When I was 7 years old, I asked for bookshelves, a beanbag chair and a clip light to turn a small walk-in closet into my little slice of heaven behind a louvered door. Even before that, at age 2 1/2, I’d “read” in bed with a pile of books next to me. My mother took photos of this, and the smile on my face is the one of a girl doing what she loves.
Not much has changed. I’m still happiest with a book in hand. Reading in bed has always been a favorite activity. Or swap the bed for a bathtub, beach chair, hammock, airplane — you get the picture.
I read with a pen in hand, taking notes, staring and underlining as if I were going to be assigned a dissertation on the book. I use photographs, boarding passes, to-go menus, postcards, and yoga class schedules as bookmarks, because I love the reminder of where and when I read a book.
After almost 50 years of reading, my library is not a light one, despite ruthless elimination. Still, as a seminomadic writer, I’ve also moved, on average, once a year since college. With the typical hardback weighing over 1 pound, it’s not a small load, but moving several dozen crates of books is worth it every time. When I’m away from my books — sometimes for a year or more — I honestly miss them. When my books are in place on shelves, I feel at home.
I love perusing other people’s shelves, and when a new friend comes to my house and says, “I have this one, and this one, and I really loved this one,” it instantly catapults the friendship to another level. You don’t get the same experience browsing someone’s Amazon Kindle library — do people even do that? — and I’ve never once pulled out my e-reader to show someone a passage.
But still, I use a Kindle. I continue to buy printed books and always will. Most book lovers will tell you that there’s nothing like the feel of a book in your hands, but many readers — especially those who devour several titles every week — have turned to Kindles for all or part of their reading needs.
I asked a bunch of my book-loving friends to weigh in because I was curious about how others manage their libraries, and it turns out they’re a fairly representative sample. According to Pew Research Center, a third of Americans read both print and digital books in 2021, while a third read only print books. Nine percent of those surveyed only read digital books. If you’re still wondering if a Kindle is right for you, here are some points to help you decide.
Lighten The Load
The first vacation I took with my Kindle was liberating. Not only does it weigh less than half a pound, but you don’t have to stress about bringing just the right books, since you can make up your mind on the fly. The latest Kindle lasts around six months on a single charge, so you wouldn’t even need to pack a charger for most trips.
It’s not just about the weight in your bag. If you’ve ever struggled to hold “The Secret History,” “The Poisonwood Bible” or one of the longer “Harry Potter” titles, you know that big books can be heavy and cumbersome to manage — and you can forget about reading something like that in the tub.
Holding a physical book can limit reading time for some people with disabilities or arthritic hands, and the Kindle allows them to keep reading in their lives.
“It was my health and the ‘Game of Thrones’ series that forced me to switch to a Kindle,” said Jennifer Brooks-Cocozello, a childhood friend from Connecticut. “I miss the tactile feel of a well-loved book, dog-eared and beaten. But I can prop my Kindle up to read, which is the whole point of the switch. I’m disabled, and holding books is no longer possible for the amount of time that I read.”
Lois Welch, retired director of the creative writing program at the University of Montana, is a reluctant convert but thinks the Kindle is better than nothing.
“After my stroke six years ago, I couldn’t hold real paper books one-handed, so I read Kindle,” Welch said, “I miss real pages. I like to thumb back and forward sometimes. Can’t do it with Kindle — have to go to a precise spot. Great invention. Not the same experience.”
Easier On The Eyes
Proper lighting is a big deal, and it can make or break the reading experience. When I got my first Kindle, I couldn’t believe how great the backlighting was and how I could read in bed without disturbing someone else in the same room.
“Actual books are so hard for me to read now,” said Alley Fontenot, a friend from Montana. “I’ve found myself in bed at home wearing my camping headlamp, trying to get enough light. I also use reading glasses and enlarge the font on my Kindle.”
If you need reading glasses and want to enjoy a book outside, but you don’t want to buy reading sunglasses, the fact that you can change the Kindle’s font size and brightness is an accessibility game changer. One thing to keep in mind is that Kindles are lit by LED and emit low levels of blue light, which some people avoid before bed. The level is less than that emitted by phones, tablets and computers, however, and the Kindle Oasis has a warmer light feature.
For those of us who like marking up our books, the Kindle just doesn’t cut it. Its word definition function is convenient, and you can highlight passages and save notes. Still, my experience has been that while I often flip through printed books to reference my notes, I seldom revisit my Kindle notes.
Rowen White, an author and activist in northern California, uses the Readwise app to make the most of her note taking on the Kindle.
“I use it to import highlights and notes from my Kindle books into my writing research note-taking software, which is a huge assist,” White said. ”I love a good paper book, but honestly the Kindle has greatly increased my reading.”
