For a long time I was one of those people who crinkled my nose at the thought of reading a book on a screen, waxing poetic about the irreplaceable sensory experience of holding paper in my hand.

Today, I'm over it. (Especially with an exciting recent announcement from Morrisson-Reeves Library here in Richmond - more on that below.)

Not that I don't still treasure the sensory experience of reading a real book, and not that I don't still feel a little guilty doing my part to nudge us toward the end of an era every time I pick up my Kindle.  But a few things happend to push me past my reluctance about using e-books and e-readers:

  1. I noticed other friends who I thought of as equally or more committed to the authenticity of reading an actual book starting to sing the praises of e-readers, the Kindle in particular.  They raved about the simplicity and flexibility of the Kindle experience, the lighter physical load to carry, the sleep-mate-friendly light built into the case, the wide range of selections available...it was too much for a gadget lover too ignore.
  2. I kept encountering books I wanted to read, but that I didn't want taking up the physical space in my life via a spot on the bookshelf or, worse, packed away in boxes.   Borrowing from a library or a friend can accomodate that to some degree, but there were still enough times where I wanted to just buy a book and have it to start reading when I wanted for as long as I wanted.
  3. I found a refurbished Kindle for under $100.  At that price point it was pretty difficult to pass up trying it out, knowing they have good resale value in the worst case scenario.

I've had my Kindle 3 for over three months now, and I'm really enjoying it.

There are plenty of other in-depth reviews about the device, but I'll say my general experience is that it's been the closest thing to reading a paper book without actually reading a paper book.

The screen doesn't look or feel like a screen, it feels like a page of a book, even after many hours on the eyes in a variety of lighting conditions.  The "workflow" of reading - browse for book, find book, buy book, start reading book, turn pages, finish book - is largely unchanged from a traditional book-reading experience.  The device barely does anything else, and so I'm not distracted by temptations of online research, checking my e-mail or seeing what the latest headlines are (I would not buy one of the newer Kindle tablets/multi-purpose touch devices for that reason alone).  The battery life is phenomenal - measured in weeks - and I'm driven to make it last longer by keeping the Wi-Fi turned off, further reducing any sense of being "connected."  And if there are books where I really want the physical copy for whatever reason, I still have that option...for now.

The end result is that I've been reading more than I usually do, reading different kinds of stuff from what I might normally decide is worth having in book form, and cheesy as it may sound, really rediscovering the joy of immersing myself in a good book.

For now at least, e-books are not that much cheaper than "the real thing," to buy new, which is why when I first got my Kindle I created an account on BookLending.com.  Within a day of posting a request to borrow a new release I'd been eyeing, a total stranger had loaned me their copy, saving me a few bucks.  Amazon has also recently recognized the desire for e-book borrowing in launching their Kindle Owners Lending Library for Prime members; I just finished reading The Hunger Games borrowed through it.  They also have the Kindle Daily Deal program, where for a 24-hour period they significantly discount the price of a particular e-book; I've bought a few books for $0.99 that I might not have gotten at $14.99.

Perhaps most exciting is that the e-book borrowing experience has come to my local library.  This weekend, Morrisson-Reeves Library announced the availability of e-book lending through their website, as a part of their use (along with other Indiana libraries) of OverDrive's digital lending services.

I was able to browse a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction e-books, and within minutes I had a copy of a book that perfectly fit in the "might borrow it from a library but probably wouldn't buy it" category (George W. Bush's Decision Points).

Jenie Lahmann, PR Coordinator at Morrisson-Reeves, said in a press release, "it is easy to use the service and best of all its free to use it with your library card. Also, no late fines for items you download."  From the number of titles where all of the available electronic copies have already been checked out, it looks like this service will be a popular one among Indiana e-reader users.  For those who don't have such a device, libraries like MRL are also exploring having some on hand to check out for patron use, in the same manner that they make computer labs available for accessing online information.

E-readers and e-books, and lending services like MRL's, open up all sorts of new possibilities for educational use in homeschooling or in the school system, workforce training and professional development, and self-publishing.  I realize that a number of folks have been on that bandwagon for a while now, but I do think it was only recently that the quality, price and selection of e-readers and e-books made them accessible and reasonable for the masses.

I'm obviously enjoying my Kindle reading experience.  What's your take on e-readers and e-books?