The book briefing: ebooks and readers

What is a book? Is it simply the text we read, whether on bound pages or on a screen? Or is it a tangible object, something held in human hands and enriched by how we physically interact with it? These are questions that Atlantic writers have been considering for at least a decade, and they don’t have easy, definitive answers.

Recently, the Atlantic Contributing writer Ian Bogost has argued that e-books are an abomination, a technology that takes away the enjoyment of reading and erodes the “booking” of books. The definition of reservation depends on how an individual conceives this idea, but Bogost makes a compelling case that it is not fully present in e-books or e-readers. Other authors, however, have noted the potential benefits of e-books: Professor Alan Jacobs and journalist Megan McArdle believe that the resources of e-books – their transferability, ease of annotation, searchability – can make much easier to read.

In his defense of e-books, McArdle also points out that school-aged children, able to read assigned books on e-readers, will develop mental information maps that are scanned through keywords and searching, rather than physical markers. This possible change worries high school English teacher Abigail Walthausen, who thinks the expansiveness and information overload of e-readers could hurt students’ learning and concentration.

Reading a physical book and reading an e-book will never be the same experience, but it may help to remember that both can promote a love of literature in all its forms.

Every Friday in the Books Briefing, we continue Atlantic stories about books that share similar ideas. Do you know other book lovers who might like this guide? Forward this email to them.

When you purchase a book using a link in this newsletter, we receive a commission. Thank you for your support Atlantic.


What we read

What is a book?

“A book is a single string of words, as good as its pieces. But printed books are also objects, manufactured objects, possessed objects, objects that have been marked by pencils and time and coffee cups and the oils of our skin.

📚 Book Traces: Nineteenth-Century Readers and the Future of the Libraryby Andrew M. Stauffer
📚 Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paperby Nicholson Baker


A book that dissolves into pixels

Getty / The Atlantic

Ebooks are an abomination

“Agreeing that books are something you read is quite easy. But what it means to read, what the reading experience requires and involves, and what makes it enjoyable or not, is not so easy to pin down.

📚 Six centuries of typography and printingby Glenn Fleishman
📚 Don’t put too much emphasis on itby Glenn Fleishman


A young person reads on an e-reader.

Randall Hill/Reuters

The reader: the most formidable anthology

“I find that the size and shape of printed text has a lot to tell us about e-readers: although these devices are small and convenient to carry, they are loaded with information that is difficult to bear and important to recognize.”

📚 Words on Screen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital Worldby Naomi S. Baron


A hand holds an Amazon Kindle.

Books may be better things, but e-books are better tools

“What we have here is best described not as fixity or fluidity, but as transferability-a kind of reassuring consistency between platforms and formats. You could say it’s fixity enabled by fluidity: the reproducibility of pixels combined with the stability of Amazon’s massive database equals insurance against the fragility of any particular designed object.

📚 Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Reader’s Guide to a Peace of Mindby Alan Jacobs
📚 how to thinkby Alan Jacobs


Disadvantages of ebooks

“New technologies are like that. They don’t have to be faster or better than any product imaginable. They just have to be better in some ways than the competition.

📚 The top of the bottomby Megan McArdle


About Us: This week’s newsletter is written by Tori Latham. The book she just finished enjoying is The night watchmanby Louise Erdrich.

Comments, questions, typos? Reply to this email to contact the Books Briefing team.

Did you receive this newsletter from a friend? Sign up.