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What Really Matters in the E-Book v. Print Book Debate

The first book I remember plucking from my parents' shelves as a young girl is John Saul's "Suffer the Children." It was filled with creepiness, mild sexiness and psychological horror — perhaps not the best choice for someone so young (I think I may have been in late elementary school or early junior high). But in my eyes, it was a natural transition from all those Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books I had already gobbled up.

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From there, I went on to read every other John Saul book my dad owned. Then all of Mary Higgins Clark Clark and V.C. Andrews and Dean Koontz. I read "The Martian Chronicles" and "Lord of the Flies" multiple times, reveling in the sinister stories. By the time high school hit, it was all Stephen King, all the time (much to my English teachers' chagrin).

My parents sometimes worried aloud that my tastes trended a bit too much toward the morbid. But they let it go, because I was reading, and reading voraciously.

In fact sometimes, when I was supposed to be doing homework in my bedroom, I would actually read for fun. And then I'd hear someone coming up the stairs and I'd have to frantically fling my book underneath the bed and pretend to be absorbed in whatever textbook I was supposed to be working from.

God I hope my daughter loves reading half as much.

There was recently a piece in the "New York Times" that asked whether e-reading to your toddler counted as story time or screen time. The articles goes on to explore issues of interactivity and engagement and reading comprehension. But there's something else that concerns me more: ease of book discoverability.

(E-books and print books) are both only vehicles for the words that are inside.

Because, though there are many opportunities online to find amazing, new books to read, my baby obviously isn't there yet. First, she will be subject to my whims, captive in my arms as I read her board book versions of "Are You My Mother?" and "Sherlock Holmes." Then, she will be old enough to crawl or toddle over to her bookshelf, pulling books at random and either gumming them to death or demanding I read them to her. And finally, she will be old enough to start exploring my shelves, her attention drawn to titles on spines and colors on covers.

This is how she will develop her reading preferences — with what is already in plain sight, with what is begging to be plucked from the shelves and devoured. This is how she will develop her love of reading.

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Later on, I don't know if the e-book versus hard copy book debate will matter. After all, these are both only vehicles for the words that are inside.

But if she hasn't developed that love first — visceral and tactile and born of exploring her surroundings — why would she ever go looking for more online?

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