To Book or To e-Book?

Reformers Blog: To Book, or to eBook? By Thomas Eglinton

I was reading a book the other day and the author said something to the effect of ‘books will not last for much longer as e-books are becoming more technologically advanced that there is less and less difference between reading a book and reading an e-book’. The author quoted the quality of e-ink and e-reader screens as some of those improvements.

Many people are moving to the e-book as a suitable alternative to the ‘old-school’ paper book. On the face of it, there does seem to be some advantages: you can carry your entire library around in the palm of your hand, they are at times a little bit cheaper, the pages don’t yellow and start falling apart. But I wonder if we have taken up the e-book without considering some of the incredible advantages of the paper book.

I’ve limited these advantages only to things that have nothing at all to do with the actual reading of the book. I think there are advantages when it comes to reading the book but I’ll save that for another article. So, here are some advantages to a physical book instead of an e-book for you to consider.

Physical books are a community affair

We should think about whether or not our books are a private affair or if they are a community affair to be used for the edification of those around us. I would suggest that e-books typically lend themselves to being a private affair. I buy my e-book library, I find them easy to use for me, they are hard to share and people can’t see what I’m reading. On the other hand, physical books (although they can be used selfishly) lend themselves to a community mindset. Others can see what you are reading, you can pull books out of your library for others to read or have and your kids can be influenced by the books that are influencing you.

Your kids can see the books on your shelf

Consider the difference between a house filled with great Christian books on the shelf and a house with a couple of e-readers on the shelf. What will these two environments tell the children that grow up in these houses? In a house full of books, a child will learn several valuable lessons that a child will not learn in an e-book house.

They will learn that their parents look to the written word for guidance and assistance

As they grow they will start to look at the spines of the books on their parents shelf and notice that their parents care about different topics and value the opinions of different men and women. In a good home library they might see that their parents care about theology – the study of God. They might see that their parents care about what the different books of the bible mean because there are some commentaries on the shelf. They will notice that their parents care about parenting God’s way, marriage, counselling, dealing with grief and suffering, what a church should be like and how to tell people about the gospel. They will see that their parents care about what old, dead people think, not just people who can make videos or write blog posts. Old dead people like the Reformers, the early church fathers and the puritans. Consider what a wonderful lesson that is. And this is just from the spines of the books sitting on the shelf!

They will learn to read themselves

As children become more competent at reading, having physical books around the house just lends itself to the child picking one up. This lesson can begin when they are young by having some childrens books lying around and reading them to your children. And once started young, by the grace of God this lesson will continue into their teens and young adult life. I remember my own teen years – I don’t think I read many books all the way through but I would often wander down into my family’s library and look at the spines. I would pick out a book that looked interesting and I would start flicking through it, reading a few pages here and there – maybe even a whole chapter. How would I have done that if my parent’s library was on an e-reader? A well used library teaches children to be interested in books and actually to start reading them.

You can easily lend or give away physical books

Another wonderful part of having physical books on the shelf that I think we should be careful to consider is that physical books are far easier to give away. I wonder if you have ever been given a book by someone out of their personal library. Most people I know who have a good personal library use that library to bless others by giving books away or at the very least lending them out. Usually it looks like this – you are talking to a friend, perhaps over dinner at your house, perhaps you are out at the time. Your friend is struggling to work through something in their life. It might be theological difficulties or perhaps it is a struggle in their life. You know of a book that was a great encouragement to you when you were going through a similar time and so you mention it to your friend. Now if you have a physical copy of that book in your library, you can give it to your friend, right then and there. This is simply not that easy when you have a digital library. For one, it might be hard to remember the book that was helpful for you because you don’t have a bunch of spines to look at to jog your memory. In addition, you just can’t give away an e-book in the same way you can give away a physical book.

In summary, there are some advantages to e-books but we should think carefully about what we are giving up on in order to have those advantages before we make a decision to go all out on e-books. Books in any format are a wonderful thing that can bring us the blessing of a greater knowledge of God and better knowledge of how to serve him, but let us consider how books can be a blessing to more than just me, myself and I.

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