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Addicted to 'real' books? You're selling yourself short. Put your e-reader next to your omelette and Let Three Million Books Bloom

Feet in the warm sand, Caipirinha with umbrella, murmuring sea in the background and you are lying on a deckchair with 600 books.

All I want to say is: you are seriously selling yourself short without an e-reader. And the benefits are much bigger than just having to lug around less on holiday, I'm going to explain below.

Downloading in Luang Prabang

I have been reading digitally for almost 7 years now. I like to read newspapers, magazines or atlases from paper, but for novels or pictorial non-fiction, I grab the e-reader. On 18 May 2011, I bought my first Kindle, Amazon's e-reader, for the (now) ridiculous sum of $ 249.88 (incl. import tax and shipping). This did put Amazon's retro flagship in my hands, including a keyboard, Wifi and 3G across the globe. For the first few months, I don't know what the greatest pleasure was: the digital reading itself or the fact that in a southern Spanish valley, Luang Prabang or high up in the mountains above Hanoi, I could effortlessly download a travel guide or novel by Nabokov, via the ever-working (free) 3G signal, Amazon's rod to civilisation.

Killer of booksellers

The big bookseller's killer in those e-reader lazy days was the usb stick containing some 2,000 free digital books from a distinguished second cousin that everyone has in the family. On it were a third rubbish, a third world literature and a third quite nice Dutch novels. Free digital books worked for the acceptance of the e-reader like porn at the VCR. You couldn't get enough of them. Without a trace of pity for publishers, because even then the (Dutch) prices of digital books were a robbery in broad daylight. I had (and still have) two handy sons who additionally dragged in my list of desired titles on demand within five minutes from Pirate Bay or other internet-robbery lairs. Sons are a boon to your digital life.

'Real books smell so good'

En famille we currently own four e-readers. With every visit to America I bought one more (for $ 99 you already have a Paperwhite E-reader, with built-in light, the ideal gift for family members). The woeful defence from backward colleagues and friends that 'real' books smell so good and paper browses so wonderfully tactile, I didn't and don't have much use for them. Yes, for state bibles on facade-weighted paper bound in buckskin leather I am happy to make an exception.

'You get wiser, smarter and happier from a good e-reader'

There are many subjective arguments for paper to list, but many more rational ones for digital reading. Most importantly: you become wiser, smarter, more readable and - often - happier with a good e-reader.

Theoretically, you take an average of 400 books with you to bedroom or Seychelles on your e-reader. And virtually over 3 million (if via the Amazon network, which offers more and more Dutch-language titles). But less lugging of kilos of paper - although: when flying, it saves a suitcase to check in - is not everything. Worse for paperadepts is that they also have to miss out on these mind-boggling benefits (I'm assuming the Kindle for a moment): Word Wise, X-ray and Clipping. Difficult words? Press the word and Van Dale and Wikipedia give definitions and backgrounds in boxes.

Take an x-ray of your book

Word Wise is useful for English-language books and can be set to few or many meaning hints. Above 'liberty' the word freedom appears. Above 'bookshop' a store that sells books. That's not so difficult. But quick help with words like 'obliteration' or 'proficiency' is welcome.

X-ray is great. Say for a moment you are lost in that book with all the characters. Then you tap X-ray and get information about the characters plus corresponding passages (with quotes) in the book. Amazon says somewhat snidely, "X-Ray lets you explore the 'bones of a book.'" The 'X-ray function' works mainly on (popular) English-language books. X-ray also explains (without wifi) terms like USSR or Bolshevik. Very easy if you're reading a Russian novel.

'So much beauty, I can't remember all that'

But 'clipping' is the best feature. I regularly teach writing courses and my first question is always: 'What are your favourite books or writers?' And the second question: 'And what did you like the best sentence in the book?' Then the answer is often, 'I don't know. There was so much beauty, I can't remember all that.'

