Face Off: E-reader vs Traditional Books

Shannon Whitney

There are two types of readers in this world. The “old-fashioned”  romantics who live for the smell of stacks and crave the turn of a physical page to see a story unfold. In the opposite camp, the praticals. These readers want an entire library simply a click away. Switching books smoothly and a lighter alternative to a hardback is the obvious option.

Both get the job done, but while on the road what do you pick: Traditional books or an E-reader?

It’s time for a friendly faceoff. I polled the Team Tortuga Writers to see what people prefer and why. Our group had members of both sides and for full-disclosure, I read cold, hard books. Like the ones you get at the library, not the ones on your iPad. For the sake of science, let’s pro and con this out so you can do what’s best for your style.

Size and Weight

For a bunch of packing pros, bulk is the obvious place to start. We want to minimize the space our reading takes up, not to mention the weight it adds to the bag. Books aren’t light, kids; especially if it’s a long trip and you anticipate reading more than one. Fred mentioned he was worn down by carrying around a bunch of books on a trip and gave into the E-reader.

Shawn agrees:

“I CONSUME fiction, specifically sci-fi and fantasy, so e-readers are ideal for me. On my last 5-month trip I brought my ipad loaded with books and I worked my way through 5 different series. At a rough estimate I read over 30 novels that trip (LOTS of long bus rides). My reading habits demand an E-reader, which is exactly why I don’t always bring them.”

Wow, Shawn, we’re impressed. He brings up another great point…

Too Many Books

When I’m going to a new city or continent or country, I want to actually see what’s going on and participate in the culture. If I only bring one long-ish book to read, I’ll savor it. Knowing it’s the only reading for the trip I’ll keep it for the least-scenic moments, like the inside of a plane or late at night working off the jetlag.

As Shawn points out, sometimes too much is, well, too much.  E-readers open the door to possibilities, you’ll just need the self control to step away from the literature.

Fresh Reads

Just as I have talked you into reading a physical book again, I’m going to throw another curveball. There’s nothing more frustrating than finishing a story and being hungry for more- but not being able to find something in your native language. This is especially true if you’re in the middle of a series.

Jessie encountered this problem:

“For me, the biggest difference is accessibility. Once, right after college, I traveled to Prague and visited the Kafka museum. Afterwards, I really wanted to read a Kafka book while still in Prague, but couldn’t find any anywhere in English (though, I didn’t check the museum store, dumbly). If I’d had an E-reader, I could have downloaded it quickly — and possibly for free — and gotten my wish.”

The E-reader is a game changer when you need something new and you need it now. For the record, I picked up a Michael Crichton in a hostel that saved me from eight hours of hangman and subtitled airplane movies. Thank you to whoever left that behind. But would that have been my first choice? Probably not.

If you’re the kind of person who is reading a couple of books simultaneously, having them all on one device is a no brainer. A couple of our teammates mentioned reading region-specific books in addition to something fun. If you’re not quite ready to commit to carrying around a 600-page Russian classic in case you’re not feeling it after 60 pages, having some backups on the E-reader is important.

Along with having a world of options on the other side of the globe, E-readers offer a dictionary, note-taking options, highlighting and sharing without ruining your book (or the library’s).


While the electronic options have come a long way, there are a few functional drawbacks. For instance, they have to be charged. If you’re truly off the grid, that becomes a burden. You also have to remember to pack your charger. And to charge it.

Having any kind of electronic can attract unwanted eyes.

Jenn explained some of the practical inclinations to paper books:

“They don’t have to be turned off for take off and landing, and they are unlikely to attract any undue attention in the third or fourth world, where flashing an expensive piece of tech might”.

Isn’t there also a kinship about passing along a paperback to a friend after you’ve finished it? If all your books are digital, there’s no (physical) sharing. On the other side of the coin, you don’t have to share on an ereader and you can pick out any book you like, including recommendations.


I thought I may have been alone on this one, but Laura reassured me that she too, loves the real deal books because she just prefers it:

“One time my flight was delayed out of the New Orleans airport. Still had two hours to kill until my flight left, but I’d already finished my book. I was stuck without my usual time-killing method: reading. Only thing left was some e-books on my iPhone. So I gave ’em a whirl. That activity lasted about 20 minutes. The biggest difference between a book and an e-reader is the barrier between me and the story. A physical book evokes magic to invite me into its world. But an e-reader’s screen blocks that magic. I can’t lose myself in the story.”

No matter how many pounds you’re saving with your kindle or iPad, if you don’t like reading on a screen or a machine, that won’t change. It’s unexplainable, but I love to turn the page because that’s what I’ve always done.  I’ve finished a book or two on the Kindle App on my phone, but it’s not my first choice.

E-readers We Love

So if you’re ready to make the jump and purchase some reading technology, we have some suggestions. Fred recommends the Kindle Paperwhite because it’s lightweight and the backlighting allows him to read on dark planes.  Jeremy also endorses his Paperwhite because of the size, its ability to integrate with Amazon and he can take notes on it.

On the other hand is Shawn who uses his iPad to store the books he tears through. He likes the battery life, storage and the ability to use WiFi on it. He’ll also admit that sometimes it becomes a distraction because it’s so similar to a computer. Jenn uses her iPad as well. She likes that she can use iBooks or the Kindle App to have her choose of thousands of books on one light device.

Similarly, Jessie reads on her iPhone. She can discreetly download her guidebook and use it on the go.


I couldn’t end this post without a little Tortuga Book Club. Here’s what our writers would recommend to you for your next trip:

Fred Perotta- Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Jeremy Cohen- The Hard Way on Purpose: Essays and Dispatches from the Rust Belt by David Giffels

Jennifer Miller- Walking the Amazon by Ed Stafford

Jessie Beck- Pretty Good Number One by Matthew Amster-Burton

Laura Lopuch- Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Shawn Forno- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Shannon Whitney- Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Let us know your preference: Real book? Or E-reader? And, share your latest read!


There are two valid sides to the traditional book vs E-reader debate. In the end you have to decide how you prefer to read on the road.

Pro E-reader: Lightweight, Less room in your bag, Holds many titles, Find a book anywhere in the world, Read multiple books at once, Can highlight passages and look up words easily,

Pro book: Comforting, No electricity necessary, Not likely to get stolen or attract attention, Can swap, share and trade, No distraction of the internet or too much reading when you should be enjoying your surroundings


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