Deathmatch: Paper Vs. E-Readers for Non-Fiction

Source: flickr.com via Jeanna on Pinterest

 Ian McShane is paper, his bearded opponent an e-reader. Let’s see who wins!

We’ve all got a friend or an acquaintance who’s great for the good times, but flakes out a little when things get complicated or tough. The one who’s pretty, but a little ditzy, or super-friendly but hard to pin down. Trendy as hell, but not necessarily classy.

That friend, dear readers, is my Kindle. Oh, and my Aluratek, too.

I had suspected all along that my new friends Kindle and Aluratek would prove unreliable and intractable when I asked them to spend time with non-fiction, but I found their company with traditional regencies, 33 1/3 volumes, pulp fiction and essays so pleasurable that I cast my misgivings aside.

But when I recently returned to my first love, non-fiction, I found that my new friends were just too techy. And that is where my e-readers and I had, in Southern parlance, a falling out.

My flaky friends Kindle and Aluratek make reading annotated non-fiction much harder than it needs to be. Footnotes at the bottom of a page ruin pagination, or disappear altogether. Flipping to the back of the book to read a section of the bibliography, then returning to your original location in the book is like playing hide and seek. Same with looking something up in an index, because the pages as listed in the index rarely correspond with the pages as they are displayed. And don’t even get me started on “locations” rather than pages. I’m sure there’s some reason why locations are preferable to pages in the e-book world, but I have yet to discover that reason.

Of course you could always highlight or bookmark the section you want to return to, right? Yes, but that necessitates navigating various menus until you locate the highlight/bookmark.While we’re on the subject of highlights and bookmarks, why are they so difficult to create on a Kindle Touch screen? I accept that this may be operator error, but that makes the task no less a hassle.

These are all tiny problems, but they do not begin to address the biggest advantage an annotated non-fiction book has over the same book on an e-reader: flagging.

I don’t even begin a good non-fiction book without my trusty Post-It Flags . I even have a system for flagging; pink for themes/people/items/ideas I want to research more about. Green for books/movies/music I want to check out.  Yellow for phrases I like or quotes/information I want to look up in the bibliography. For someone who absolutely refuses to mark a book with ink, flags have made it possible for me to read a non-fiction book without keeping a notebook handy to make notations on every single thing I want to find out more about or remember.

While I know that it’s theoretically possible to do this type of flagging or notation in e-readers, the thought of it makes my head numb. I can’t figure out why anyone would want to, when it’s so easy to stick a bright neon flag on a page, or flip back and forth between the bibliography or index and the selection you’re reading. For a device that is dedicated to the idea of making reading easier and more convenient, e-readers simply can’t compare when it comes to annotated non-fiction.

Just to be certain that I was not condemning non-fiction on e-readers due to my own prejudices, I asked someone who is currently reading more non-fiction than he likely wants to–my much younger (and therefore more techy) brother who is in law school.

Textbooks, which are the pinnacle of annotated non-fiction, are becoming increasingly popular in e-book format, so I asked him about whether he used e-texts, and if so, whether he did so using, in his case, the app on his iPhone.

Surprisingly, he said he only used an e-text if there was no paper copy easily available, or if it was something he didn’t foresee using extensively. When he does use an e-text, he almost always does so on his computer. He cited almost to the word the same complaints that I have, especially the difficulty in making and accessing notes in the text.

As someone who reads mostly non-fiction, the conclusion that e-readers just aren’t up to the task of handling annotated non-fiction was a hard one to accept.  Despite coming late to the e-reader party, I’ve grown terribly fond of my e-readers. So naturally I racked my brain, trying to think of ways that the Kindle and Aluratek–nay, all e-readers–could be improved upon to make non-fiction easier to read thereupon. Alas, I came up with nothing that’s preferable to my current method.

So there you have it. As far as I–and my little brother–are concerned, paper wins big over e-readers for non-fiction. But I forgot one of the very best reasons why:

Source: 30.media.tumblr.com via Jeanna on Pinterest

If you, like me, flip to the photograph section before starting any biography or other non-fiction book, then there’s no comparison between paper and e-readers (unless, maybe, you’re reading on a color tablet). Especially when it’s a gorgeous still from the movie Laura featuring my boyfriend Dana Andrews. Sigh…

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