of generation probably.

I have a Nexus 7 wrapped in a cozy leather cover, and I have to say, I’m really loving the feel of it. It’s very comfortable to hold as I read (books, Flipboard, etc.), and I jot down a lot of thoughts in it with Evernote as well. The combination somehow makes it feels more personal than other devices I’ve had, to the point where it reminds me a bit of Count Almasy’s copy of Herodotus that he carries everywhere with him.

So yes, I think it’s possible for a device to go beyond feeling like a cold artifact of soulless technology and become something of a friend, the way a physical book can.

From what I gathered, many or most of the books you agonized about are public domain classics available for free download from gutenberg.org, now in Kindle compatible mobi format. It’s really only the sentimental favorites and copyrighted books that are worth shipping. (The mobi format prevents Amazon syncing to its cloud sync service, but Whispersync will automatically sync local copies on different devices by wi-fi, and I’ve rerouted my Kindle Content folder to DropBox, which works very well.)

Great piece Joe. I can’t say I’ve reached the same point in my reading. I feel like I have way too much screen time in my life, and a chance to do some pleasure reading is a chance to unplug, to disconnect from the internet and to deal with a physical object rather than a virtual one.

There’s also still an economic risk in going all eBook. I tend to regularly re-read the books that I keep (books I’m unlikely to re-read get donated every now and again). If it costs you $30 per box to move your books, what does it cost you to replace them? Nothing for those in the public domain, but what about those that aren’t? Can you make the same argument here that we all made for music, re-buying on CD the same albums we already owned on vinyl? I’m not sure books are used as often and play the same role in my life as music that I’d be willing to make that same investment.

But my real sticking point is that I refuse to lock myself in to one device, one bookstore for the rest of my life (particularly given the shaky economic state of bookstores). If I start buying Nook books, what happens to my collection when Barnes and Noble goes under? If I buy a Kindle, what happens to my books when Google comes out with a new device that’s vastly superior to the Kindle but also incompatible with the Kindle? What happens if I’m locked-in to Apple’s iBookstore and they decide to crank their prices up to double that of every other eBookstore? Having a multi-purpose device like an iPad alleviates this somewhat, but the same problems exist for apps–at some point, if your bookstore goes away, their app is going to stop being compatible with future devices and the books you’ve bought must be bought again.

Am I naive to be holding out for the eBook version of the mp3, a file format that’s portable across all devices and will allow me to shop where I want to shop?

The ebook version of the MP3 would be one of the aspects of a ScholarsCatalog project, which I have been championing for some time now. I agree with every one of your points. If I had not moved cross-country, I would not have parted with a single volume, not even one of my 3 copies of “The Rainbow,” which, I realize now, I have never read.

This problem is what stops me from getting into eBooks, and even into digital music to some extent: iTunes tells me that I can’t play about half the music in my library, usually because I bought it on a computer I owned a decade ago with an account for a different country. That, and an update of iTunes a few years back ‘accidentally’ deleted a whole lot of songs that weren’t bought from their store.

The eBook version of the mp3 exists–in two versions. EPub and (the reviled…) PDF… Most “proprietary” eBooks are ePub with security/DRM added. Without the DRM, they could be transferable indefinitely…

Also, I suspect, if a major vendor like B&N went under, someone would make an app to adapt the Nook DRM…

Already done. Check out a freeware app called “Calibre”. With a few decently documented modifications, it can easily strip out DRM to allow the books you purchased from, say, Amazon, to be uploaded to your B&N Nook, or vice-versa.

If I have to download and regularly update a program, then modify that program, then run my purchases through that program in order to reach a level of usability similar to a print book, then that’s a deeply inferior product. As noted above, my time is precious to me, I won’t spend it on workarounds when there’s a perfectly functional product (the print book) that can be had with no additional effort (and there’s no way my Grandmother is going to figure out how to strip DRM from books, so that’s a non-starter for much of the population).

Hey, I’ve used Calibre for a year not only to adjust access to ebooks but to create new ones from
htm programming tuts. The comment that comes to mind is “bite me”.
Good article, tho’…

KH, grandmother, age 73

You may be a little more tech savvy than my Grandmother, then again, she’s got 20+ years on you…

I am getting on in age and far from tech savvy, tho’ people somehow think I am and calibre generally works its magic in seconds on books with no DRM, admittedly I haven’t used it to strip DRM from anything because I haven’t had to, but it is a great program and I hope to get around to organizing at least a portion of my 11,000 plus ebook collection on it. I love the way it lets you add tags, search and use the internet to find metadata and covers using title, author or isbn info. I enjoy being able to put attractive covers on my many, many public domain books instead of just using the plain, generic ones they were wearing when I got them. I admit it, I also like rolling through the “shelf” after I have redressed them. Also I have to admit I have worked in libraries for a lot of years and I like the ease with which this program allows me to organize!

