Emergency Kit Essential: Books on Paper

It’s May 28th around 9:30 in the morning.  I’m guessing about the time because every clock in the house is off due to a power outage, and my watch is too far away to bother with.  As I sit listening to the hum of my neighbor’s generator, I think about my other emergency kit.  Not the one with batteries, flashlights, water, duct tape and whatnot.  I’m talking about my list of things to do when I have no electricity.

For years, the top of that list has been ‘Read a Book.’  Today, the question dawned on me: What if I go completely digital in my reading?  How long would an eReader battery sustain my primary activity if the power were out for days?  Will I find myself visiting my generator-owning neighbors asking, “Please sir, may I power up my tablet?”  Will I join an anxious mob at the local bookstore chanting, “Must have books… must have books…”?  No doubt, it’s a serious problem.

I had my first chance to try an eReader on a vacation when my sister, Colleen, brought along her Gameboy and a cartridge of public domain books.  A novel by G. K. Chesterton called The Napoleon of Notting Hill caught my eye due to an off-kilter, Monty Python kind of humor.  Even with a screen only a quarter the size of a standard paperback page, I found the read enjoyable.  I didn’t finish reading the book before the end of the vacation because Colleen, oddly enough, wanted to play games with her Gameboy.

When eBooks started making the scene, I didn’t know how the technology should or would fit into my life.  My questioning the role stemmed from my sense of wanting to “do no harm.”  From that perspective, I wanted to understand if authors would gain or lose from digital books.  Also, how would the technology affect the local economy?  Brick and mortar bookstores fuel the local economy in many ways and especially by employing people from the communities they serve.  Indirect support comes from the delivery channels it takes to keep the shelves full.  At least when you buy from Amazon you still help the local economy via the delivery pipeline.  With eBooks, you cut out all benefits after the initial purchase of the eReader.

With time, it’s become clear that digital publishing can be a big boon to authors.  Unfortunately, brick and mortar bookstores have not been fairing so well.  While I believe that bookstores will not disappear completely, we haven’t reached a comfort point of knowing how many will survive.

After I returned home from that vacation with Colleen, I went to the bookstore to pick up a copy of the G.K. Chesterton book and found they did not stock it.  This is the first time I couldn’t find a book I wanted in a local store – a truly paradigm shifting moment for a booklover like me.  With the book in the public domain and no money to be made by an author, I decided to load the book to my smartphone and further test the experience.  I found some very good reasons for adopting eBooks:

I can carry a large number of books at the same time without a bone-breaking, heavy backpack

  • No matter where I’m at, if I have a few minutes I have something to read
  • If I want something new to read, I can download a new book instantly

Yet, there are some good reasons to continue purchasing books on paper:

I can’t write in the margins of eBooks

  • Flipping through an eBook to find a certain passage is harder to do without the spatial memory you need to help remember the location
  • It pretty much takes an act of God to destroy a paper book, but one momentary act of human stupidity can wipe out an entire electronic library

So, that brings me back to sitting in my house with no power, wondering what I would do without something to read.  The answer is: I’m not going to let that happen.  Truly, there is room for both literary forms in the world.  It doesn’t have to be either/or, it can be both.  I want the books that mean the most to me to live on my bookshelves and share my space.  The ones that I enjoy in transience can exist on an eReader.  And the books I want with me during an act of God will be in my emergency kit.

Author’s Note: What books would you pick to be in your ‘emergency kit?’


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  1. Like Maureen above…*duhhhh*…and what a shift! A year or three ago, I would never have thought that; paperback books were the only thing. With the ever-changing technology, someday you may be able to take e-notes in books (like a Track Changes in Word). You can highlight passages, at least in my Kindle app, and somewhere I’ve heard authors can (or will) e-sign books for you.

      • Sue Remisiewicz on June 29, 2014 at 3:48 pm
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      It will indeed be interesting to see how eBooks evolve and grow. They’ve come quite a ways already. Thanks!

    • Maureen P. on June 25, 2014 at 7:35 am
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    What an absolutely cool concept: To remember books in our emergency kits!! “Why, of course!” I say, smacking self in head…. The Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) at the college I work at is “Read to Succeed.” So many students we find have trouble understanding concepts and have low reading comprehension, simply because they have lost the art of reading. With so much technology, and young people especially dependent upon it, ereading has to be the dominant wave. But we also have free for the taking book nooks all over campus, to encourage reading in all its forms. We also have a Speaker Series, during which we provide our students free hard copies of the presenter’s books. We never have any leftover – and yes, getting them signed by the author is part of the lasting fun of such an event! I also find that it is harder to proofread documents if all you do is read them on a screen. Reviewing printed documents somehow allows the eye to hone in on errors, both spelling and grammatical – and I’m not the only person I know who has found this to be true. Love your mention of not being able to write in the margins of ebooks! Dog-earring your favorite pages will be lost as well – and who doesn’t love picking up an old novel and flipping first to those specially branded sections of text. Thank you, sister Colleen, for inspiring such a great post!

      • Sue Remisiewicz on June 29, 2014 at 3:45 pm
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      Sounds like you have a great program at your college. Thanks for sharing how it works with both ebooks and paper books.

    • Claire Murray on June 24, 2014 at 10:02 am
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    Interesting way of looking at things. I like the points you made.

      • Sue Remisiewicz on June 24, 2014 at 8:18 pm
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      Thank you, Claire. I appreciate the feedback.

  2. Not to mention that you can’t get author to sign an e-book! Nice piece

      • Sue Remisiewicz on June 24, 2014 at 8:17 pm
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      That’s a good point, Phil!

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