So why do you read in the first place? I quite understand that you don't go around with pen and paper jotting down every beautiful imagery while reading. That's more work than pleasure. On a little e-reader, you just swipe over a memorable sentence, which is promptly saved for you in a private document. You can download and tag it later. That's how to get more out of a book.

Jan Six: 'Unimaginable boozing and eating parties'

My harvest from a week of Red Sea was among (many) other things: "You'll be a lawyer. Magnificent memory. Sense of logic, no imagination and no brains. My favourite chap, Teddy Feathers, as a matter of fact. I dare say." (From: Old Filth, by Jane Gardam.)

"Usually weddings could last seven to nine days, they were unimaginable boozing and eating parties. Now, parties were not allowed to last more than two days, with a maximum of 50 guests." (The lives of Jan Six, Geert Mak.)

"You look for spiritual uplift and heavenly peace, you piece of crap," she thought, "and I'll make everything work here on earth."(Clot, Maxim February.)

"She had an ass like a Bohemian buffet." (Tchaikovsky Street 40, Pieter Waterdrinker.)

By the way: I think Pieter Waterdrinker is going to win the Libris Literature Prize on Monday 7 May 2018. High time because the industrious correspondent/writer Waterdrinker has been building an oeuvre for years. And Tchaikovsky Street 40 is a monument of a biographical novel (and very clipable).

The moral: what you have 'clipped' into your e-reader you can never forget. And that's what reading was all about, wasn't it?

On the plane on the folding table

A few more advantages of digital over paper. The small size makes it easy to read anywhere, anytime. In the bath (there are special plastic bags) with one hand, next to your plate in the restaurant, on the plane on the folding table next to the Transavia sausage roll.

Digital reading is now generally - especially at Amazon - cheaper than physical reading (I have been paying nicely for my e-books for years now). offers sinds a year for €9.99 a month a Spotify-like Kobo Plus subscription. 'Unlimited reading', says Bol. That's not quite true because you have to choose from a limited catalogue (which, incidentally, houses plenty of literature).  Wijbrand Schaap orphaned 22 Janari on Culture Press on a positive impact of Kobo Plus: 'I know that I myself now read an awful lot more books than I did before. And that is only increasing.' Good for readers, writers and publishers.

'Reading at breakfast... No good!'

There are drawbacks too. The e-reader's screen is still in its infancy. It is sometimes too small, too grainy, too stiff and too uncomfortable. Texts with pictures and graphics and PDFs go completely awry on an e-reader. A growing number of digital bells and whistles send the e-reader whisking in the direction of a small iPad. You don't need that either, before you know it you are receiving mail again.

Images: HT

At breakfast in my Egyptian hotel, I put the e-reader next to my omelette. Why actually? The honest answer is: because I could. The Egyptian waiter stood next to me shaking his head and said: 'Reading at breakfast... No good.'

Wise words

Wise words. The waiter put his finger (whether intended or not) on the growing restlessness created by the ability to want to bend every situation to your will. Because you can. By the way: the score on my Egyptian beach in early February among a reading population of Dutch, Belgians, Germans, Ukrainians, French and Italians: 35 per cent e-reader wielding hot-desert readers. Quite a lot.

There is no reason to cling only to the paper book, like a drowning man to a piece of driftwood. You would be doing yourself a serious disservice.

Harri Theirlynck

Freelance (travel) journalist. Graduated cum laude in Dutch language and literature from Radboud University Nijmegen. Worked as a teacher, comedian and science journalist. Then successively became editor-in-chief of (ANWB) Kampioen, NU De Tijd van je Leven and REIZEN Magazine (ANWB Media). Since 2013, freelancer for Pikas Media, REIZEN Magazine (ANWB), Kampioen, TravMagazine, Djoser, de Telegraaf, Blendle and Arts & Auto, among others. Teacher of (travel) journalism at Fontys University of Applied Sciences. Provides training courses in creative & business writing and travel journalism.View Author posts

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