Digital vs. Physical — How Do You Buy Books?

bookshelf in office - jenny komenda interiors

Since I’m someone who reads a lot of books, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the cultural transition from actual books to digital books. For me there are pros and cons to both digital and physical books, and for each book I consider purchasing I always take the time to think about whether or not I want to buy the actual book or the digital version. Sometimes it’s a hard decision!

What I love about digital books is the immediacy of them. Within one minute you can choose, purchase, and download whatever book you want to read. I also love how easy it is to travel with just my iPad, and have infinite amount of books on one thin device. For traveling, it’s hard to beat using a digital reader if you are planning to read more than one book. As much as I try not to look at some sort of screen (computer, phone, iPad, TV) as much as possible, I do like to read digital books on my iPad at night because I can get in my cocoon of warmth and comfort and not have to move a muscle to turn the page, and I can have the light off. Basically I can stay up late and read without bothering my husband by moving, turning the page, making noise, and having the light on.

I think there are certain circumstances for certain books that I prefer to buy digital books for. The minimalist part of me loves that the digital book doesn’t accumulate more “stuff” for me to store.

Even with all of these pros to digital books, I still in many cases, want to buy the actual books (authors everywhere jump for joy). Usually the types of books I buy digitally are quick easy novels that I’m reading for fun, and maybe aren’t the types of books you’d discuss with people or write a review about and ones that you might not ever read again.

But there’s just something about acquiring actual books. Running your fingers through them, folding down the pages, signing them in the front, highlighting or making notes in them (I do this all the time). I don’t mind doing all of these things to most of my books. I don’t want my books to be overly precious as if they’ve never been read before (okay maybe with beautiful coffee table books), but books are meant to be read. Used. Worn a little.

I buy a lot of business and creative books that I read with a highlighter and pen in hand. I make notes, mark them up, and once I’m done reading them, I go back and type up my notes from the book (nerd alert) so I can remember the important parts. I definitely use these books, and prefer the actual version to reference instead of a digital version.

All of this book buying makes me think of the concept of your own personal library and how it tells the story of your life. How much you can learn about a person by taking a look at their bookshelves — which makes me look at my own bookshelves and think — what do my bookshelves say about me? That’s another post entirely.

Isn’t it sort of neat to collect books you’ve read over time, lend out to friends and family (and hopefully get back), and see the evolution of your reading over the years?

As much as I love all things digital and innovative — there are certain things I don’t want to let go of. Owning real books that I proudly display (okay style) on a bookshelf is one of those things. There’s just something a little more special about taking an actual book to the beach. Getting a little sand and water on it, reading it with the ocean breeze, and bringing it back home to set on your bookshelf. Every time you look at that book it will remind you of that ocean breeze. It probably still even faintly smells like salt water.

My grandfather loved books. He was a history buff, just like my brother (who is getting his PhD in History). When my grandfather died, my brother inherited some of his books. My brother told me his favorite thing about those books was how they still smelled like my grandfather’s pipe. You just can’t get that with a digital book. I wish I could smell those books right now.


Tell me — how do you decide whether you are going to buy a digital or an actual book? How do you read & store your books?


stacked books - jenny komenda interiors

Photos via Jenny Komenda Interiors