It’s More Than An E-Reader Device
When people think of the Kindle, they usually think of a physical e-reader. But it’s also an app that you can download on your Android or Apple phone, tablet or laptop. The app doesn’t have all the features of an actual Kindle, but assuming you’re like the majority of people and rarely leave your phone behind, it allows you to carry one less thing.
“Honestly, I find I was reading more when I downloaded the Kindle app on my phone,” White said. “It means I always have a book with me in those short, interstitial times. And it helps me do less social media scrolling.”
Ashley Davis, my friend from Rhode Island, only reads on her phone because “that way I always have my book with me.”
It’s A Sensory Thing
Some readers love the tactile sensation of a book in their hands and the smell of the pages.
“I need to turn the pages to be completely satisfied,” said Keisha Ingraham Taylor, who can’t easily access books where she lives in the Bahamas and stocks up while traveling. “I know I’m weird like that.”
It’s actually not weird at all, and many readers agree that tapping a screen to turn a page doesn’t quite feel right.
“It’s one thing I love to do that is not electronic,” said Carla Golden, who writes and teaches about nutrition on South Carolina’s Hilton Head Island. “There is something important to me, viscerally, when the book starts heavy in the right hand and at some point it gets even and then heavier in the left hand.”
There are many reasons for feeling less connected to digital books, and the lack of cover art is a big one. Lisette Davidson is a New Yorker who tried the Kindle but prefers to carry books around, and for her, the whole experience of reading starts with browsing covers at the library or bookstore.
“Looking at covers is great!” Davidson said.
Barb Chaney Harriott, who lives on a small ranch in Montana with her husband, horses and dogs, reads over 100 books every year.
“I read very quickly. And without looking at the cover of the book I’m reading, I often forget the title,” Harriott said, “I never thought I would give up my paper books, but I did.”
My friend Marjorie, like me, is happiest with an iced tea in one hand and a book in the other. Marjorie blazes through multiple books weekly and loves Kindle Unlimited, a subscription service offering readers over 2 million titles for $9.99 per month.
You can’t get any book you want, and most big publishing houses don’t participate. Yet 80% of Kindle bestsellers are included in the subscription. Kindle Unlimited is a bit like Spotify: not awesome as far as revenue for artists, but a great way to give a title a try and possibly discover a new favorite author.
In general, e-books are priced lower than printed books, yet authors typically earn more for each e-book because printing costs are eliminated from the equation.
Prime Reading is free for Amazon Prime members and only offers a few thousand books, but it’s worth looking at their titles if you already have a membership.
All The Options
Some people — including me — like to have multiple books going simultaneously. I tend to work through a novel, some serious or prescriptive nonfiction, and a collection of essays or short stories at the same time, wanting to have a book for any mood or occasion. A Kindle makes it easy to have the right book handy.
Circling the tables inside an independent bookstore to explore the new hardcovers and staff picks is one of life’s simple pleasures, but not everyone has a bookstore nearby. I know plenty of people who love to read but live in far-flung places, and Kindles give them access to books instantly. Rural areas are cut off from many services, but access to books doesn’t have to be among them.
After retiring from her career as an administrative law judge in Oakland, California, Kim Malcolm traveled around the world for seven years, and the Kindle was a lifeline for her.
“So many countries I visited didn’t sell English-language books,” she said.
Move Over, Kindle
Technology has changed the way we read — not just with e-readers, but with audiobooks too. Listening to books has become common in the past decade because of smartphones, and we’d be remiss to talk about the various delivery modes for books without acknowledging the importance of “ear reading.”
Back in the 1990s, I borrowed books on tape from libraries and rented them from truck stops and Cracker Barrel stores, which was great because you could return them at a different location on your route or send them back. Audible has revolutionized audiobooks and made ear reading a thing, putting recordings right in our pockets.
Ear reading is great for busy moms and folks who either read a lot for work or are always on the move.
“I almost exclusively listen to audiobooks now because I can ‘read’ while walking dogs, cooking, cleaning, driving,” said Shawna Malvini Redden, an author and communications professor at California State University, Sacramento. “I listen to 90 books a year now and probably read a few hard copies and a few e-books.”
Some schools use ear reading as part of the curriculum to help kids with learning differences.
“It’s a game changer, life changer, sanity saver,” said Alabama mom Bridges Jones Crawford, who said she mostly reads the old-fashioned way but can ear-read for pleasure.
Meanwhile, my friend Vive Curran, an adult with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, said, “If I look at things on a screen, they’re lost forever to my memory.”
Fortunately, there is no right way to read. Some people would never touch a Kindle, while others exclusively e-read because of the cost, convenience, accessibility and environmental impact.
What’s important is the act of reading, whether on a printed page, on a screen, or in your ear. Reading is critical for brain health, fostering curiosity and learning about other people and places. But luckily there is more than one option for how to do it, and you get to choose which ones work best for you!