Sunday, December 14, 2014

Mondays on the Margins: Paper Books vs. Digital

So Lynn asked whether I usually read paper books or ebooks. Everybody say "Hi, Lynn", and then go over to her blog like I just did and get lost in a mini-wormhole of tiny potatoes and cool picture books (what's with all the hat-stealing animals, WHAT'S WITH THEM?).

We all know what my principles are worth. I mean, odds are pretty good that I will stand staunchly by rules such as the No Drop-Kicking Babies Rule and the No Leaving Mean-Spirited Comments on Blog Posts or Online Articles Rule, and I'm pretty sure I'll never set anyone's house on fire ON PURPOSE (look, there was a lot of caramel spilled, it seemed reasonable to turn on the self-cleaning function and the flames were all out within ten minutes - fifteen, tops - the smoke detectors didn't even go off). But other than that, don't believe me. "I will never start a blog". "I will never join Twitter." "I will never speak in public unless my children are being held hostage at gunpoint." These are all words that have left my mouth, and well, here we are.

So I did say I wasn't crazy about the idea of ereaders, but I didn't really trust myself to abjure them for all time.

A couple of years ago my sister and I got my mom a Kindle for Christmas. My sister told me to order it well ahead of time and it came quickly, so I had it to play around with for a few weeks. I actually fully expected that I would fall in love with it, but I didn't, really. My mom loves it, and she and my dad then gave my husband one for his birthday - he loves it too, for travelling.

That said, once I had an ipad and put the Kindle and Overdrive Media apps on it, my feelings changed. I could develop a sudden burning need for a specific book and obtain it instantaneously - this is a very dangerous thing. There's also the handy fact that I can read late into the night without the light on, which is beneficial for my poor husband, who learned long ago to sleep with a reading light shining on the other side of the bed, and also for family trips when we're all sharing a hotel room.

The ipad is kind of heavy, though, so I can only read on it if I have a pillow or something to support it. And the fact that ebooks from the library disappear when they've expired is good from the point of view of my continuing effort to finance my own wing of the Ottawa Public Library, and because I don't actually have to drive them back, but once in a while it's really vexing - a few months back I was in the middle of a really good book by Mo Hayder, and I thought I had one day left; when I got into bed I realized it was just after midnight and GODDAMMIT! I had to wait weeks to get it back again and then reread most of what I had read, which actually turned into kind of a cool reading experience. But I'm kind of suspicious of any book that can become unattainable due to a low battery.

I try to limit myself severely in the Kindle store, because it's way too easy to spend way too much money way too quickly. I try to limit myself (less severely) to library ebooks because once I borrow them I feel obligated to read them, and when downloading on a whim it's easy to load up on unanticipated dreck, and it also multiplies my problem of loading up on library books which then need to be read within a specific time frame, while the books I actually own wait even longer. It's so intoxicating, though! I'm borrowing a book RIGHT NOW when it's not even REGULAR LIBRARY HOURS! It's like I'm a library cat thief!

So anything I'm just borrowing from the library or that I want to travel with or just make sure that I can access any time, I'm fine putting on my ipad. But if I really love a book, I want to own the book. I've also realized that I have this habit, when I'm reading a book, of stopping fairly frequently to look at the author photo. I'm not sure if it's to remind me of whose book I'm reading, or because my feeling of my communication with the author changes as I read, or if it's something completely unconscious, but I feel kind of thwarted when I remember that I'm reading a book that doesn't have an author photo, and an ebook rarely does.

There's also the fact that, once you buy a Kindle version of a book, it stays in the cloud forever (as far as I know). Last month when I realized that I had book club in two days and had neglected to obtain the book, I bought How Should a Person Be by Sheila Heti for Kindle. I thought this was great - I could read the book in time. Then I read it and hated it, I mean, HATED it, and realized that I could never get rid of it now - its indelible stain sits there putridly in my digital library for all time.

I'm also a frequent and happy lender of books. I love knowing that part of my collection is out there in the world being loved by my friends (or at least getting some kind of action). But again, if I read a book digitally and love it enough that it needs to be lent, I can just buy a copy.

I did read a rather silly article by someone who gave away all her books and just bought e-copies of them. The descriptions of setting her books free in the wild was amusing and whimsical, but the notion that this made her somehow less materialistic than someone who owned the real books was perplexing. I still want to live in a house with books in it. I still love beautiful covers and real, turnable pages. Ereaders just mean I can carry even more books to even more places and read even when it's dark. So it's all good.


Lynn said...

I could write my own post about this, but instead I will just hijack your comments section! I asked for a Kindle for my birthday so I could check out the self-pub scene - Kindle Select is like the sixth publisher and there's such a huge library there now, for cheap. But so far it hasn't given me any desire to replace my paper books, or even to buy ebooks instead of paper for major publishing houses (which are usually almost the same price). The kindle isn't library friendly, either - I think I can check out an ebook, but then I have to convert it and manually load it onto the kindle so not sure how often that is going to be happening.

At poker last weekend I brought this subject up, and we all agreed that the ebook format was missing two things: the ability to lend books, and the ability to gift a specific book. I loooooove to give books as gifts and I search and think for hours to find just the right title for people, and it pains me to think that someday I'll just be handing out gift cards.

