Saturday, August 25, 2012

ereaders vs Dead Tree Books

Obviously I'm tipping my hand with the above title but I think the subject bears writing about.

I bought my ereader for several selfish yet practical reasons:

1)Portability. June 2011. I had just finished reading A Dance With Dragons. I liked the book and story. But curling up with that book was about as realistic as curling up with a cinder block. It had the heft and weigh at of a cinder block. It was a portable as as cinder block. Construction workers nearby asked if they could use it for a foundation stone.

Now, I'm reasonably strong and fit, I work out a lot, but that beast just kept getting in the way. I read all the time everywhere: At the gym in between sets, in doctor's offices, in line at banks and at the dreaded Department of Motor Vehicles, where I consider it a civil obligation to show the petty beauracrats I am not going to completely stop my day so they can make me wait for fees and forms to continue driving a car I own. But it was hazardous to try to take Dance With Dragons out anywhere but on my desk where it was supported by a solid foursquare oak frame.

I felt a sense of accomplishment when I had indeed finished the book and looked back over the size of the thing and saw that I had indeed passed through it all. But it was damned uncomfortable. Taking it out didn't just elicit odd stares which I generally cultivate "That's right, I'm reading you monosyllabic motherfuckers." But "Look at the guy struggle with that big book." I felt a bit like Charlie Brown in a Christmas special dragging War and Peace around. Like having a plus size girlfriend give you a lap dance. "Honey stop, people are staring.."

After purchasing the kindle the first book I downloaded was Brandon Sanderson's the way of kings. That too is a tome. It weighs in at over 1000 pages and is another doorstopper of a book. True it was in paperback but the paperback was the thickness of three metropolitan phonebooks. Opening the book and keeping it open was like trying to bend a nail with your fingertips.

2) Availability. I recently rediscovered several classic authors whose collected works were available for free on the kindle. Did I mention that part about for free? All these wildly obscure texts that are an English Majors wet dream like Wilkie Collins lesser known novels, Jane Austen's Juvenilia, Dickens Essays, Coleridge's LSD journal(ok the last one was made up). And for my (handful of) faithful readers consider this: No library anywhere in a 100 mile radius has a copy of Jack London's The War of the Classes. No book store in a 100 mile radius has a copy of that book. Amazon only has it as a Kindle book. There is no hard copy available. When I reflect on my thinking patterns and ideas over the past year no other book has been more influential. A game changer if you will. All possible thanks to the ereader.

Another aspect to availability is location location location. I live in the country. The nearest bookstore is an hour a way. The nearest decent bookstore complete with coffee shop, computerized inventory, and large breasted baristas is about two hours away. To buy hardcopies in a bookstore I'd have to spend about twenty dollars in gas just to get there.

Along with availability of texts was the fact I can have it right now. Yes, I sound like the annoying girl from Willy Wonka. But you know what? Getting the book right now spares me the shipping and handling fees. Spares me looking to my neighbors like a wacked out crack fiend amped on conspiracy theories while I check the front door every five minutes for the book to arrive via snail mail. Not only does the ereader keep me from waiting, but it also forced me to be a little more organized when it came to planning the book purchases. I want that one that one that one that one…wait, why is my amazon wish list over 2500 books long? Ok maybe its time to be honest with what I really want to read and what I hope to someday read and what I might maybe someday hopefully get excited about reading(I'm looking at you Jane Eyre).

3) Multiple texts at once. Another reason an ereader is the greatest invention since the condom Gutenberg press is the value of multiple texts in hand at one time. Someone once remarked that going on a trip with Hemingway was a pain in the ass because he spent most of his time packing books to take with him. He was afraid of being bored(like there weren’t enough animals to shoot or women to hump?). K I'm like that but without the native coolies to carry my bags so my family tends to get pissed off at me. Having an ereader gives you the option of if a book is boring the shit out of you, and as Nancy Pearl librarian extraordinaire says the world of books is too large and time too short to waste on a book you are not enjoying, a few clicks and you are on to the next one like a Kardashian through millionaire boyfriends.

4) Books in a series. For fantasy and sci fi geeks, as well I suspect of mystery lovers, the idea of having an entire series at your fingertips and in hand is immensely valuable for cross referencing. I have the following entire series on my kindle right now: The Wheel of Time(all 13), all the Malazaan series, all John Scalzi's Old Man's Universe series, the uhm er Halo series of books, etc. You get the point. When a text in one book makes you question something you thought you saw from a previous book(Wait..what year did Ms Marple contract syphilis?) the ability to check is again in your hands and only a few clicks away.

And to add a social dimension to the argument: pulling out a kindle in line, the dmv or doctor's office says a few things. You are obviously a committed reader because you've gone through the trouble of buying an ereader. You are genius level material because you read so often. Whether that translates to you are a superiour species that can demand prima nocturne on all females within a five mile radius though is doubtful. Still, you never know. People that don't read are highly suggestible are often easily duped.

The one counterargument I can understand is wanting to display all your books in your home. Dostoevsky, Hemingway, and The Wheel of Time novels occupied pride of shelf space for a long time. Like exotic pets they were on the top shelf. Then I picked up my copy of The Eye of the World and the prologue fell out. The books don’t look that cool if you have to wrap rubber bands around them to keep the pages together.

That and the idea that after a move I realized I had four copies of the Brothers Karmazov(2 of which were the same translation), I realized I might be overdoing it.

So maybe you can't display all your books and brag to your houseguests about your book collection. So what? The idea is to read, internalize, and understand the books. Do that and I'm quite sure it will be obvious to people who meet you that you are a reader.

And for a final unselfish reason consider the following article:

"Let’s do some math. In the USA in one year, 2 billion books are produced. To get the paper for these books requires consuming 32 million trees. We can estimate that one tree yields enough paper for 62.5 books. (Of course, these numbers vary depending on which expert you choose to believe.)
The 200 million free ebooks downloaded from Project Gutenberg and the WEF saved three million and two hundred thousand (3,200,000) trees."

Translation: if you step outside with an ereader don't be surprised if a tree hugs you, or starts humping your leg out of gratitude.

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