Then I realized that my real problem has less to do with my own experience than with the experience of my children. You see, it is very difficult to quantify how much of who we are can be attributed to different influences over the course of our lives. However, I can say without any shadow of a doubt that certain fundamental elements of my personality, psyche, and cultural tastes can be attributed to three books: Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins, Slapstick by Kurt Vonnegut and The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea.
These three books established by tastes in books in my early teen years, which informed my taste in movies, and (to a lesser extent) music. I went on to read just about everything written by the authors presented here (an undoubted relief to those who cringed at Slapstick being my Vonnegut gateway), and from there I took in a wide range of odd and unusual media that have made me who I am today.
Where did I encounter this strange trinity of life changing novels? On the huge bookshelf in my childhood living room. All were books that had been read by one or both of my parents, and tucked away carefully on the family bookshelf. I wasn't sat down with these books and told to read them. I simply had access to them and no restrictions on reading for myself. Decades of my parents' reading was there on the shelf ready to be discovered.
To this day, when I finish a book, I keep it on a shelf (or laying about in more conspicuous places, space permitting). This opportunity to discover works outside of the school reading lists or the Amazon recommendation engine is vital to the evolution of a person's view of the world.
Which brings me to my problem with eReaders. The possibility of this kind of incidental discovery is dramatically reduced in the era of digital reading. Sure, one could say that the kids are always free to browse your eReading device, but then you have a case where someone wanting to read your "copy" of Jitterbug Perfume will get in the way of your own reading of The Diary of Anais Nin. The process is not as organic or as simple as it is with a physical bookshelf.
The thought occurred to me that setting up a family server of books, similar to the bookshelf, but digital and stored on a hard drive or cloud account accessible to all in the family would be a relatively elegant solution. I think you all see where I'm going with this. Setting up such a system would be considered, under the guidelines of DRM protection, piracy. As such, it would require extralegal bypassing of digital restrictions. Establishing a method whereby children, other family members, or friends could naturally discover works that are dear to your heart (or even briefly caught your interest at some point before being stashed away on the shelf), is all but impossible.
Don't get me wrong. I realize that there are ways of making all this happen and some of the eReaders even have a "loan" feature. The process, however, is neither intuitive nor passive. One can not idly browse your digital reading history the same way they can glance at a bookshelf. Lives, including my own, have quite literally been changed by such casual examinations.
Until the world of digital reading provides a quality version of the family bookshelf, I'm going to stick with hard copy books as much as possible.
[Shameless Plug] I'll still offer my own works in digital formats, for those who prefer it. I'm a man of principle, not a foolish martyr.