Books

A Discussion: how do e-books affect book aesthetics?

I really enjoyed the discussion post that I put up last week, so I thought why not keep the momentum going and do another. I actually have a bunch of titles sitting in my drafts folder, because whenever a topic pops into my mind I create a new post to come back to later. Today’s post is one of those, I actually can’t remember what prompted me to create this one, it was sparked way back in October 2019 apparently. I can hazard some guesses though, which you’ll see as I get into it. I hope you enjoy!

Firstly, allow me a moment to speak on e-books in a general sense.

When it comes to reading I was always quite a traditionalist, you’d find me rolling my eyes at the mere suggestion of reading anything other than a physical book. Until, I came across the joy (and often burden/stress inducer) that is NetGalley. Once I had signed up to it, and got a little trigger happy with the request button (as we all do right?!) I found myself reading more and more titles on my kindle. Opening the kindle app more often of course meant that I was suckered into looking at the daily deals and books for £1 etc, and as all bookworms know it is pretty impossible to only look when it comes to books, so naturally my e-book collection started to expand.

I realised that it was a great way to almost ‘test run’ a title. I could pick up an e-book at the fraction of the price and then it wasn’t a waste if I didn’t enjoy it, and if I did enjoy it and want a physical copy then I could console myself with having spent only a little on the e-copy. It also kind of goes without saying but the immediate delivery to my device is the stuff of dreams – 24/7 shopping and it’s there pretty much instantly – wonderful.

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Possibly the main (and most surprising) highlight though is the ease with which I can make notes or highlight quotes etc. I was never that type of reader, and I wouldn’t want to write on the page of a physical book, but I’ve utilised the tool on my kindle so much! So yes, I’m kind of converted. Not fully admittedly, but I view e-books far more favourably these days.

Having said that I couldn’t imagine ever shying away from physical books, for many reasons, but in relation to the posed discussion point – because they are just beautiful to look at. Is that a shallow way to consider a book? I mean, maybe, but if the aesthetics weren’t important then wouldn’t all covers be blank, or at least produced with far less thought and effort? I see so often that people make choices on a book purely because of the cover, and whilst I haven’t technically done this (I always read the blurb), I will be swayed to pick a book up off the shelf based on what it looks like and if the blurb sounds good then that is decision made. Another point I see often is the issue of a book with an adaptation. Common opinion seems to be that a film or show image on the cover is the less desirable choice. I hadn’t ever really thought about it but now I think I probably would seek out an alternative cover because they aren’t as pretty to look at it.

So, now let’s consider the discussion point: how do e-books affect aesthetics?

Let’s start with the most obvious. Bookshelves. The main aesthetic that comes to mind for me is a bookshelf full of beautiful titles. There’s a reason these pictures are so popular on social media, and to be honest I don’t think any of us would choose to not look a little closer at somebody else’s bookshelf. They can be a real statement in a room, and a conversation starter. E-books of course hide this away, and even though there are many gorgeous covers for the devices, it really isn’t the same is it. However, for a minimalist or somebody with little space in their home they are quite probably a godsend. I much prefer the look of physical books on a shelf, or even just in a pile in the corner of the room, but whatever your preference, there is no denying that e-books are the more hidden option.

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Another consideration that maybe wouldn’t occur to everyone, but absolutely does for me is the ageing of a book. I love battered old books that have stood the test of time because I love the romanticism of speculating what journey they have taken, and through whose hands they have passed. Give me broken spines, browned pages, and creased covers – I love the look of a book that has survived, even with battle scars to show for it. This kind of aesthetic is impossible with an e-book, and let’s face it, whilst I might like the look of a tatty paperback, I don’t fancy a battered phone/kindle – that would throw up a whole host of problems!

I can’t really write a post like this without mentioning social media. Surprisingly, I don’t think it makes a huge amount of difference. Don’t get me wrong, a physical book will in most cases look superior in photographs, but that’s not to say an e-book will look bad. From what I’ve noticed it seems to be less about the actual book these days and more about the props that are used alongside it. Perhaps my perception is incorrect here, but I really don’t think the divide is huge.

Something else to bear in mind is the capability of an e-book with regards aesthetics. It is possible to change a font or increase the size, which can be extremely valuable to many readers. In fact, I change the colour of the page to a more beige tone because it suits my eyes better. I struggle with brightness and this really helps to make the reading experience even more pleasurable. This option is, of course, not available with a physical book. My copy of Frankenstein for example has the teeniest font and this really impacted on my reading, and my enjoyment of the book as a whole. So whilst this might not be an aesthetic that immediately comes to mind, it’s a consideration worth bearing in mind when thinking about how books look and what we want/need from them.