I agree with you up to your last sentence. mp3 format squeezes out the best in CD quality music. Just compare the same song on mp3 to CD.
The biggest problem that the author fails to highlight is that e-book format in any format needs a cloud based service and this opens the doors for hackers. Just look at the hacking of Amazon and Apple. Also, look at the new vulnerability in the IOS system as related to SMS texting. Finally, the author also neglects to mention what will happen to backlist as tech companies seize control of literature and non-fiction

Fair enough, given that we just had a post here talking about the value of typography and design, things frequently lost in the conversion to eBook.

I think the other problem with any system that relies on the cloud is that your purchase can cease to exist, or at least cease to function properly if that cloud service goes out of business, is bought by someone else or just decides to change business models. It’s a big part of the difference between owning something and licensing something.

The EPUB format, originally associated with Barnes & Nobel’s Nook, has gone viral. Sony’s Reader’s support it, a conversion exists to move EPUB’s to Kindle, Safari Books Online has dropped further PDF development to go with EPUB – it’s suggestive of the development of a de facto standard. I get all my e-books as EPUBs these days, and I read without fear.

ePub is the eBook version of mp3s, and many devices, such as the Sony Reader, do not lock you into one format etc. There are many independent ebooksellers, such as Books on Board, etc. that sell ePub and PDF and other easily-transmittable formats from one device to another.
A dedicated ereader also allows you to avoid the whole issue of being connected to the internet, as while you can use them to access the internet to download books, they are not designed for websurfing, and so personally I never have the issue of being distracted by the web when I’m reading a digital book.

This was a nice piece, thanks. I’m 31, which I guess is technically young, but I have a large collection of books that I built for several years. I thought, with the rise of the e-book, that I’d never switch.

Now I rarely buy a physical book, but I still love my collection. I wonder what I’ll do next time I move? maybe I’ll keep your piece here bookmarked for inspiration.

And David, what you’re looking for is the ePub format, which is supported by everything but Kindle and probably always will be. This is why I have never bought a Kindle. It’s too locked down.

While you can’t always buy a book in ePub format, I feel that if I own a book, downloading a … shall we say less than legitimate… ePub copy is morally sensible, so that’s what I do to make sure I have a format that’s compatible with all my devices.

A universal file format alone is not enough if that file format is weighed down with proprietary DRM. If I can’t read an iBookstore book on a Nook, it doesn’t really matter that both stores use ePub. As someone who makes a living that relies on respecting copyright, I have a hard time circumventing it, even when I feel justified in doing so. Moral quandaries aside, I don’t have the time nor care to make the effort. If I have to jump through technical hoops and/or seek out illegal versions of the book, then it’s a vastly inferior product. My very limited time these days is of higher worth to me than the few dollars it costs to buy a print version of a book, which requires no modification or additional effort on my part.

Prior to the advent of the e-book, there were few alternatives to carrying your library around with you

How about using the public library?

I’ll admit to having more than my share of books, but these days if I don’t think I’m going to read a book more than once (which, let’s face it, is probably true for all of us for most books), I try to resist the impulse to buy my own and instead try to get it from the library or borrow it from a friend.

It’s not always possible, but I consider changing my immediate impulse from “see if the bookstore has a copy in stock” to “see if the library has it available” to be a personal victory. The closure of Borders, which was the only large, new-book bookstore in my town certainly helped in this, though.

Now CDs are a different matter. But then I usually do re-listen and re-listen.

I had a similar experience in moving to Texas after retiring as director of Penn State University Press. After culling my collection of some 500 books that i donated to the local AAUW book sale, I had eight skids of books shipped to my new home whose garage has been converted into a library, with shelving from the local IKEA that maximizes efficient use of space. My library still totals over 3,000 books, but about half of those are books I acquired as an editor working for Princeton U.P. and then Penn State U.P. and I have a sentimental attachment to them. Not only that, but a portion of them continue to be serviceable as reference works as I continue to acquire books part-time for three academic publishers in my semi-retirement. I have dreamed of the day when all of these books could be stored in the cloud and I would have to move nothing (except the rare books I also own), but I will be long dead before most of these reach the point of entering the public domain and not costing anything to access through the Digital Public Library of America. But at least I don’t plan on ever moving again, and parting with this collection will be a problem for those who inherit my estate.

Like you, Joe, I have long been a digital publishing evangelist. Yet I cling to my print books too. Case in point: I had been wanting to re-read “Anna Karenina” and I have a really nice two-volume slipcased edition of it. Just at that same time, I was doing a ton of travel, including internationally. My old Seybold backpack would not stand the strain — nor would my old Kasdorf back. What to do? Being a both/and kinda guy, the solution was obvious. I bought (yes, bought) the exact same translation and edition (translated by Constance Garnett, foreword by Thomas Mann) for my Kindle (its butt-ugly typography notwithstanding). And yes, I could have had a nicer looking page on my iPad, but damn, having that little Kindle in the pocket of my blazer when I’m eating alone in a restaurant is hard to argue with. I didn’t miss a beat while traveling. But home, I read the _real _ book. [Don’t shoot me, fellow digerati!] And it is now on the bookshelf on which the books are two-deep because we keep putting off building new bookshelves.

