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No more smudged fingers

Would You Cuddle Up With an E-reader?

Man Holding an Electronic Reader

— John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images

And because many airlines now charge for luggage, an e-reader can often make flying cheaper. “It’s a real issue now to add an extra five to six pounds to your suitcase,” Ahern says.

Before owning an e-reader, she also got tired of fishing wet newspapers out of her flower beds. Now, she has access to scores of daily news sites without even opening her door. “It is so much better than the paper,” Ahern says. “The Kindle is a more intensive experience.”

The feel of the page
• Techno-fatigue
• Paper lovers
• Book personality
• Sensory experience

Some avid readers cling to their hard-bound covers, even some who have embraced other technology.

“I’m a blogger. I’m on Twitter. I’m on Facebook,” says Dan Cirucci, 62, of Cherry Hill, N.J. “But I would never read an e-book. No way. Because the book is intimate. You hold it, you know it’s yours.”

E-readers’ dependency on electricity also gives Cirucci pause. “What if the battery goes out?” he says. “When I have a book, I don’t have to worry about plugging it in or turning it on.”

Author Judy Nichols, 53, would “never, ever want to curl up with an e-reader.” Her own books (including her latest,Tree Huggers), are available in e-book format, and she admits to feeling a little guilty about her bias. “There’s something about holding the book in your hands and turning the pages that can’t be replicated electronically.”

The e-readers might well be great gadgets, readers like these say, but they lack the one thing book devotees say they can’t give up: paper.

Paper connects the reader to the person responsible for the words: the writer. On an e-reader, one book reads exactly the same as the other. No art. No photographs or creative typography. No paper to finger. In short, no personality. Only a button to click.

“When books become computerized, you lose that contact with the maker,” says Cindy Bowden, director of the Robert C. Williams Paper Museum at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. “When you pick up a book, you notice the feel, the touch, the way the ink bleeds into the paper.”

Paper also evokes the senses and makes a visceral connection. The book’s smell, the sound of a page turning and even the different textures. Books connect you with a time and place in ways an e-reader can’t, says Peg Silloway, 65, of Columbia, Md. “I have a book that I brought home from our cottage that smells of pine and the smoke from the fireplace.”

The math

Some big readers don’t buy books at all. They borrow from the library—and read for free. Others know by now that e-readers initially cost more—much more—than a book.

• Kindle 2: $359
• Sony Reader: $269.99
• eSlick Reader: $259.99
• iRex Digital Readers 1000s: $859

•"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" (Book 7), hardcover, 784 pages: $34.99
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, paperback: $14

Not all books are available as e-books, but many are. Of the two industry leaders, Kindle boasts a library of 285,000 books, most for $9.99 each. The Sony Reader provides free access to 500,000 books in the public domain, including classics like Jane Austen and William Shakespeare; the Kama Sutra and the Bible; and contemporary works like Sue Grafton and Dennis Lahane, even "The DaVinci Code." Another 100,000 are available for purchase from the Sony eBook Store.

Over time, e-readers could prove more economical than traditional books. For the price of buying 26 new hardcover books, one could also purchase the same number of e-books, plus the Kindle itself. And the devices allow readers to sample the first chapter of any book for free before purchase. Digitizing words could help elevate the medium, and in turn, boost a struggling publishing industry.

“What the computer has done for the book as we know it is to liberate it in many ways and allow it to achieve its full potential as a medium for creative expression,” says Nicholas Basbanes, author of "A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books" and professed book lover. “Do I use telephone books anymore? No,” says Basbanes. “I go online. As much as I love maps, and I love to handle maps, I use Google Maps.

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