He'll take the actual book.
"As soon as I even tried it on Kindle, I knew I couldn't do it," said Johnstone, 21, from New York City. "You want a sense of measure, you want a sense of scale in how far you've come in book. And on a Kindle, you can't tell that."
Johnstone is one of 20 students in Professor Jeremi Suri's upper level history seminar who was given Kindle DXs - one of Amazon's digital readers - to use for free as part of a pilot program at UW-Madison. UW-Madison Libraries purchased them last summer for $10,000 with private gifts from the Parents Fund, at a cost of $500 a piece.
The students got the Kindles pre-loaded with all eight required texts for Suri's course, which includes Leo Tolstoy's "War and Peace." Next semester, the Kindles will go to students in a class Professor William Cronon is teaching on environmental history.
Suri said he thinks some kind of digital reader is the future, even if it's not the Kindle.
"We need to stop acting like the critics of the automobile in the early 20th century, calling it just a phase," he said. "It's not just a phase."
The readers are slightly smaller than a standard sheet of paper and weigh less than a pound. The DX has the largest available screen of digital readers and can hold up to 3,500 books.
Advocates say digital readers could help solve the chronic problem of high textbook costs.
Although there's a steep one-time cost, books are relatively inexpensive to download, less than $10. Plus, there are thousands of free books available in the public domain.
But the Kindles have disadvantages too, and Johnstone isn't the only student in Suri's class to decide to purchase an actual book.
Jenna Hindi, a senior from Oak Brook, Ill., said she also bought a physical copy of "War and Peace" because her Kindle's battery died.
But Hindi said she enjoyed using her Kindle. "Now it literally feels like a weight on my shoulders to have to carry the book everywhere," she said.
She also liked a highlighting function that allowed her to save important passages in an electronic folder.
Ken Frazier, director of UW-Madison Libraries, said he hopes to conduct a trial of Apple's version of a digital reader - the Tablet - when it comes out.
He said he doesn't foresee a time in the near future when the readers become mandatory for UW-Madison students, but he thinks their usage will increasea as more texts become available.
But Johnstone, for one, is no convert. He read Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" - another required text - on it, and liked that experience better than reading Tolstoy. But said he "absolutely would not" purchase one.
"Part of it, I will completely concede is aesthetic," he said. "I've been raised reading books. I like the physicality of books. I like holding one. I like seeing how far I am."