I love books. Everything about them. It’s not just that reading is both a hobby and part of my livelihood. I like how books feel and how reading them makes me feel; I like how they smell. Stack a few choice titles on a bookshelf and all of a sudden you’re perceived as cultured, worldly and interesting. Books make perfect gifts for almost anyone. And yet, people are reading books–actual books–less and less these days. The e-reader, sleek and slim, is replacing the paperback and the hardcover. Nooks, Kindles, Kobos and iPads–now more than ever, these are Americans’ books of choice. Some day soon the first Nook will be considered a classic.
The Pew Internet Research Center released findings from a survey Thursday detailing a palpable shift in how we read. In short, the number of people in the US cozying up to a good e-book is on the rise. “In the past year, the number of those who read e-books increased from 16 percent of all Americans ages 16 and older to 23 percent,” reported the survey. “At the same time, the number of those who read printed books in the previous 12 months fell from 72 percent of the population ages 16 and older to 67 percent.”
The ‘why’ here is straightforward. E-book readership is increasing parallel to ownership of e-book reading devices, such as the Nook and the ever-popular tablet. The total number of owners of either a tablet computer or e-book reading device grew from 18% in late 2011 to 33 percent in late 2012. What’s more, just 10 percent of Americans owned tablet computers in late 2011. As of last month, that number has more than doubled to 25 percent.
My feelings on this are mixed. To point a finger at everyone else and cry “for shame!” for abandoning real, tangible books would epitomize the pot calling the kettle black: You might notice the callus on my finger from too much iPad and Kindle use. I have both–both gifts, but both in heavy rotation in my daily life. This includes reading, a practice I partake in and enjoy on both devices. If I’m going to read on my commute, why would I carry a 300-page hardcover when I could carry a Kindle that fits in my coat pocket? If I’m going to read a long article, say, why not be able to check my email while I’m at it?
Perhaps, though, I should point the shameful finger back toward myself. I take pride in building a personal library, one I can some day show my kid and say, “See son, that’s what we used to read.” But I don’t remember the last book I bought that wasn’t beamed immediately to my laptop or cellphone. I love technology. But I miss the days when reading a good book meant licking you finger to turn a stubborn, well-worn page.
I wonder what a good hardcover is going for these days. Guess I’ll check my iPad.