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It was kind of inevitable I think that this would turn into a preference post, but I’ve tried to reign myself in, and I think overall there are some compelling arguments for both sides. Ultimately though it’s obvious that e-books do affect aesthetics, and I guess it just comes down to personal preference. All I will say to close this piece is that I’m glad in this technical age that the physical book is still alive and well – even if I am found on my kindle quite regularly these days.

These are the main points that I could think of when pondering this topic – are there any that you would like to add? What are your thoughts on what I’ve included? As always I would love to hear!

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed!

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Until the next time…Jess x

14 thoughts on “A Discussion: how do e-books affect book aesthetics?

  1. I prefer to read to physical books because it feels easier on the eyes and I think I retain the information better. However, I think the issue with having space to store them is an issue, as is the aging of the books. I love an old book as much as the next bookworm, but sometimes books will start molding or show other signs of aging that make me think it’s time for them to go. I prefer to read primarily through the library for this reason–I can read physical books, but I don’t need to find room for them or worry about their condition.

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    1. Yes I agree, definitely easier on the eyes! Old books are great, but like you say they do mold eventually, I have had that happen to a couple that I really need to think about replacing, such a shame but that’s how it goes. Using the library is a great compromise, I haven’t used my local library in ages, I must pay them a visit!

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      1. I like using the library, too, because if I don’t enjoy a book, at least I haven’t bought it! If I do enjoy a book or an author, then I know I can buy the book and not feel disappointed!

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  2. While I used to love reading actual books, I now prefer kindle books (tho’ I’ve lost mine) and like you, I get sucked into looking at the books for £1.00. I must have a few that I’ve still to read tho’. Ebooks are fine but not always the best quality which puts me off.

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  3. I’m enjoying your discussion posts at the moment, please keep them coming. As I was saying the other day, all my books are either talking e-books or audiobooks, and before that, it was cd’s and cassettes, so of course, none of these formats are especially pleasing aesthetically. I stopped reading hard copies of books in braille a long time ago, as each book would come in nunerous volumes, and they took up far too much space. Once again, not much to look at. I suppose the sight and physical attrebutes of a book is the one thing I miss out on as part of my reading experience, but it is an interesting thing to think about.

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    1. Thank you! I have lots of ideas so I’ll definitely keep it up. Thanks for sharing, it’s a really interesting perspective that you’ve talked about, and one that I hadn’t even considered. It’s a tricky one, because whilst books are beautiful I suppose what is most important is the actual content ultimately.

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  4. E books are something I keep meaning to try yet never seeming to get round to, always opting for books in their physical form. I can’t resist an appealing cover, and I also like to open a book at a random page and read a sentence or two if in a bookshop of library. The idea of trying the e version before committing to buying the book makes sense. I like the idea of being able to highlight quotes. I have seen some great photos of e book covers when staged well as you say. Great post topic!!

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    1. Thank you! I wish I could remember what had prompted the idea initially. Oh yes, flicking through a book in the bookshop is such a treat, with some kindle books you can see inside before purchase but it isn’t the same as holding the book and getting that new book smell. Of course just being in a bookshop is such a treat as well isn’t it. I do recommend giving ebooks a go, they are super convenient, although it may send your tbr spiralling – it did with mine 😂

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  5. Interesting discussion post, keep them coming! 🙂 I care about the insides of a book more than the outside, so the aesthetics don’t really bother me, providing the font is readable. I will always prefer physical books because I prefer to turn pages rather than swipe them, and I don’t want to depend on the device/battery life. The vast majority of new books I read are e-books, because I only receive e-ARCs and borrow e-books.

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    1. Thank you! So true, ultimately what’s inside is what counts, it doesn’t matter how beautiful a cover if the story is rubbish. I like turning pages too, and I love if I have a paperback to be able to fold it and hold it in one hand – although I’m sure those that keep books pristine would hate me for that confession 😂 Have you found that you have enjoyed e-books more since you’ve read more of them, or has your opinion stayed the same? I’ve definitely enjoyed them more, the more regularly I use them.

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      1. I wouldn’t say I enjoy e-books more, I’m just used to them and they are convenient. Oddly I have got confused and been known to look around for a bookmark for my e-book!

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