Are ebooks for "bloodless nerds"?

According to Booker Prize-winning author Penelope Lively, e-books are for "bloodless nerds". Considering her somewhat advanced 78 years, one might assume that this was simply a reaction to new technology, but Lively owns an iPad (although she "wouldn't dream of reading a book on it" unless she was traveling or in hospital) and, for what it's worth, thirteen of her books are available as ebooks, including Moon Tiger (which won the Booker Prize in 1987).

To be fair, although the "bloodless nerd" soundbite is being quoted far and wide today, her full comment was, "It seems to me that anyone whose library consists of a Kindle lying on a table is some sort of bloodless nerd." Do you think she has a point? If a person's entire literary collection was contained within an electronic device, might their experience with reading be a tad soulless? Or does the written word rise above the confines of the media containing it?

Perhaps there's an argument that someone whose library consists of just a Kindle might appear to be a bloodless nerd, because it would be impossible to tell at a glance what a person's interests were (or more cynically, what books they choose to display on their shelves); but even that point of view doesn't seem to hold water as there are countless people I know to be readers but I have never seen their bookshelves or, for that matter, seen them reading a book, and I have never once thought to myself, "hmm, she seems like a bloodless nerd to me!"

What do you think?

Feel free to respond to our quick poll or, if you'd like to give a more nuanced response, post a comment.

The poll has now closed, see the results here.

I'm with Ms. Lively on this one. While I used a Kindle when I was homebound recovering from surgery to get the full reading experience I want a real book. There is more to reading than just the text, books as beautiful physical objects are important part of reading for me.
# Posted By Katherine | 7/11/11 12:46 PM
A selection of comments from BookBrowse's Facebook page...

Melissa Morse White: Well thank God I'm not a bloodless nerd because I have a LOT of real books. As for the device she mentions, don't have one of those. I'm a NookColor girl! And maybe a Mudblood to boot!

Kay Kupka: Hmmm....well I can't imagine not holding a book in my hands --however, I have many friends who love the technology and are far from "bloodless nerds"! And when traveling I'm thinking, it may be the way to go! Especially on airlines that charge for extra luggage.

Becky Haase: I have read her books and would read them again but they are not available on Kindle and they are out of print! I have a Kindle and I buy "real" books too.

Marilyn Johnson: I have a Kindle, a Nook app on my iPad, and I buy and borrow tons of hardcover and pb books to read as well. No way am I a bloodless nerd! Change is a part of life and it sounds to me as thought Penelope Lively isn't keeping up. I AM a true bibliophile.

BookBrowse: Hi Becky - actually, according to the article, 13 of her books are available on Kindle. I typed "penelope lively kindle" into Amazon and came up with a number of matches.

Margaret Rose Ristagno: Ah, isn't "reading" the issue?

Celia Henry Arnaud: I have so many paper books that I needed to get a Kindle, because I just don't have any more room. (Actually, I don't really have room for the books I already have.)

Beth Honour: Hard to believe that an author is having difficulty with the e-book concept. Authorship is about words and ideas, not the physicality of an actual book. I read/purchase so much more now that e-books are constantly available and so portable. You would think they increase authors' earnings!

Mary Nero: I love to read and always have! My son's teacher once said it doesn't matter what you read just as long as you read and now I guess I can say it doesn't matter HOW your read! Everyone has a preference and let us not get to snobbish about "reading real books only"!

Karree Reisz Boyle: Mrs. Lively's assertion that children are reading less because of e-books is patently FALSE. My child hated reading until I taught her how to embrace the technology and use it to find other items she might like. Now she reads more than she ever has, and I don't have to force it. I fear Mrs. Lively doesn't have a deep conceptual understanding of the technology and what it might have to offer. I have an extensive library, not only on Kindle, but also in print. In some cases I even have two copies. If I happen to find something I'm insanely in love with, I don't have a problem turning around and buying a hardcover first edition... then having it signed. And now I don't have a lot of "stuff" taking up square footage in my house. I have to agree with others when they mention that writing is about the words, not where they're printed or in what format you read them.

Barbie Ray: I am a prolific reader and live in the middle of nowhere. My e-reader has allowed me to read more of what I want, more of what I should, and lots of things I never thought to read. The nearest "book" store is 90 minutes away and is Barnes and Nobles, their selection is mass fiction! I love to read to my niece and she perfers the Kindle and often reads to me.

Karree Reisz Boyle: Is Jane Austen any less literary for having been published in e-format?