And I do buy new books in hardcover. Another case in point: as it happens, two friends of mine recently published books. Not only did I buy them in hardcover, I made it a point to buy them in one of the few remaining independent bookstores in this book-centric town (Ann Arbor, home of the late lamented Borders). I’m now happily reading Natalie Bakopoulous’ “The Green Shore” (about a Greek family during the time of the junta in the ’60s and ’70s) — which I highly recommend — in a lovely hardcover edition (mine has a sweet inscription from Natalie — try doing that in an e-book, Margaret Atwood notwithstanding!). Think I’ll ever part with that book? No way!

Always a pleasure to read your columns, but today’s struck an elegiac chord I found just slightly exaggerated, namely, your prediction that future homes won’t be filled with bookshelves full of books. Yes, okay, read lots of e-books, but, as you yourself admit, it doesn’t preclude continuing to buy and read and collect printed ones. Seems possible both are going to live side-by-side, indefinitely.

Thanks for this; problems that I have been fighting myself, and I may face a similar dilemma soon. For professional reasons I am interested by eBooks and I see a lot of potential in them. (Provided that we really get standards for those. As long as I am bound to a specific provider’s reader, that I cannot really rely on reading the book anywhere I think ebooks have no chance.)

But… books, for me, often have an emotional nature. The Thomas Mann book on Joseph and his brothers on my bookshelf is not only a reproduction of Thomas Mann’s novel: it is the very book through which I discovered this work when I was a teenager. It reminds me of things. There is a book I remember because I bought it at a great trip somewhere, and the stain on an another one was done by my son when he was a small child. Etc., etc. Electronic books do not have this type of emotional plus; hence I will probably have to pay those few thousands of bucks (euros in my case) when the time comes…

We just went through similar agony. The ones we are hanging onto are the coffee table art books and instructional books (cooking, woodworking, chess) that don’t translate well (yet) to ebooks.

I agree with most of Mr. Esposito’s reasons for deciding to keep a print book. And any book Esposito deems “e-version desirable”, I would borrow from a “library library.” Easy for me, since I work in a university library, and I’ve followed this practice for years.
There is, however, another important consideration. If you have children growing up in your house, keep a decent and varied print collection. Having books on hand allows them to browse and discover in wondrous ways that the online world can’t match.

I love this comment, we have a set of Ikea book cases with a half sized unit at one end for all of the books that we read as children and have survived many moves over the decades. Enid Blyton sits alongside our own childrens books. We even have home made library cards and borrowing books and stamps…….I’m patiently waiting for my five month old Grandson to be old enough to become a member 🙂

Great post, representative of the dilemma many are dealing with at the present.

When ready to part with your physical books, consider doing what I just did with most of my extensive library: donate them to the ages, via the Internet Archive They can join over 2 million others.

I’m afraid I could not do this, much as I would like to, as I do not support the Archive’s position on copyright. More important than saving books for the ages is nurturing the spirit that creates books in the first place.

What is the Archive’s position on copyright? I wasn’t aware that they took any “anti-copyright” stance.

I am genuinely curious. What is the archive’s position on copyright and what is wrong with it?

Reblogged this on Whatever takes my fancy and commented:
As the imminent owner of an iPad due to an upcoming birthday, this post by Joseph Espito set me thinking … will my reading habits change now that I will have the wherewithal to download ebooks? I already have this facility on my iPhone but the screen is far too small for me to be comfortable with the idea of attempting to read entire books on it. The more I think about it , the more I realise I will never stop buying books – or at least certain kinds of books – I cannot imagine “thumbing” through my beautiful collection of recipe books on an iPAD – apart from which, I am such a messy cook, the iPad be well advised to keep out of my way in the kitchen!

I can truly empathise with how the previous owner of Joe’s house must have felt having to cull his library. I am constantly looking for places to stash the books I continue to buy. I am an academic librarian, and work literally across the road from our very well stocked Campus book store. It is such a mistake for me to just pop in and take a look at what is new especially in the way of cookbooks, travel books (both fiction and non-fiction) and of course children’s books. I am a granny of three lovely kids. My four year old grandson is a very competent iPad user, and his 18 month old sister is not far behind – and as for the 15 month grandson ?- I marvel at what he tries to do with my iPhone! But despite this from day one, as grandparents we have nurtured a love of books with all three, as have their parents, and I can thankfully say, they are all avid book lovers. Nothing is better than sitting snuggled up on the couch, carefully turning the pages, and enjoying a good read with a baby or toddler. Plus, the iPad, cannot replace the “touch and feel” books, or the pop-up books or the “lift the flap” books which they all love.

In the long run, I won’t be culling my personal library any time soon…. but I will say I am looking forward to having a play with e-books on the iPad, and I am sure that travel books and fiction titles will be downloaded. However, I can safely say my personal library is secure.

Thanks, Joe, for an insightful discussion. I still read paper books, primarily when they are not available as digital books. Hard to believe, I know, but a lot of books are not yet available in digital versions, especially graphic novels. I like the feel of a paper book better than my iPad, but on the other hand I can read the iPad in bed or a tent without a night light. My guess is the trend is toward digital books, better readers and sensible DRM, with many bookstores having the capability of printing you a paper version while you wait (already happening at Powell’s Books here in Portland).

