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Why read a book when you can just hold one?
There's more to books than just words on a page, digital or otherwise. - photo by JJ Feinauer
What's the value of a book? Is it in the words, the monetary value, or maybe the "influence?"

How about the physical presence itself? William Giraldi's recent essay in The New Republic argues just that: In many ways, holding a physical book in your hand can have just as much value as the act of reading itself.

"For many of us, our book collections are, in at least one major way, tantamount to our children," he wrote earlier this week. "They are manifestations of our identity, embodiments of our selfhood; they are dynamic interior heftily externalized, a sensibility, a worldview defined and objectified."

Giraldi is concerned that we may be losing sight of the romantic power that comes with having a vast collection of literature at your physical disposal. E-readers are great, he argues, especially for how they facilitate travel. But nothing can replace the feeling of flipping through those pages, or even just gazing at their spine on a shelf filled to the brim.

The value of owning books paperback or hardcover doesn't stop at just sensory pleasure, though, as Giraldi points out with some interesting anecdotes. Filling a home with books is essentially building a sanctuary of knowledge, and that influence can have significant impact, especially on children.

According to a widely reported study from 2010, books in the home not on the Kindle have a trackable impact on children's educational level.

Simply providing access is the first and most important step in encouraging literacy development, The New York Times quoted educator Stephen Krashen as saying in 2011.

"Around the world, one thing that has been shown to be a consistently powerful predictor of academic achievement is a home library," the article continued.

That same Times article points out that a lack of books in the home doesn't always mean the parents aren't interested in reading. In fact, people in poverty seem to have the same attraction to books as those higher on the income scale. It's affordability that's the problem, not interest.

So why is the physical presence of books such a good investment, even for those who struggle with making ends meet?

"Poor parents may feel that they just cant afford books," Salon's Laura Miller wrote last year. "Of course, you dont have to buy a book to read it, but the act of giving someone a book of his or her own has an undeniable, totemic power. As much as we love libraries, there is something in possessing a book thats significantly different from borrowing it, especially for a child."

For hard copy books, the situation isn't so dire as to suspect extinction. As it turns out, the e-book revolution hasn't been all it was cracked up to be.

In fact, the mighty battle between e-books and their more tangible ancestors pushed against script last year, when Nielsen Books & Consumer reported that e-books accounted for 23 percent of book sales.

While that's certainly enough to keep publishers on their toes, it hasn't been quite the e-book-apocalypse that was prophesied. At least not yet.

But the case for hardcopy remains, in many ways, an upward battle. The fact of the matter is, e-books are cheaper, and easier to lug around. Twenty-three percent (as of 2014) isn't a takeover, but it's getting there.

"A life with books is incentive to remember, and in remembering understand," Giraldi wrote.

And for children, one of the most undervalued lessons they can learn is that knowledge matters. Education is cool. Books are interesting.
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