I've been thinking of writing to Jeff Bezos - head of Amazon, you can actually email him directly - with two ideas:
a) allowing people to pay an extra dollar for a "lending" ebook version, then being able to name up to three other Amazon accounts that can then (one at a a time) "borrow" that book you own; and
b) allowing me to select a specific ebook for someone as a gift, then Amazon gives me a code and I either print it out and wrap it in a pretty box or just email it to the recipient, and then they go to Amazon and enter the code and surprise! see what I picked out for them.

Interesting, your point about not being able to delete an ebook you don't like. I can remove stuff from my Kindle but you're right, I think it lives in the cloud on my Amazon account forever. Maybe I'll throw that into the Bezos email as well.

All this is to say that I'm not 100% sold on ebooks yet - but the Kindle does have some real benefits, especially that it's so incredibly light and it's backlit. In fact, both the older kids and my husband have casually picked it up and ended up reading something that I've got loaded on there (which so far, is just stuff by authors I know that they were giving away for free) I guess it might be a hit here, after all.

Lynn said...

Update: just went to my Amazon account out of curiosity and it turns out you CAN delete ebooks. There's a list and you can just check off stuff you've bought and wipe it out. Huh.

Also, forgot to comment on the idea of a home with no books - only ebooks. We went totally digital with our music a few years ago, and not having shelves and shelves of CDs is so freeing - but I just cannot imagine the same for books. Isn't it a known that kids that grow up in a house with lots of books do better in school? Growing up in a house with a lot of kindles just doesn't seem like the same thing.

And I agree, the ebook format just doesn't seem as permanent - if I really love a book, I want the paper copy to hold and cherish and lend and love love love.

Nicole said...

I love actual paper books. I ask for books for Christmas and birthdays and I treasure them. I am a re-reader and so you know my favourites by the ones that have fallen apart.

I always said I didn't think I could go to an e-reader, but you know...I have a friend who travels a lot and spends a lot of time in the hospital with her daughter. She told me that she loads her e-reader for long waits, and it made total sense, rather than lug around six books.

So I don't know. I don't have an e-reader but I won't rule it out. My husband - who now has "transitional lenses" (bifocals) prefers e-readers because he can increase the font size.

Shan said...

I love my ereader and I love paper books. I never buy ebooks, only borrow from the library. I always have my kobo in my purse with a library book or two on it. You never know when you have to kill a few minutes waiting. I also kill my lunch break with it, sometimes it's my only opportunity to read in a day.

I do miss being able to lend books. I jut finished a book that I wanted to share with everyone, but it was a borrow from the library on my kobo. I do pick up actual books from the library as well. I rarely read my kobo at home unless I'm dying to finish something up. I'm not much of a re-reader. There are so many good books out there I want to read I don't want to waste the time reading something for a second time. Any books I finish I usually pass along to friends. I don't need shelves and shelves on books. I used to have that, but over the years I've gotten away from holding on to them. Having cleaned out a few houses after the passing of relatives really changed my idea of what stuff I felt I needed to keep in my life, but that's just me.

Tudor said...

It's great to read all your perspectives - I LOVE eBooks because, as a writer, they let me make a living! So amazing. And, I feel like they let me reach out to new readers at, what I consider to be a very fair price (my novel is $2.99, and I sometimes put it on for free, and I have a $0.99 sale coming up). I think these are fair prices when I'm asking someone to try a new book by a new author.

I DON'T like eBooks that are overpriced. I think Amazon has it right, that an eBook should pretty much never be priced at more than $9.99 and, even then, the only thing I can ever imagine pricing at $9.99 would be my entire boxed set of collected novels, once I've published a bunch of them.

Ebooks are what they are - instantly available, non-space sucking (important in our small house) and, actually, I would say they allow you to connect MORE with the author, if the author's been clever about putting in a photo, and having end-of-book links to their website, etc.

They're not easily shareable, and you don't own them (not really - just a license to read them), and they don't serve as d├ęcor, and they should be priced accordingly.

The above is all IMHO, of course!

Steph Lovelady said...

I do see the appeal but I haven't gone there yet.

In the past week I've been somewhere-- gymnastics class, coffee shop-- where everyone around me was staring at a screen and I was the only one with a newspaper or book (a book written in the 1600s no less), and I feel like I'm one of a dying breed.

Hannah said...

The not-able-to-delete thing! THIS HAS BITTEN ME IN THE BUM.

I was browsing around in the Kindle store one day when I came across a book called - I swear! - "Abraham Lincoln, Presidential Fuck Machine". It was only $1.99!! I was feeling blue and sad, and a laughing devil took possession of my brain so I bought the thing. Read it in about half an hour - killing myself laughing the whole time because it is actually WORSE than the title would lead you to believe - and then tried to delete it.

BUT YOU CAN'T DELETE THINGS. EVER. For all time, I will be known as the dumbass who paid cash money to own that book.

Here endeth the lesson. I read ebooks very occasionally on my Android, but generally I must prefer to have the actual book in my hands.

slow panic said...

I'm bibooksual. ( I realize that didn't really work). Nothing will ever replace the feel and weight and smell of an actual book printed on paper and bound. But I love the convenience of an e-reader. Especially when traveling. I love that I can have a book on my iPad, nook and phone and pick up any of those devices and be wherever I was when I left off on another device.

I think I love actual printed books more then the ereader. My preference is to read real books. Nothing is ever going to replace the experience of actually going to the library and walking out with a stack of books I will never read.

On the other hand I love being able to access any book I want at any time (also very dangerous for me).