27 here and have been a book worm my whole life. Every time we move my husband asks me if NEEEEED to bring alone every book I own (which is nearing about 600 atm). I told him the only way I’d give up a physical book was if I got the E-book (which then sparked me into showing him the numbers of how much it would cost to replace my library which ended the discussion). That being said I have the Android Cruz Reader which supports every e-book /e-book vendor except apple (which I would never buy from anyway) including PDF and regular word txt documents. It’s Loaded with every public domain book I can get on even a collection of George Sand books (thank you internet archives). I’m a fiber/digital artist with interests that not only span the globe but the universe so my book shelf is varied from astrophysics to Hindu and Witchcraft from Korean language books to French and vegan cuisine. I’ve always dreamed of house with a library to rival that found in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and if I ever get my own attempts at Sci-fi novel writing finished I with Expect to have them added to my ever growing number of book shelves.

I am searching the best place for any types of books are ebooks where i can read and shop books or ebooks as my type and where want to spent my lots of time.

I loved this: “Used books are a different matter, though, as the pleasure of browsing is something I will not give up until the last bookstore closes.” I joke that my favorite bookstore is Goodwill. My purchases of new physical books has slowed some (not stopped) but, like you, the joy of finding an unexpected treasure in a used book store is too good to give up.

Over the past three years we cleared a room and a half of books from floor-ceiling shelves. We carted two pickups full to the Friends of the Library, and used the sale of others to buy a laptop. It was a great liberation from yearly dusting, for the desert southwest is “the land of dust”. It gave me great pleasure to think that the books *might* arrive in the hands of folks who’d actually read them. For many were items we’d view once a year, thinking we should keep it for later reading, only to view it the next year, thinking the same thing, not having read it since. We removed and gave away most of the shelves, keeping one for supplies in a new oil painting studio. It was truly liberating, to escape one aspect of a life of accumulating “stuff”.

I’m not giving up my books. My inner dragon refuses point-blank, and she has fangs, claws, and fiery breath backing her up.

For sure, the occasional cull is in order, and for readability it’s not beyond my sensibility to download an e-version for my Nook. But my classics (note -my-; they’re not all classics by the standard sense)? Those will stay on my shelves, my pretty-pretty shelves, for as long as I have shelves to put them on. Especially my signed copies. This may not be a popular choice of decoration, especially in this era, but maybe it makes me happy, and isn’t that the point of aesthetics?

This natural pruning that you reference is not a bad thing, it is an evolution. It is a progression that will yield fewer books in in much smaller personal libraries, but the tomes left behind will be books that more highly treasured as books that are core to us and bespeak who we are.

The simple solution is to consider the contents of the Library as goods and chattels – for each new owner to discover and enjoy

No one has mentioned another way to fill several shelves: just join Paper Back Swap, which has over 100.000 titles in their collection, and whenever someone wants one of mine I get a credit, and order one I’d like to read and then return to the ever and ever circulation. And there’s also that relatively small (we move too often) collection we will never part with until death do us part. An Ebook is just another tech item that is great for reading in bed, or on a trip, but NOT for just feeling the book that I have read over and over again until it is part of me. That one is a keeper and ebook will never replace that sensation.

DUDE, if you thought to use Amtrak to ship your books, you wouldn’t spend more than $500 including insurance. When I moved from New York to Los Angeles, I shipped my hundreds of books – fully insured (and catalogued, which you all should be doing anyway in case anything happens inside your own home) – for less than that, and they beat me to LA by four days. All I had to do was pack the boxes (I had 35 of them) and bring them to an Amtrak station – Amtrak employees gathered the boxes on a pallet, wrapped it up tight with plastic, and they arrived safe and sound and gorgeous.

This is friendly advice for my fellow bibliophiles. I have some e-books, but it’s usually mass market guilty pleasures that would insult the treasures on my many bookshelves (yeah, I read The Hunger Games too).

Oh – and NEVER use USPS if you can help it. They consistently lose/misplace/remove-books-from-boxes-and-replaced-it-with-used-women’s-clothing-ten-times-my-size in my experience (as well as the experiences of my friends).

They consistently lose/misplace/remove-books-from-boxes-and-replaced-it-with-used-women’s-clothing-ten-times-my-size in my experience

Wow, they’ve done that to you too?

This is an amazing piece. I guess it’s difficult to resist the inevitable forever, although I agree, I could never part with Emily Bronte. I’m 21 and surprisingly, although I spend a lot of time reading on screens, I’ve never actually bought an e-book. However, I always carry about 5 books in my handbag for any given outing, just so I have a choice of what to read. For the sake of a healthy spine (no pun intended), I think I will have to invest in a kindle or a nook very soon.

There’s nothing better than a room full of books! And I can’t say “no” to $10 bag days at the library either!

Courtney Hosny

Very nicely written and I relate! In fact I’m still searching for a “some-day” house with extensive built in bookshelves as well as horse stables in a world where that is increasingly unlikely.

In the meantime every time I move I feel the cumbersomeness of my library, but once I’ve arrived in my new place, it is the very act of unpacking, sorting, and shelving my books that brings me to feeling home. I suppose for some it’s the kitchen, but for me it’s the library.

