“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.” (Oscar Wilde)
For the past four years, I’ve been trying to figure out how to divide my longform reading between electronic books and the old-fashioned paper versions. I’ve been culling my print menagerie down to things that I love, plan to revisit, or want to read (but haven’t gotten to yet). The yet-to-read piles are the most dangerous: Stacked in multiple rooms, waiting for just the right moment, their population expands and contracts from month to month but never disappears. I have a Kindle (and use the related iPad app) and read many books that way. Does anyone have a great “system” for this? Or are we muddling through equally?
What should I buy on paper? Do I have an obligation to be a steward of the physical object? Can e-books be a longtime resource?
All these questions left me in need of personal ground rules for managing my books. So I put them in writing to have a credo in times of need (i.e. any visit to a bookstore).
Unofficial Rules for Paper versus Electronic Books*
- Remember to check the library first for either medium. Free wins, no matter the format.
- E-books are best for vacation and travel, particularly if the topics are mysteries with minimal long-term commitment, young adult science fiction or fantasy, comedy novels, chick lit, or any book that’s being made into a movie.
- On any vacation, you may visit a local bookstore and buy up to two books for vacation reading. Those books should (most likely) be donated, sold or passed upon completion.
- Authors you greatly admire and/or enjoy deserve the paper treatment, and new if at all possible. Support the artists and writers you love!
- Exceptionally pretty or visually interesting books shall be purchased in print as collectibles to be enjoyed in your home.
- Sentimental books may be acquired thoughtfully, based on need to re-visit favorites or preserve for future generations’ pleasure.
- There’s no shame in stopping a book you dislike reading, whether print or electronic.
*Frequent and generous exceptions will be made to these rules.
Here’s what it comes down to, in the wise words of a friend: “Whatever works for you is fine. I buy physical books and Kindle ones. Some books I don’t want taking up space on my shelf… and some I want to own forever.”