As an avid reader, I read books in paper, e-book and audio formats. Recently I finished reading three notable books, two in hardcover and one as an e-book on my iPad. I’ve come to the conclusion that some books are simply better in paper.
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (Little, Brown and Company, 2013) won the 2013 Man Booker Prize. The book opens with a wonderful scene: on a rainy night in 1866, Walter Moody, a young man who has come to seek his fortune in the gold fields of New Zealand, stumbles into a secret meeting of twelve men. As the evening progresses, Moody hears about the odd events that led to the gathering. The mystery then unfolds in a fashion that reminds me of a kaleidoscope: it shifts and changes as each participant tells his view of the circumstances. The book, constructed upon an astrological framework, plays with ideas of fate and fortune. It’s complicated. There are twelve parts each with an astrological chart, and a cast of twenty characters. I found myself flipping back and forth to check names and review the plotline. And this is why you need the paper book. It’s so much easier to hold your place and read ahead at the same time when compared to an electronic format.
Don’t be discouraged about reading The Luminaries. Above all, it is a great adventure story set in a swashbuckling time of gold strikes and frontier towns. Reading this book put me in mind of the brilliantly written Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (Random House, 2004). It too is a complex book that requires an alert reader. In this case, there are six different stories that range in time from the mid-19th century to post-apocalyptic settings. Each character’s story is written in the voice and style of the time, and by the end of the book you understand how they are all connected. Like The Luminaries, the author explores how fates intertwine. And once again, I needed my paper copy to go easily back and forth to reread key passages.
I purchased Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (2013) to read on my iPad. I quickly wished I had a paper copy. Like the books noted above, Life After Life is about time, fate, and how one life impinges on others. In 1910, the main character Ursula Todd is born to English parents, and dies immediately. But then on the same night, she is born and begins her life. As she grows, she dies in various ways. Or does she? All of her lives are set amid historical events. Can she alter those events? As I read about Ursula’s chances to live her life over, I longed to go back to earlier chapters to be sure I was following the book’s structure. But by the time I pressed the right buttons and found the right page, momentum was lost. In this case, the format got in the way of my reading enjoyment.
I firmly believe that books as we know them will continue to be read and cherished.