Marta Kiger Morrison: I understand what Ms Lively is saying. Karree, I teach school and it doesn't matter what form it is in my students don't read! I spend my year trying to get them to be interested in the printed word and I may only reach one or two of them out of more than thirty children in my class. I read aloud, do book talks, have a great classroom library and still they think it is boring. They want to see the movie. I had one child in my room who had a kindle and after he got it he hardly ever used it but instead chose to read paperbacks. I think e books are the future and I think we should stop bickering about it.
# Posted By Davina - BookBrowse Editor | 7/11/11 2:06 PM
So glad you asked. I have real books on my shelves: all kinds, including ugly, acid-paged paperbacks, which I value because it's the content I care about. Some of my books would not be accepted for the library used book sale I volunteer for. But even though I have one small room dedicated to books, I have run out of space and must therefore resort to my kindle. I still buy books from my volunteer job -- I can't seem to resist, and they are in piles in boxes instead of on my space-less shelves. And I still covet that huge room with floor-to-ceiling shelves and a huge ladder on wheels to access my books!
# Posted By Lynette | 7/11/11 2:28 PM
Also, when I am reading a "real" fiction book, I miss being able to do a search on a name or concept that I saw in the novel on a previous page, but need to refresh my memory on.
# Posted By Lynette | 7/11/11 2:48 PM
I have real books in shelves, piles, and stacks. I have a library card where the librarian knows my number by heart. And yet I have a kindle, which I adore. I always have it with me and therefore always have a book to be read. I think that the method of getting words to people might have changed, but that does not change the glory, enlightening, fun and adventures books and reading can be. I think it is short sighted to take away a method because it may not be "your preference".
# Posted By Martha | 7/13/11 3:18 PM
Anything that spreads the written word and allows us to read is a good thing. I have a NookColor and a house full of books. Though I love a book in my hands, the e-reader allows me to carry a large selection with me everywhere. Now, while waiting for an appointment, I am not forced to listen to some of the drivel on the ever present TV in waiting rooms. Everything has it's place.
# Posted By Delicia | 7/14/11 6:38 AM
I have bemoaned e-readers since they first started gaining traction. They're nifty devices, but nothing can replace the smell, feel and excitement of a real live book. My best friend bought me a Kindle for my birthday because she thought I should have one. In 6 months, I've hardly used it. It's nice to keep in my purse for reading while waiting for appointments, but I prefer my books printed and bound.
# Posted By Amy | 7/14/11 6:54 AM
While I prefer the having an actual book in my hands I do have a Nook, which I use mainly for travel or when I go to a coffee shop., I believe that how we read a book is an individual choice. Books are to be read--in print or on an electronic device.
# Posted By Sandra Hofsommer | 7/17/11 11:48 AM
I believe in the power of the physical book - its pages turning, the rough or smooth texture of hot or cold pressed paper, the smell of fresh ink or old paper. However, each time I move for a new job, an increasing need in today's fast-paced society and fickle economy, I have more and more trouble hauling my 10, then 20, then 40 boxes of books with me... and affording an apartment or house where I can dedicate space to unpack and enjoy said growing collection. As a result, I have gotten rid of all but my research books, and depend on my Kindle DX for fiction and non-fiction unrelated to my professional research. Clearly a 78 year old doesn't live the same kind of life as a 37 year old...
# Posted By Jay | 7/21/11 10:13 AM
I have always enjoyed reading and was really resistant to the idea of e-books. I purchased a Kindle because I joined a book club last fall and thought it would be easier to have books on my device. While I have purchased several books on Kindle, I continue to buy paper books when I find them more competitively priced than the electronic device. I live in a town that has a small college bookstore mostly for textbooks and a chain bookstore. The convenience is wonderful and I have given my paper books to the local library as I read them. My biggest complaint about e-books is that the prices are set by the publishers and vary considerably for new books. I will continue to use my e-reader especially when I travel and as I continue to clear my overstuffed shelves.
# Posted By Joyce | 7/25/11 7:48 AM
One point that hasn't been mentioned: it depends on the book. Like most of those who commented, for me nothing will replace the feel of a real book - I have even been known to caress pages as I turn them, and e-books are definitely not caressable. On the other hand, I might give my Kindle a light kiss when packing for a trip. It is loaded with a generous selection of fiction, and non-fiction (including reference works) that allows me to suit my mood or my need during the trip, and I wouldn't be without its light weight in my purse when facing a wait at a doctor's office. Still, the gift list I keep updated for my family is carefully marked with "print only" alerts for my preferred non-fiction and note-taking mania. My shelves are packed with the printed word that I know will be re-read - and caressed - over the years. Both serve their purpose; yes, it depends on the book.
# Posted By Mary G | 9/9/11 12:09 PM
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