Thanks for this post & goodluck finding the balance.

I’m so glad I’ve never had to move long-distance! Admittedly, for me the big issue would be my plants. 300-400 books (I really need to get my list up to date!) don’t feel like that much, but they’re heavy (and I move my stuff all by my skinny little self).
Still… culling, OK. Need to do that, but there’s no used book store anywhere near, so it’s difficult. But there aren’t many books I’d be willing to give away – I’m looking around at my shelves and thinking, “No way! No way! No way!”

I’ve actually written about my reasons for preferring print books a couple of weeks ago: http://ivynettle.wordpress.com/2012/07/20/why-i-want-fly-paper-books/
Now I’m even more convinced I don’t want any e-books!

Just a thought about your statement that you have already bought your final new print book (third last paragraph) but that you still want to peruse the shelves of used bookstores “until the last one closes,”… Isn’t you stopping buying books signalling the end of the bookstore? You can’t have used books if new ones aren’t being made (and bought and then sold/donated again). How much longer will there be the “5 for $4” bins like outside my library? Those books are already beaten up enough to be on the verge of falling apart, and when they do there will be fewer and fewer to replace them.

Before I get flack from anti-bookstore types, I use a Kindle, albeit not too frequently. Perhaps every fourth or fifth book I read is digital (maybe I have a weaker will than you when it comes to browsing!) and I love the ease of the digital revolution, but I don’t think I could ever stop supporting local, independent, and even some larger chains of bookstores who keep the entire market afloat. I know digital books will take over someday, but I don’t think they will be that quick to take over.

And this is coming from a guy who doesn’t even visit enough to be swayed by “the atmosphere and culture” of bookstores – I just go in, find, buy, and walk out!

Great post, really enjoyed reading it (online, but with my paperback copy of The Hobbit sitting right next to me)!

I used to have similar concerns about LPs (that’s an actual factual Long Playing vinyl recording for those people whose youth concerns them only with mp3’s and cd’s!!) but whether or not you still own the actual equipment to play LP’s they are still bought and sold and people still listen to pretty much anything that’s ever been recorded. The online poetry archive for example has some fabulous crackly recordings of Sylvia Plath, and oh golly, Lord Alfred Tennyson with a particularly bewildering rendition of Charge of The Light Brigade. I love my personal library and my Kindle; Yet I still mourn the loss of Borders here in Brisbane, and felt literally cheapened by the act of buying up some of the books in Angus and Robertson’s closing down sale, but whilst the mode and media of purchase may be shifting I’m thankful that no one seems to be suggesting yet that reading itself has diminished. Is it wrong that thousands of the classics such as Dickens are available for free download? or do more people access his works now than ever before because of it? Thankfully the second hand bookshops here still appear to be thriving, as do the public libraries, I guess because their patrons will always love to buy and exchange the real thing and were never consumers of the unfortunately overpriced ‘new’ market, (it’s cheaper to order new books from the UK and have them posted here than actually buy them in Australia).

P.S Should that particular ‘fable’ be equated to the Victorian equivalent of a penny dreadful??!!

Great post on a continuing debate across WordPress, and congratulations on the Freshly Pressed (an endorsement of the relevance of quality writing being just as applicable to e-writing!!)

As A DJ – in regards to your book library transforming to digital files, I remember my music library transforming from POUNDS of vinyl, to a bunch of CD’s, to my laptop, I guess I will just sing the songs myself by next year (with no equipment at all 🙂 )
Thanks for sharing I enjoyed it
Cheers and congrats on the FP!

I have to confess I grew up buying a book or two a month. Now however I have only purchased two physical books in the last 3 years, yet have added about 70 titles to my library. Yes Ebooks now satisfies my need for something to read. Granted the available readers still don’t have that feel of a book, perhaps some enterprising person will invent a reader jacket that cradles the reader in a snug wrap with the feel of a classic leather bound book. The two I physical books I bought, one was from an author at a book signing, well the other was a first edition from the 1950’s, of a book I had worn out in paperback as a child, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Awesome. I have much fewer books but a much smaller space and so I, too, have converted to electronic. My challenge now though is that it’s easier than ever to buy books…Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

I’m constantly running out of space at home because of the amount of books I own. I’m only 20 and I can already fill three bookcases, so I dread to think what I’ll be like in the future! I was always against ebooks, believing that you can’t appreciate an electronic book the same way you would an actual book. I love the smell of books, especially old ones that you know have been read over and over again. A few months ago I started to waiver on the issue of getting a kindle and my boyfriend bought me one. I know that the majority of my reading will be done with actual books, but I can’t deny that a Kindle has been useful. For example, I wanted to read Anna Karenina by Tolstoy but the print in the book I have, is really small and made my eyes ache. Whereas on a Kindle, you can change the font size. I guess as long as books are being appreciated and read in any form, that should be enough. But I don’t think I could ever stop buying books or even contemplate parting with them!

