Some books just don’t work as ebooks

By Sam Jack, sjack@newtonplks.org

Opinions vary on ebooks and e-reading. I, personally, am a fan. I don’t mind heading to the Sunflower eLibrary or Hoopla to grab the next volume in whatever sci-fi series I’m currently absorbing.

Sometimes I like to read on my smartphone at night, with the only light coming from the backlit words on the screen. And sometimes it’s nice to have a digital device in hand when I feel a sudden need to look up a word or Google something. E-ink readers like Kindles and Nooks can get you closer to the printed-page experience while maintaining the convenience of digital reading.

Still there are good reasons why physical books still outsell ebooks, and why my generation (millenials) still prefers paper books overall.

There has been a big uptick in ebook borrowing during COVID-19, but I have also heard from many people yearning for the day when they can get back to turning real pages of real paper. Well, the wait is nearly over: Starting on Monday, May 18, you will again be able to borrow physical books from Newton Public Library, using a no-contact pickup procedure.

To celebrate, I’ve picked out a few books in our collection that really do not work well as ebooks. Click on the titles to be linked directly to NPL’s online catalog, where you can place holds after logging in with your library card number and PIN number. (Need help? Email library@newtonplks.org, or starting May 18, you can give us a call during staff hours.)

Cover of Nox.

Carson, Anne. Nox. This is somewhere between a book and an art project. Carson pasted letters, photos and poetry onto a continuous, foldout length of paper – an act of mourning after the death of her brother. Nox is a facsimile of her creation: a long piece paper tucked into a sturdy cardboard box. You can turn the folds like pages of a book, or spread them out across your living room floor.

Cover of the Ultimate Pirate Handbook

Hamilton, Libby. The Ultimate Pirate Handbook. Lift the flaps and pop the pop-ups to learn all about pirate life, including slang, traditions, legends and more.

Cunningham, Bill. On the Street. Bill Cunningham spent 50 years riding a bicycle on the streets of New York City, capturing candid photos of fashionable New Yorkers for his photo column, “On the Street.” This oversized book collects some of his most iconic shots.

Pratchett, Terry. The Discworld novels. All 40-odd of these comedic fantasy novels are available on Libby and/or Hoopla, but a big part of Pratchett’s humor comes from his footnotes, which sometimes run to absurd length. I’ve read a couple of these as ebooks, but clicking on footnotes jumps you to the end of the text, and you then have to jump back. It breaks the flow of the story: The print version of footnotes is superior!

Schwartz, Dana. Choose Your Own Disaster. Here’s a Choose Your Own Adventure book for grownups, combining “A. a memoir, B. a personality quiz, C. a mostly true and completely honest look at one young woman’s attempt to find herself, D. all of the above.” Reading the reviews on Goodreads, one person recommended avoiding it as an ebook because the format makes it difficult to know whether you’ve read the entire thing.

Hendrix, Grady. Horrorstör. “After strange things start happening at the Orsk furniture superstore in Cleveland, three employees volunteer to work an overnight shift to investigate, but what they discover is more horrifying than they could have imagined.” This novel is presented as a glossy mail order catalog, with product illustrations, order forms, and a map of Orsk’s labyrinth-like showroom of terror!