From The Scholarly Kitchen comes this delightful essay about e-books and the personal library. The author, Joseph Esposito, writes a surprisingly nuanced piece on the print-fetishist-steps-into-digital-age theme. While Esposito does lament his lost print books, he also embraces the digital age and is a realist about the economies of print ownership:

“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 … “

Practicalities aside, I think the pain of the massive library cull is largely becoming a generational one, simply because people my age never had the time to accumulate that large print library in the first place. Esposito writes about the seller of the house he purchased:

” … 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.”

Contrast that with people in my generation, and after: I got bitten with the e-bug early enough in my book life that I had at most a couple boxes worth of cheap paperbacks I had lost or sold in my college-era moves. One of the boons of digital reading, for me, has been the appreciation that with e-books, I don’t have to cull at all. I can just keep every book I want, forever and ever, and read them at my whim.

And for the generation after me—the ones still live-at-home age and not yet into their adult lives—the Amazon account will be as much a fact of life for them as the iTunes and Netflix accounts will be. My mother had a custom-built drawer in her last home that was specially made to store music CDs. I have a 100-disk sleeve buried deep in a closet somewhere with the music I had which pre-dated the digital revolution. My sister, ten years my junior, doesn’t even have that. And neither of us has anything approaching the picture frames my mother collects and displays. I have an iPhoto album I can add to as I wish, and that automatically syncs to my phone and iPad. My sister has the contents of her Facebook profile.

But before you bemoan the loss of culture and beauty and all that jazz too deeply, remember this: I still get to have, and love, the books and the music and the pictures. I still read, I still listen, I still keep and share my memories. But the space I free up by not needing shelves and frames to do it can be replaced by other more unique and precious things.

In one room, we have a painting my Beloved did as a child of his favourite baseball players. In another, we have the first true art I ever spent serious money on myself, a set of three beautiful shadow boxes I paid an art student a decent sum of money to make for me, because I had three antique A.A. Milne books my grandmother used to read to me, and I wanted to house and display them with pride and honour. We have a sewing machine table that was the first thing his grandparents bought for themselves when they immigrated to this country, and on it we have a set of candlesticks that my grandfather made. We are slowly but surely replacing the filler hand-me-down stuff with better things that we choose and value and care for.

We are both somewhat minimalist at heart, but I guess that what it comes down to is, we value the space more than we value the stuff. And if we choose to fill the space, we’ll choose to fill it with things that are truly unique and special. If I can have both the book and the space, I’ll take it—and I won’t feel like my life has been diminished or reduced at all.


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"I’m a journalist, a teacher and an e-book fiend. I work as a French teacher at a K-3 private school. I use drama, music, puppets, props and all manner of tech in my job, and I love it. I enjoy moving between all the classes and having a relationship with each child in the school. Kids are hilarious, and I enjoy watching them grow and learn. My current device of choice for reading is my Amazon Kindle Touch, but I have owned or used devices by Sony, Kobo, Aluratek and others. I also read on my tablet devices using the Kindle app, and I enjoy synching between them, so that I’m always up to date no matter where I am or what I have with me."


  1. In about 20 years, if I live that long, I will move to a retirement home.

    Before eBooks, it would have been completely impossible to squeeze a lifetime’s accumulation of paper books into a single bed/sitting room.

    With eBooks, I will be able to take every one of my books with me. I will also be able to buy new books without having to go to a store, and to borrow books from the public library without having to go to a local branch library building.

    The portability of ebooks is orders of magnitude more important to me than the smell and feel of paper books.

    The same applies, of course, to music and to photographs.

    Just be sure to make regular backups, and to store at least one backup in a separate physical location, in case–for example–your house burns down.

  2. Each medium has requirements for storage and display. Paper books do require space, but that is about all. Screen books require electricity, connectivity, and display device. Separated requirements for storage and display add complexity to screen prerequisites. Screen book advocate sometimes assume their medium prerequisites are eternal rights while physical space is unsustainable presumption.

  3. Another great article. Part of maturing as an adult involves learning how to manage our emotional dependency on things, especially things we finish using. That involves learning to let go and move forward. Some people find that hard, some extremely hard. But it is therapeutic, and makes our lives richer and better.
    With eBooks we not only finished using them, but in digesting them we are digesting the purity of the story and should we ever want to re-experience that pleasure we know that it will be available at the touch of a button – whether on our own eReader or at a very affordable price on Amazon or similar repositories.

  4. Several years ago, I wrote a column for TeleRead on paper book fetishism. At the time I was roundly criticised (even here). Glad to see that even hard-core paper-philes are waking up and realizing that the purchase price is only a small part of the total cost of paper. Moving it is expensive. Storing it takes up cubic feet of expensive and climate controlled housing, and paper has a nasty tendency to dry out and turn to powder just when you finally found a reason to read it again.

    Rob Preece

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