After finishing my second set of audiobooks on CD, I’ve decided to provide you lucky readers with a definitive ranking of reading formats. This is totally legit. Don’t listen to the naysayers.

No. 10 Reading Over Someone Else’s Shoulder

What? Are you telling me you haven’t gotten desperate?

This ain’t no way to finish a book, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. The problem is less that you’re reading over someone else’s shoulder. The real issue is that even if they’re ok with you reading with them, you’re going to read at different paces and someone has to wait at the end of the page, so you’re either waiting on someone else to finish the page or you’re getting interrupted when they finish the page.

No. 9 Audiobooks on CD/Cassette

Audiobooks serve a function, but they will never be my preferred book consumption medium. But why are CDs/cassettes worse than apps? Well, it’s the CDs and cassettes. They’re less mobile than an app, so you’re stuck within a car or next to a stereo. If you’ve got about 30 hours of driving to make, it’s fine. You can just constantly take swap discs every hour or so (endangering everyone around you), but there’s a big mobility issue. And scratched discs. Oy.

But other than the lack of mobility, the constant switching of the discs, and the generally lacking characteristics of audiobooks, the CD/cassette option works great.

No. 8 Audible/Audiobooks.com app

When you’re on the go, the apps are great (if you have space on your phone). I plug into my car’s stereo and listen on the way to work. I plug in and listen as I walk to the office. It works out pretty well. And if I’m on an obnoxiously long drive, then I’m not even worrying about cords past the first moments.

That said, this option has two big downsides. One, it’s still an audiobook. Listening isn’t quite the same as reading. You’re not getting as enveloped (and if you’re driving, that’s probably for the best). You’re stuck listening to a narrator that you hope is good. Some are better than others. Two, the apps aren’t cheap. The cost of subscriptions for these is more than I pay for Netflix. I can’t justify it. And if you buy individually, it’s worse. There are evidently some libraries that offer app options, but I haven’t been able to work out if I have access to one that does that yet.

For now, this is a pricey option that I can’t justify. I prefer the ease of use, but I’d rather pay nothing and play with 12 discs on the highway.

No. 7 iPhone

The ultimate mobility option that actually involves reading.

While reading on my phone allows me to read pretty much anywhere, it is still reading on my phone. The screen doesn’t offer much real estate, so I’m constantly thumbing through pages, and it lacks the heft of a tablet or books, so lounging on the couch doesn’t work out quite as well. It’s not ideal, but it helps to pass the time. Plus, the apps will link with other devices. Not a bad option.

No. 6 Tablet with iBooks

This one and the next are mostly the same, but I would like to differentiate. On a phone, the experience is what it is, so I don’t differentiate between the apps much. On the tablet, I’m more inclined to let myself get engulfed in the book, so the experience matters. At the end of the day, I just don’t like iBooks as much as I like Kindle’s app. Sorry, Apple. You can’t win ’em all.

No. 5 Tablet with Kindle App

Ah yes, the real reader’s app. Convenience gets me reading on a tablet instead of an actual Kindle most of the time. It’s unfortunate given it’s still not my favorite digital format, but the Kindle app works out pretty well. You’re still syncing between devices and you’ve got something that is at least approximately book-sized. The downside is you’ve still got a glowing screen. Nothing quite ruins a great moment like a glowing screen and a notification that you should be doing something popping up.

No. 4 Kindle

And the last of the digital formats. A Kindle isn’t magical. It’s not some dream device. It allows you to read books, keeping copies of what would amount to a couple of decent-sized bookshelves in one place.

The reason this is my favorite digital format is that it’s simple. You read books. You click your way through the pages and not much else. I’ve even got one without a backlight, so I still depend on room lighting. This is as close as you can get to a real book while still having to charge it, and that’s ok. It’s downside is access. I’m not good about keeping my Kindle charged because I don’t use it for anything else, and I don’t always have it on me like my phone.

Of course, a Kindle is an imitation of a book. It is not a book. It’s like a McFlurry. It’s fine, but we know you really want to be a Blizzard when you grow up.

No. 3 Hardback

Heresy, you say? Nay. This is where it belongs.

And I’ll double down: I don’t have it here for the cost. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to pay the obscene price of a new hardback, but that’s not the real reason. The real reason is the experience of reading the book. Hardbacks just aren’t comfortable to read. They’re durable. They’re stately. They look much better on a bookshelf. But they just aren’t as much fun to read.

They want to close. The covers (for obvious reasons) can’t be folded in, so maintaining that ideal grasp on the book just isn’t happening. And if you’ve ever had a hardback fall on your face as you were reading it lying down, you know its hazards well.

Hardbacks are fine, but they’re not my thing. I’ll buy them when I have to (by have to, I mean I’m in a series and the paperback won’t be out for a timeframe I don’t care to wait on), but that’s about it.

No. 2 Mass Paperback

Oh, my cheap little friend. Your pages fall out, your text is obnoxiously small, and I’m never quite sure how a new book acquires that smell, but I treasure you all the same. Mass paperbacks are fantastic. They won’t last, but unless you’ve got a series you intend to read repeatedly, does it really need to? If I’m reading a classic, I expect it to be a mass paperback at this point. The cost difference for different printings of classics is obscene, so I lived and died by the mass paperback. I still remember being very confused in high school when I picked up  Huckleberry Finn at the bookstore and there were two copies priced a few dollars apart. I couldn’t make sense of it. Why would I pay more for the same book, even one looks a little nicer?

But it couldn’t be number 1. A mass paperback might be cheap, but they’re cheap for a reason. As the child of an English teacher, I had access to a good amount of books, mostly mass paperbacks (again, child of a teacher). One of my favorite books is The Hobbit. I finally had to give up my original copy after duct-taping the binding to keep it together (this actually lasted a few years). There’s a copy of Texasville currently wishing I would invest in duct tape for it. And that smell. Why do mass paperback’s have a different smell? It’s like they pass through a musty old library before they’re allowed to be sold in bookstores.

No. 1 Trade Paperback

And here’s the holy grail. They last (almost) forever. You can fold them as you read them (hence almost lasting forever). And they’re the smell of a new book you’re really thinking of. You might think you like hardbacks, but really you want a trade paperback. They show more character.

When I think of reading a book, this is what I’m reading. Maybe I’m curled up on a couch, sprawled out across the floor, or scrunched up in an airplane seat, but I know what I’m reading. The pages are more substantial than a mass paperback, and you can have more fun with these. Size varies more. And so can texture. Eragon‘s paperback copy is probably my favorite book. It’s not my favorite read, but the book itself is fantastic. The edges of the pages are roughened to be like an old-school book, along with a roughened cover. There’s a feeling you can’t replace with any other type of book.

But maybe this is all just nostalgia. I tell you this is my favorite type of book, but it’s also how I tended to discover a good deal of series and authors over the years. Glancing at bookshelves, A Dirty JobHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Hunger Games, Twilight, Eragon, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, they’re all trade paperbacks, and I was absorbed in every page. You can’t take back the feeling of reading a new author for the first time.

Conclusion

There. That’s your definitive list. Next time someone asks if you have a favorite way of reading, you have a reference you can show them. If they argue and say “Isn’t it all a matter of personal preference?”, you tell them that “No, it is not a matter of personal preference. You clearly have inferior intellectual capabilities and therefore I will no longer converse with you. Good day, sir or madam.” If you really want to land the punch, say “sir or madam” even if you know whether or not they are a sir or a madam.

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