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Culture

The Curious Case of the Smelly Book

I would have thought by now that the debate about e-readers would have quieted down.

I would have thought by now that the debate about e-readers would have quieted down.

(Books of the Past image by Lin Kristensen, CC2.0)

Those who like e-readers could have been quietly enjoying them over there, and those who prefer paper books could be soaking up the ambience of Angus & Robertson over there. No harm, no foul — everyone's happy, right?

No. It was too much to hope for. Worst of all, it's gotten really boring. It's not even a fun debate any more, because we've heard all the arguments, and they're all the same.

Paper books: "They smell!"

Ebooks: "I can carry a thousand books in my bag!"

Paper books: "Uh ... waste of electricity!"

Ebooks: "Waste of paper!"

(Note to both: books are never a waste.)

Paper books: "SMELL!"

See? Boring. I don't really care. If you don't like e-readers, I'm not going to try and convince you to like them, because clearly you know what your preference is and, since it hurts no one, I don't see the point of arguing about it.

The funny thing is, there seems to be a genuine element of fear from the Paper book faction, a fear that manifests in several ways.

The first is that ebooks present an either/or proposition — that there can only be one, and that electronic reading will destroy what book-lovers know and are comfortable with. Curiously, most e-reader owners still buy print books, according to this study by Shelf Awareness. (It may be outdated, but my own habits and observations would suggest it still holds true, more or less.)

Love to take a deep sniff of an antique volume? Smell of Books has your e-reader needs covered.(Credit: Smell of Books)

The second is that e-readers make people stupid. I can't fathom the logic there, personally, but author Jonathan Franzen recently declared that " for serious readers, a sense of permanence has always been part of the experience" — implying that only non-serious readers read anything but a print edition.

And a study, based on a very small sample size and personal anecdote, actually does suggest that e-reading makes people stupid.

But a couple of studies have found that people with e-readers buy and read more ebooks.

Then there are arguments such as: you can't read books in the bath with an e-reader; if it breaks, you've lost money (actually, most breakages are covered by warranty); you can't get an ebook signed; you can't scribble margin notes.

Some of these are true and some not, but none of them will stop you enjoying print books even if you buy and use an e-reader.

And then comes the big guns.

But books have a smell.

...And I can't argue with that. It's true, indeed, that books have a smell, and if you're a book-lover, it's quite a comforting one. If the physical interaction you have with a book is important to you, then, well, read away.

I think we can all agree, though, that it's the words, the story, the knowledge, that is at the heart of why we love reading and, ultimately, however we choose to take that in is a personal choice. How other people choose to read is none of my business. How you choose to read is none of mine.

But admit it's a preference. Stop raging about a medium you care nothing about. No one will be mad, honest. Let's put it to rest, and enjoy our respective experiences in whatever way suits us best.