In praise of ebooks

It’s great living in the future. The world’s information is in our pockets. We have no end of things to read and watch and play. Consequently, there also is no end of empty, worthless, even harmful diversions that can consume our time and attention.

Just as you should be mindful of what you put in your mouth, take care to put worthwhile things in your mind. Be a good curator of what merits your attention. Life is short. Use your very limited time and attention to consume books, articles, music, and other art that will make you better and happier.

I’m now a reader of ebooks. I have always been a book reader. I’ve collected and read books since I was old enough to read. Just picking up certain books in my collection can cause a rush of memories associated with reading them. But I’m not particularly nostalgic about the demise of paper books and newspapers and magazines. Paper is just a vehicle for the content. It’s the content that matters.

Ebooks ensure that you can easily access your entire collection of books from anywhere. John Adams advised his son, John Quincy, to “Always have a poet in your pocket”, to carry a book with you constantly to make good use of any down time. Now, there is no excuse not to have a good book or other reading material constantly available to you.

Ebooks make reading a pleasure for me. You can change the font and adjust the font size as well as the background. You can sync your books across multiple devices. You can highlight passages and make your own notes. I use both iBooks and Kindle. I prefer the iBooks reading experience. iBooks has a more pleasing page layout, including a ragged right edge, and offers a scroll option in addition to the conventional page turns. Kindle has a bigger selection of books to offer, though.

When people see my bookshelves, they often ask, “Have you read all of these?” Of course not. I have read some of most and all of some. I have no shame about stockpiling books. Ebooks make that even easier. Just a click on my iPad or my Mac, and the book is instantly downloaded. How cool is that? And now I don’t have to worry about having enough shelf space.

I do want a more disciplined reading routine, and this is one area where ebooks cause problems. I open my iPad and see dozens of books I might want to read or re-read. I plunge into one, and if my mind goes on a tangent, I can easily open another or go check Twitter. Paper books are much better at focusing my attention.


Books have greatly affected my life and continue to do so. Choose your inputs wisely. Read classics. They are classics for a reason. Read the works of great writers and smart thinkers. Find an author that speaks to you and read everything she’s written. It’s the best way to really get an author. Ask friends and mentors what books have meant the most to them. This question alone can fill a dinner with great conversation. Challenge yourself to read at least one book each month. Some people read a book a week. Imagine going through 52 books every year. Make a wish list. Ask for iBooks or Amazon gift cards for holiday or birthday gifts. Start a reading group with kindred spirits.

Establish a reading habit. Family life makes it hard for me to disappear into a book regularly at home, so my daily lunch break works well for me.

Next time you find yourself channel surfing, flipping through the dismal array of reality shows on TV, grab a good book and get lost in the life of the mind that a book can create. Our culture is committed to extending literacy universally in the hopes there will be no one who can’t read. But the sad reality is that so many who can read actually do not.

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