” I know that the majority of my reading will be done with actual books, but I can’t deny that a Kindle has been useful. For example, I wanted to read Anna Karenina by Tolstoy but the print in the book I have, is really small and made my eyes ache. Whereas on a Kindle, you can change the font size. I guess as long as books are being appreciated and read in any form, that should be enough. But I don’t think I could ever stop buying books or even contemplate parting with them!”

While I agree that you can change the font size for e-book reading, that still doesn’t motivate me to read a 100+ pg. book electronically. Like many office workers, I use and read on computer for my job daily 90% of my work time. My eyes get tired of looking at the white LED screen. It’s a different sensation…and actually a “break” for my eyes to read a paper book chapter or 2.

I’ve relocated twice across Canada so I full well understand the hassle of dealing with moving/culling personal libraries. Right now, it’s split across –2 provinces.

The only reason I do not enjoy e-books (I love reading on them), but no one can admire all of the awesome books I own. Sigh…

And who among us doesn’t check out a household’s bookshelves when we first visit? We’ll be left with just the medicine cabinet!

Excellent read. Though I mostly read fiction and may not fit into the category of the so called “book worms”, I am always fascinated by what I read. If I cant connect with what the author speaks then I dont explore the book further.

Most of the material which I love, I re-read them again and again. Sherlock Holmes and Stephen King’s short stories are a few.

I travel quite a bit and though I own paperbacks and do spend a fare share of time browsing through the book shelves at various stores. I have to admit, I like the smell of new print and love to hold them in my hand and feel the book when I plough through the pages. The physical feel of holding a book is almost incomparable. Of course, being a gadget freak and techie by profession, I do own ipad, smart phones and such. a few years back I started reading in the so called digital devices accessing contents that dont exist physically.

What I miss the most is the feel of holding a paperback and of course the smell of the book. The physical task of turning a page and feeling the paper. Of course, if we dont like the book we can always toss it against the wall. freedom of expression! But not anymore, if the book is actually ‘loaded’ or purchased into the digital reader. The digital lifestyle does take away our freedom.

But what I do like about the digital media is its easy to carry around. my bags weigh the same whether I am having a digital newspaper or whether I am carrying the entire agatha christie collection.

Second most important thing will be that I dont have to waste time or money to find a book that I need badly to complete a collection. A few clicks here and there, reaching for my credit card, feeling the usual and digestable pain when the payment goes through and voila! I have the book. No more searching in book stores and no more waiting for the printed material to arrive. Hey, wait a minute, its a 1200Page book!!! and It weighs the same as my PG woodhouse 🙂

I guess its all down to personal choices. I can carry a book or look at my pocket and carry a digital copy. But will I giveaway the paperback which I got as a present for my 18th b’day? I will not. Its the emotional tie that binds us all to the physical items. I may not fall in love with my digital media, but I surely love my used and abused paperback copy of ludlum 🙂

My wife and I moved from a three bedroom house to an apartment in Manhattan. We had to get rid of 2/3rds of my book collection. It was heartbreaking and I hope that at the very least they made a few other people as happy as they made me.

I’m jealous. You’ll get better Italian food in New York (head down to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx) than in California. Ironically, I’m moving from New York to the Pleasanton area of California. Regarding the move, I’m keeping only those books that have sentimental value, and those received as gifts with handwritten notes. All the classics I have are now on my Kindle. Interesting thing about e-readers,
the books I’ve downloaded I’ve read. However, I have hardcovers I purchased with great expectations that remain unopened. Perhaps, some physical books ARE judged by their covers, whereas e-books are purchased solely on content. Great post, and good luck in New York — it’s a helluva town.

Enjoyed reading this.

Perhaps the line that summed up the whole ‘what to keep and what to let go’ dilemma was where you write “What makes this such an arduous task is that it is not about books at all but about a dialogue with your own mind.” I’ve had this inner dialogue so many times and its usually a catch 22 circular argument with no easy solution!

I currently have maybe ten boxes of books in storage, not having enough space at home. My family may have to move house soon and I face the agony of knowing that few of those boxes will be able to make the trip. As an aside, when I’ve had boxes in storage for awhile, I confess I love when I go to search through them again, maybe looking for a particular title I think I may have but can’t be sure (!), and end up discovering other books I forgot I had and that gives a little emotional buzz, an inner smile to go with the inner dialogue. What started as a quick trip to storage to find a book can turn into an afternoon passed sitting in the middle of a pile of forgotten treasures.

I use a Kindle also (though mine is currently malfunctioning, keeps freezing if I click to underline something…not a problem with actual books) and it still amazes me that I can have thousands of volumes on one device and finding shelf space will never be a problem. I still jump between electronic and paperback books, have even been known to read the paperback at home and continue it on Kindle when out!

Thanks again for your posting 🙂

Having to reduce my library would be a nightmare. Which books to save would be a big question. Most of mine have a personal connection.

This is a wonderful post. My favorite line is, “Is this volume something you want to engage again — load it into RAM, so to speak — or is this title so central to how you think about yourself, or how you want others to think about you, that parting with it is tantamount to giving up a piece of your self?” Your observations and reflections are thought provoking. Great stuff!

