Thursday, February 2, 2012

Not Quite Against the E-book

I am not, strictly speaking, an e-book basher. Neither am I an e-book reader. But the recent debate (inspired by Jonathan Franzen, who like most book lovers views the equation as an either/or division; who also, inexplicably, thinks "capitalists hate" traditional books because of their permanence, ignoring centuries of workers who have made the publication and distribution of books their trade) distilled a few points for me.

I'm a fairly heavy, if inconsistent reader. I can go days without picking up a book, then slam through 200 pages in an evening. I like books. I like the look and the smell of them, the color they bring to a room, the way friends notice the books lying around and the conversations this invites.

I also consume an unbelievable amount of digital text: work emails, NYTimes online, baseball blogs like Pinstripe Alley and Fangraphs and HardballTimes, the blogs of friends, g-chat, and all the corners of Wikipedia my curiosity drag me to. I don't want more electronic characters in my face, or in my life.

Carol has been reading e-books for a while now, and I think she reads e-books when she might not read the book. She likes the handling of the thing-itself less than I do, I think. She also has a harder time switching between books, grabbing a different book or the wrong one on the way out the door and then reading what you have, and the e-reader simplifies the "where'd I leave my book?" game.

I feel differently when I read. There is a climax in reaching the back cover of a book that I do not feel I would get from an e-book. The newspaper articles I read online only invite me further into the maze, drag me on to the next article. I don't know that an e-book would make me feel this way, but (so far) I have hesitated to risk my experience of a work on the new medium.

I'm sure I'll have an e-reader someday. When the books and readers are cheaper, when the copyright war is over, when they develop a satisfying way for me to annotate the text. The day will come, but it's not today.


  1. For me, e-books mainly serve the purpose of being able to read large books on a plane. (I'm slowly working my way through Gibbon's _Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire_ mainly while airborne.) But it's also made possible some novel reading phenomena. My wife and son also have e-readers, and all three of us have the same account. This allowed us to all read the same copy of _World War Z_ simultaneously. And the OCR on some free books that had been scanned in has provided some moments of hilarity (e.g. the opening of _A Tale Of Two Cities_ was rendered as "It was the beet of times....")

    I'm not giving up material books any time soon, though.

    1. I definitely see the e-book's advantages to your situation.

      Carol recently "borrowed" an e-book from her brother, from 3 states away. It's one of the reasons I'm anxiously watching the publishers work through copyright issues and the Gutenberg Project. These the chance we could see the idea of owning a book completely redesigned in the next few years.