Thu 27 Jan 2011
I have at last come around to the beauty of the e-reader.
Back in the long ago of 2008, I bought the first Kindle to use as an aid to reading manuscripts. It was nearly four hundred dollars, which boggles the mind even now. Why? Because Kindle 1 had serious problems: it was a poorly designed, clumsy device with page flip buttons in all sorts of weird places; it had problems with poor contrast and refresh rates on page flips; and it broke just after its year-long warranty expired. The latest iterations look pretty spiffy, but Kindle 1 was so awful and the customer service so terrible that Amazon forever lost my business.
After it broke down, I bought an iPad, but I never really used it for reading books. Wasn’t keen on the iBooks interface, with its silly animated page flips. Wasn’t about to give Amazon the satisfaction of downloading more books to its Kindle app.
Then I went on a work retreat/holiday, and I downloaded some books to the Nook app for the week. I read three of them. And now I don’t want to read books on anything else. In fact, I came home to find four books I’d ordered waiting. I returned them to the seller and downloaded them instead. This is how it will be from now on: I plan to get rid of many, many physical books. First big haul to sell at the Strand will be this morning before lunch. And you know what? I won’t miss ‘em.
I completely sympathize with those who fetishize physical books. God knows I do: I have a collection of signed first editions that I will never part with, and other books that I just feel some strange sort of cathexis for that goes beyond all reason.
But most other books I don’t need in physical form. For example, most nonfiction. I am a political junkie and consume books like Game Change and The Bridge like butter-slathered popcorn, but such books are topical and quickly outdated. Why keep an actual copy? And journalism such as the great David Grann’s collection of essays The Devil and Sherlock Holmes? I can’t wait to read it, but I don’t need to own it.
Sadly, this is true of most novels, too. Most novels are disposable unless they truly touch me in some way. In those cases, I’ll buy a hard copy of the book. (That’s how I operate now when I read a book in paperback and adore it—I end up tracking down a hardcover to add to the library.) But good as most novels are, few are so great that I want them lying about forever.
And now I can carry twenty books with me easily, and choose between books depending on my mood. I can switch from Patton Oswalt’s collection of essays Zombie Spaceship Wasteland to the most recent Newbery winner, Moon Over My Hammy—er, Manifest. And then I can reread William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition just for fun.
It’s amazing. My digital reader is making me read more and buy more books.* And I am never going back.
Has anyone else out there experienced a similar Saul/Paul conversion?
*Though not True Grit. I returned the physical copy I’d purchased and dragged along on vacation, where it went unread. But when I went to download it, discovered that the nookbook version costs more than the paperback on line. Really, Overlook Press? Is that how you want to play? Well, fine: I’ll read something else before I’ll pay more for a virtual book than I pay for the paperback. For shame.