The Way I Read: e-Readers, Phone Apps, and Real Books

I’ve always loved the smell and feel of real books. When e-readers first came out, I stubbornly refused to get one. I thought I would miss turning the pages and smelling the dusty library book smell. So I suck with real books. Sometimes, I would take out 10 or more books from the library, stacking them around my room in order of when they were due back. I loved all of them.

In 2012, I had to have surgery that involved a recovery of at least 6 weeks when I couldn’t lift anything heavy. I knew I’d be laid up for at least a week with nothing to do except read a pile of books, and I’d possibly be unable to get out to the library. That was when I decided to give an e-reader a chance.

And so I bought my first Sony e-reader. It was super expensive in those days – I think I paid about $300 for the e-reader and the case to go with it. I soon fell in love with the e-ink screen. And not only was it easy on the eyes, it was also easy to have a bunch of library books out. I could download them from the comfort of my sick bed, and I could carry multiple books all in a less-than-one-pound package.

A few years later, the Sony was getting kind of old and slow, and technology had improved. I decided to get a Kobo with a reading light. The light was a great addition to the e-reader – now I could read without the light on! It’s different to a backlight that you would have on a phone or tablet. The e-reader light is a soft light that glows onto the screen rather than s harsh blue light screen.

However, the Kobo came with a few disadvantages. First, I couldn’t use the device to download books from the library. I’m pretty sure you can buy books from the Kobo store directly, of course, but to get books out from the library, you have to use some finicky software on your computer.

Second, sometimes when I download more titles from the library, all of them become blocked by the rights management software. Then I have to remove all of them, delete them from the computer, and download them all again. SO ANNOYING! I’m always a little bit worried that this will spontaneously happen while I’m traveling and I will be without books because I don’t travel with my laptop.

One day I accidentally downloaded a library book to the Overdrive app on my phone. That was annoying, because you can’t download it to more than one device at a time. I was stuck reading on my tiny, blue-light-backlit screen.

Now, I do prefer the e-ink screens on my e-readers. But the inability to download directly to the Kobo, along with the finicky authorization management thing, really put me off. Unfortunately, Sony has discontinued their line of e-readers, so I had to give up on going back to them.

After reading that accidental download on my phone, I realized that I quite like reading on the screen. I can make it display the text in white on a black background, which is easier on my eyes. One day I just decided to make the switch. I was going on a 2-week trip where I only took cabin baggage, and I needed to downsize, so I thought why not pack my books inside my phone as well?

And aside from the constant worry about what the backlit screen is doing to my quality of sleep and eye health, I really actually like it! You can easily set the font and text size to whatever you want. I have it quite large, but the pages turn instantaneously when you touch the screen, so it’s OK that the screen real estate is pretty small. In fact, I kind of like the small screen size, because turning the page every few seconds makes me feel like I’m really flying through the book. I think it’s easier to speed read a book when the page is only a few words wide, as well.

So, I’ve tried ’em all, and for now, I’m sticking with the app on my phone. Here is a round up of the pros and cons of each of these types of books.

Real Book


  • Inhaling that booky smell.
  • Holding a tome in my hands and turning the pages.
  • Getting (some) holds on real books out of the library more quickly.
  • It’s just comforting and traditional, you know?
  • Being able to flip back and forth to re-read something in an earlier chapter or see how many pages are left.
  • Seeing photos (if there are some included) full sized and on glossy coloured paper.
  • That feeling of just disconnecting and not using an electronic device at all for a while.
  • Never running out of battery juice in the middle of a long commute.


  • Carrying around a heavy load.
  • Carrying two books if I’m about to finish one. Or worse – not having a new book to read on the way home when I finish one in the morning!
  • Displaying to everyone on the subway what I’m reading.
  • Trying to turn the pages and hang on to the subway/bus/streetcar pole at the same time.
  • Having to pick up holds from the actual library during opening hours.



  • Being able to pack and carry multiple books in a small and light package.
  • Downloading library books in my pyjamas at home.
  • Holding the book AND turning pages with just one hand.
  • Knowing that my library holds won’t turn out to be heavy hardcovers.
  • Disguising what I’m reading when out in public.
  • Insanely long battery life.


  • (For the Kobo) Not being able to download directly from the library site to my device.
  • Not being able to flip through the pages quickly if I forget something and want to look at it again, or if I want to check how many pages are left in a chapter.
  • Photos (if some are included) don’t show up very well.
  • Not having that booky smell or feeling the pages.
  • Some of the settings can be kind of finicky, such as changing the font size or style.
  • Having occasional problems with the digital rights authorization management when downloading books.
  • And worrying that this will happen when I’m away from a computer.



  • Having photos show up nicely on the phone screen, if a bit small.
  • Feeling like I’m flying through a book because I get to turn the page every couple of seconds.
  • Always having my books with me on my phone.
  • Taking just one tiny device with me when traveling.
  • Being able to download books on the go (this was possible with my old Sony, but not with the Kobo).
  • Holding the phone in one hand to read on my commute.
  • Having all the books right there in the app and not having to worry about access problems like the e-reader.
  • Being able to read in the dark.


  • Draining my phone battery even faster than before (and my phone drains really fast even when it’s not being used).
  • Not being able to see how many pages are in the whole book (just in the current chapter/section).
  • Not being able to read if I go somewhere (like the women’s spa) where phones are not allowed.
  • Getting distracted by Facebook notifications and emails while I’m reading.

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