Books, E-books, and the Future of Bookshelf Browsing 14

Books are not made for furniture, but there is nothing else that so beautifully furnishes a house. ~ Henry Ward Beecher ~

I love books — and I mean love them. I love the scents of fresh paper and ink. I love the fragrance of ancient, yellowed paper, the musty smell of dust and the texture of refined wood. I love all that books represent — years of interests, study, and personal growth. On my bookshelves, you’ll find books about traveling through Europe on a bicycle,  acupuncture and massage, spiritual practices, economics, memoir, nonfiction essays, literary fiction, science fiction fantasy, history, photography, textbooks, children’s books, and more. Much more.

I also love e-books. I love their convenience. No lack of bookshelf space! I can bring an entire library with me wherever I go. And, with an Internet connection, a world of books is literally at my fingertips (and bank account). I can highlight and annotate sections of text without ruining the pristine white space in my book (I have a thing against writing in books; maybe I’ll write more about that in a later post), and search entire books for specific words or phrases. With my e-reader on hand, I feel unlimited, unencumbered, and empowered. And yet … there is this one thing I truly miss about buying my books in electronic form: bookshelf browsing.

I take great pleasure in browsing other people’s bookshelves. I learn so much about the way they think, and their past and present interests, by seeing what they read and what they keep around on their shelves. I get introduced to some great books and authors I may not otherwise encounter. I also enjoy when other people browse my bookshelves; it’s the fast track to getting to know each other.

With the inevitable future conversion to interactive, electronic reading forms (Like it or not, you know that’s where we’re headed, don’t you? I mean, how many of you listen to your music on a turntable? In fact, how many of you still listen to your music on a CD player? For most of us these days, an mp3 player does the heavy lifting), what will happen to browsing one another’s bookshelves?

Fairly recently (yes, I know I’m behind the times), I was introduced to GoodReads, a virtual bookshelf. You can add books to your library as owned or wished for, as read, currently reading, and to read. You can rate books, write reviews, and make recommendations. It’s also a social networking site, so you can interact with “friends,” discuss books, write reviews, sell, exchange, and loan books. It’s a great concept. What’s not to like?

Only this: it takes time. You have to enter each book you read (I can’t even imagine entering all the books on my physical bookshelves, let alone the ones on my e-reader). And if you want to fully participate, you could spend hours every day on the site. I would love to do that, but frankly, I just don’t have the time. Besides, it destroys the random discovery and insight of browsing the bookshelves of a new acquaintance.

Yes, I created an account, and yes I entered a few books, mostly because when you sign up, they give you a list of books you can mark as read, owned, or want to read, as well as rate those you’ve read.  I suppose I could start fresh and just enter books I’m currently reading. But given the choice between actually reading and writing, or spending time on a social networking site about reading, I’ll usually choose the former.

What about you? Do you love bookshelf browsing? Do you think we’ll create some wonderful, convenient way of sharing our shelves with one another? What’s your vision for the future of book browsing?

Image Credit and quote source: Ozyman

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14 thoughts on “Books, E-books, and the Future of Bookshelf Browsing

  • Shirley

    I’m with you all the way, Amber. I love book books and e-books for the same reasons you mention. And I have the same attitude toward Goodreads. I’ve just dipped my toe into the water there.

    But I am an avid writer in my books. I want to hear more about why you don’t do the same. I can assure you that if you ever need or want to sell your books, you will be glad of your choice!

  • Amber Lea Starfire

    Thanks for your comment, Shirley. I’d like to hear about your experience with Goodreads. And yes, I’ll be sure to write about my (admittedly weird) stance about not writing in books in a future post — probably too long-winded for a reply here :-).

  • Kate Farrell

    Amber, how wonderful that you love books, the “real” ones on a shelf.
    After years of working as a school librarian, off and on, I have to say that I LOVE and anticipate eBooks. I can see the excitement they bring young readers and how eBooks empower them with the new skills they’ll need in their adult lives. Also…no shelving! No wear and tear. No lost books! No fines. To a librarian, that sounds close to heaven.

    • Amber Lea Starfire

      Kate, I can certainly understand your perspective! Refreshing, too (for some reason, I thought a librarian would bemoan e-books … silly me). And yes, as soon as e-book licensing becomes more realistic — so that we can loan e-books to friends (indefinitely), give them away and/or resell them — in other words, when we have the rights of ownership, not just “use,” I’ll love them even more (and trust me, I love them now). Still … I’ll miss the bookshelf browsing. Though I supposed we’ll find a way to keep some form of it.

  • Sharon Lippincott

    Count my vote with paper books, and, as I write this, I’m putting the final touches on a new eBook that will quite possibly never appear in print. Shucks, let’s dream big and think ahead to direct transfer of thought.

    Writing in books: I used to underline or highlight and write volumes in margins, but realized I never looked back and that ruined them for passing along later. Now I read with Post-It flags, then go back and transcribe succulent passages or make digital, searchable notes for future reference, and I often use that material. Best of all, I can use the flags in library books. 🙂

  • MJones

    Love them both! Some I read in eBook, some I need to hold in my hands. I love the convenience of one, the heft of the other. NEVER thought I would be able to carry around an entire library.

    Goodreads and my eReader have stepped up my reading ten fold!

    • Amber Lea Starfire

      @ MJones, thanks for the comment. I’m interested in your take about what online book browsing might be like. Do you also like to browse other people’s shelves? And is your experience with GoodRead something like that?

      For everyone — what do you see for the future of book browsing?

  • Marie E. LaConte

    I’ve recently joined Good Reads because I discovered a community there that reads a certain genre— Arabic language books translated to English. I want to resume reading this genre, and the Good Reads group has helped me do that.

    Good Reads offers groups for all kinds of genres. This instant affiliation with like-minded readers is not available in bookstores.

    I also love paper books, and browsing bookshelves. Certain kinds of books will never adapt well to the e-reader— recipe books, craft books, any kind of art book, instruction books using photos and diagrams, garden books, kid’s books with their enchanting illustrations.

    No matter how well they “improve” the e-readers, we will always need paper books— I hope.

  • Kate Farrell

    Amber, I think you are correct that most librarians might resist eBooks, not per se, but since a virtual library might mean no more librarians (or bookstore owners)!
    But I think that public libraries could become cultural learning centers with literary events and community activities rather than just warehouses for books on loan. Fascinating times!

    [Also, many online library catalogs offer a “browse the shelves feature” with book covers on digital display and links to reviews.]

  • dave terry

    I with you. Love the physical, tactile feel of books. Love the smell, the heft, highlighting them with notes. But. I really love my eBook reader. I read whatever and whenever I want.

    As far as keeping it all stored online somewhere, I used for several years. It’s easy to add books, just type part of a title. Now, if they just had a connection to my Amazon ebooks I wouldn’t have to add them by hand. There is a bar code reader (on the iPhone) that will let you upload your books to Good Reads:

    If you want to keep a local database of your books, check out Delicious Library 2. There is a bar code reader for it too:

    Hope this helps.

    (Disclaimer: I’m not associated with any of the above companies, except as a member of LibraryThing.)