We’re definitely in a shift from paper books to e-books, and like many of the commenters above, I enjoy books in both formats. If it’s something I really love, I make sure to get a paper copy, because I don’t want to lose the book (or lose access, if we’re talking DRM issues) if my device has technical difficulties.

The article in many aspects said what I thought about books. Before each move, I had to go through my collection, which was not large but still quite burdensome for moving, and decided which to take and which to give out. Meanwhile, I kept buying more books. It’s so difficult to resist the temptation.

Several months ago, I bought Kindle. It’s very handy and allows me to store lots of books without worrying about the capacity. However, printed books still hold unwavering appeal to me. Now my approach is reading e-books first. If the book is really to my liking, then I will go and purchase printed copy.

I have not yet converted to the ebook, but as someone who moves with alarming regularity I can’t help but think that it is inevitable. And to be completely honest, that makes me just a little sad.

First congratulations on being freshly pressed.
My dad, when he moved house, had to get rid of a third of his books. The previous move had required a separate moving van just for the books. He gave his to a local library which started the English book section of that library – they had to get more book cases in to accommodate them.
I don’t own an e reading device yet. I am resisting. I love the smell and feel of books. My own book has a picture painted for me by my mother so it is very special to me. Not the same on an e reader.

Dear Joseph,
Do you have any children’s books you’d like to give up? Cos those guys rip up tons and they definitely prefer real flipping.:)
Big love,

Several years ago, when our kids were applying to college, we began to cull almost all of our children’s books. We donated the bulk of them to the Santa Cruz Public Library. I say “the bulk” because a couple of them are still with us, books noteworthy not because of their literary merit but because of the memory of the shared experience of reading them with our children. A book is more than a text or a file.

I hear what you are saying. There’s no stopping it. E-Books, Kindles, iPads, and whatnots this is the way it’s going and I would never disparage a person’s love of their electronic do-dads and ways about the internet. Heck, I may eventually get one of ‘dem do-dads myself. However, for me it’s like watching an old friend pass away and not being able to do anything about it. I will miss perusing used book stores and libraries. Pulling a random book of the shelf and finding someone’s grocery list that they used as a book marker or to read an inscription on the blank page “To my adventurous Son who will live life to the fullest on his sixteenth birthday! With love, Dad – 1926”. Or one of my favourites was finding a newspaper clipping of the 200 year anniversary of the defeat of the Spanish Armada! … The smell of the old musty pages, or the fresh ink. Knowing that all I need is enough light to read the catalytic text. The comfort of knowing that if I forgot it on the bus or the plane that I’m not out XXX amount of money and that who ever finds it may enjoy or hate the book as much as I have!

Lovely piece of writing, you gave shape to thoughts I only vaguely knew I shared until I read them here. I resist e-books (and most of the gadgets you mention) because I have often lived in places where there was no plumbing, let alone an internet connection or electricity with which to recharge anything, but I have recently developed a small addiction to audio books (especially when they are read by sexy male voices, preferably the author’s…e.g. Neil Gaiman).

Also, I am a bookbinder, 16-year practitioner of that old, and now dying, craft…so reading e-books would almost feel like treachery, somehow. Still, because of the constant house moves, I have had to let go of many titles…I laughed out loud here, because I too let go of Thackeray (I never did get around to reading Gaskell), Dickens…but kept Joyce (almost superstitiously) and yes, I keep all poetry, because it somehow comes fresh and new with every reading. There’s the philosophy, too, that I cannot bear to let go of…the dog-eared volumes that (and you hit the nail on the head again) are ” so central to how I think about myself, or how I want others to think about me, that parting with them is tantamount to giving up a piece of my self?” More than just words or ideas trapped on paper between peeling, cracked covers, some books—the objects themselves—can be talismans and old friends, a reader’s version of the favorite teddybear, or The Velveteen Rabbit.

Thanks for writing a wonderful post, and congrats for being Freshly Pressed.

Great article and comments too. I agree that there’s room now and in the future for print and digital in our lives and on our bookshelves (real or virtual). Why do we have to choose 100% either way? Of course, the economics of printing will play a part in that decision and we might not have much choice in what genres of printed books we can buy in the future (mass market paperbacks, not so much, right?). But long live used bookstores!

Just one thing I disagree with – I don’t think ereaders are much more environmentally friendly than printed books. All of that plastic (and in some cases toxic chemicals) and the constant upgrading and built-in obsolescence is not doing our landfills any favors.

This is a great post and wonderfully written. I love reading and I have yet to convert to e-readers. I just love to hold the actual book, and I feel that we already spend so much time looking at screen that I don’t want to be reading my book on a screen. It definitely makes the space issue easier, but I would miss actual books too much. Good luck with the moving and congrats on being freshly pressed!

As an author myself, I have mixed emotions on the “death of the paper book”. I have seen all of the small mom and pop book stores go under in and around the towns we used to live in. I have seen libraries sit empty and encyclopedia book companies go out of business. Used book stores have gone, even Blockbuster(who sold books as well as video rentals) is gone. On the other hand, I formed my own publishing co. to self publish my e-book and told the publishing house no-way. I make 70% of my sales now rather than having large investments and only a 2% return. Giving the profits to the writers rather than a publishing house is a far better idea as far as I’m concerned but I too will also miss the book store browsing. Please check out my e-book “A Fly On The Wall, A Bartender’s Perspective”. I hope it arouses some thought and puts a smile on your face. Thanks for your support and a great blog. http://secretsofabartender.wordpress.com

I am not sure I could ever go totally digital with my books. THere are times where I am so glad I have that option. But I sitll love actual books to stack them, read them, flip through them etc… And there are just some books that are not the same on an ereader. I like the world of having both as we do now!

Well Done! You have been awarded a Grade 3 BlOgcean Award from us! Your one in a group of the first ever to get this award, so we would be grateful if you could spread the word about us! If you want to know more about us and your award go to: http://blogceanawards.wordpress.com/
Keep posting on your great blog! And go on our Blog to nominate someone else’s blog too if you feel like it!

What a wonderful blog post!! I have been resistant to iPad’s and tablets. My now husband asked my mom last Christmas about her thoughts on buying one for me and she flat out told him that it was a great idea as long as he wasn’t planning to stick around for long. Don’t get me wrong… there is a small part of me that is only slightly jealous when I see people in airports and hospitals that can easily finish one book and simply download another. But I could never part with my physical books. I treasure them. Some of them I treasure because of what I felt as a reader and some I cherish because they were my grandmother’s books. I now live in a very remote town and I believe the closest bookstore is about three hours away. At this point I can see myself coming around for convenience-sake, but I think I’ll have to find myself some online bookstores that sell used books. And I’ll still patronize my old hometown bookstore as long as they’ll ship to me.

Either way, I loved reading your post! It’s always interesting to read what other bibliophiles and writers have to say on the subject.

As a librarian, I love books, obviously. I have a large collection of print books, but I also have a Nook. I read both. The Nook is handy for some stuff, notably travel and ease of downloading and reading immediately. But some books you just can’t duplicate on an e-reader, even the color ones. The beautiful illustrations, the feel of the paper and the leather binding, to name just a few. I think they each have their place, but we are far from losing the print book anytime soon. It takes a LOT of time to digitize books, and most libraries are very understaffed. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Great piece! The last time I culled my library was in 2009. We had moved from Southeast Arkansas to Waco, Texas and I had a number of books that I had no desire to keep. They ended up as donations to the library’s annual book sale.

While I love the convenience of the Kindle, some titles I just prefer to buy as a physical book. But the ones I don’t want people to know I read? I think I’ll buy those as e-books.

Few notes:
(1) Comparing 21st century technology for reading with 20th century technology for moving goods across country is probably inappropriate. Do many people use moving companies these days? My last move was via a PODS container and they don’t charge by weight.
(2) I suspect the sentiment toward converting from phonograph records (sorry, vinyl to you youngsters (incidentally, what do you call 78 rpm records, shellacs?)) to CDs was much the same; and look at how that has turned out… Vinyl is now growing in popularity again and the original albums are collectables. As they say, displose of your books today and you’ll never be able to afford to buy them back again in that form.(Priced any college textbooks lately?)
(3) I too have noticed the increasing availability of used books at bargain prices as they are being unloaded from homes to bargain book sales. Used books seem to me to be heading in the same direction as VHS tapes. Major reference works have ceased being created in print. Encyclopedia Britannica, Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, the OED will not have new print editions. There was a line in Soylent Green (movie) about “This was one of the last books printed” that has stuck with me. We are in the end times for print books. LIbraries already do not know what to do with their old print indexes that used to be the first stop in tracking down periodicals, dissertations, newspaper stories. Yet, we have incomplete coverage of the past’s content. One gets the feeling that large parts of the early 20th century may go missing because its literature was orphaned because its publishers went out of business.
(4) I buy print reference books at used book sale prices. You can’t borrow most reference books from libraries. The information they contain may be available electronically, but not the in the way it is arranged on the pages of print books and certainly not accessible in the same way. Sure, if you only want one fact, get it online; but it you want to compare entries for dozens or items it helps to have a print source that allows you to flip pages that stay there. Maybe a large enough set of screens that could display a dozen pages at once might work, but viewing one page at a time is agony compared to being able to go through the identically formatted entries of a good reference book by just flipping between paper bookmarked spots in the book. If the digital content were offered as downloadable full text, maybe it would be better–but reading it on the restricted separate successive small screens of a computer screen, eBook reader or tablet is not better. We’re trying to present pieces of cut up print books as cutout segments to people instead of making the data reformat to suit the application the reader wants to make of its content. Readers should be able to specify HOW they want to see the information displayed in custom-designed page formats and then have the book contents fill in their format.

The mind is infinite, and now, I suppose, the digital book space can keep up. I love picking up a book, and flipping through dog-eared pages, or discovering a book by accident. However, I also have more books than I have space for. Learning, reading, discovering: these are what books represent, and it doesn’t feel as respectful on a computer screen.

Precisely what seriously encouraged u to post “E-books and the Personal Library
« The Scholarly Kitchen”? I actuallytruly enjoyed reading the blog post!
Many thanks -Chong

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