I love ebooks, leave me alone
Ever since the dawn of the ebook, I have heard one distinct cry above all others:
The ebook was another technical device out to replace a something traditional that had no business being replaced, just like the mobile phone replaced the wrist watch and instant messaging made us forego face to face communication.
Within this claim, there is also a word that’s frequently used: lifeless.
I even understand the notion, as I run my hands over an embossed hardcover version of a book I love, listen to the crinkle of pages and hold my nose to them for that smell of pages and printer ink that has even inspired scented candles.
The counter argument is similarly familiar and no less harsh: people talking this way must be generally unfit to handle progress and would probably found the devil in any discovery or invention, fire is too hot but still definitely preferable to light bulbs, cars are putting horses out of work, etc. etc. etc.
Alas, here I am, occupying the wholly unappealing middle ground that has become so rare in times of online discussion boards and forums. These are definitely parts of technology I dislike, too, as people behave without inhibition, but that is a topic for another time.
I am a regular reader. This you must know about me.
I taught myself how to read at four and haven’t stopped since. I don’t know what people do who don’t at least occasionally read a book, and I am not sure they know, either.I like going through people’s bookshelves, and I am a advocate for good book cover design.
Before the late summer of 2011, I didn’t think much of e-readers, either.
The devices were still fairly expensive, many of the books that interested me not available, and I lived not far from a fantastic Waterstone’s that was only so fantastic because a sales clerk with a genuine love for books and good recommendations worked there, who allowed me to sit in the middle of the shop floor next to the shelf with fantasy literature for hours on end.
I read whatever I found on the tables with genres and recommendations, had nice conversation and was generally quite happy.
At the end of that summer however, I found myself one day sitting cross-legged in front of the biggest suitcase I had ever owned before, bawling my eyes out.
I was going to Japan for a year, a journey that isn’t easy to pack for, but that wasn’t what had me in tears — around me I had stacks of books I couldn’t possibly imagine parting with, Cloud Atlas, the Time Machine, Sense and Sensibility, Water for Elephants… Among them was also The Complete Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. It was a hardcover.
For every book I discarded, I would weakly pick up another, previously forgotten novel from another nook, but it was hopeless, clearly my dear friend Holmes wasn’t the only one who wouldn’t be joining me.
My mother took pity on me and bought me an e-reader, which I filled with free classics, and it would soon become my only way to sate my need for literature (if you haven’t guessed it, reading Japanese novels still isn’t something I do for pleasure).
“That’s a special case!” the moaners moan, clearly assuming I discarded my reader upon my return and sunk back into the embrace of my rustly recycled friends.
Well, yes and no.
I am aware of publisher’s difficulty to cope with amazon’s prices, for example, and graphic novels should just never be purchased in digital formats, no matter how far the technology advances.
It’s perfectly fine to want to be traditional in some things, but once I owned a reader, I noticed several changes in my reading habits, and not for worse:
I read more. I feel this has to do with the concept of instant gratification reading on an e-reader panders to. I can purchase and read any book within seconds given I have an internet connection, and it made me quicker in deciding upon reading material. This isn’t a bad thing as long as I take the time to read an excerpt, which I would do in a different setting in any book store, too.
With knowing I can get another book once I’m done with whatever I’m reading, I actually do, there is less pondering involved, in a way also because I don’t see the rows and rows of different books I could have purchased. This does mark me as an otherwise not very decisive person.
I discover more. Now this is of course something booksellers and publishers both want, by giving readers a recommendation feature. The thing is, it isn’t half bad.
Enticing me with pretty covers, I’ve read more than one recommendation based on books I’ve bought previously.
Also, and this is something established authors and highbrow readers like to forget, ebooks have given many authors a platform they might not have had otherwise.
When it comes to quality, you might have to dig a little, but my ebook reader has made it possible for me to discover more than one indie gem I would not have read otherwise, to the point a writer got offered a publishing contract with a large publisher due to online success.
These were books I simply would not have found at my local book store.
I am becoming increasingly more aware of a wide selection of books. This is not entirely thanks to e-readers, but also to how social platforms have influenced my awareness of books.
I am now able to read advanced excerpts that have not made it into stores yet, creating an open discussion about work yet to come.
While it probably depends on the people working at your book store, in many book stores you are often first and foremost made aware of books someone thinks you SHOULD read.
What books do they have? Which of them do they emphasize?
At a book store I might be made aware of offering 5471 by John Grisham rather than a promising new author, because taste is subjective.
A book I like may not have been a sales bestseller, prompting additional book store offers or displays.
Of course online there is also an influence, but I need not care. With the knowledge a human being is on average able to read 1% of all books available, I can make that 1% count.
Ebooks have changed reading. I still don’t take my reader to the beach or the bath tub, and once in a while I will buy a book just to feel it. I also want to mention used books, who will retain their importance and treasures in different editions change hands.
However, I believe the overall important thing to be that we are still reading. However technology supposedly dumbs us down, we still read, no matter the device, and a lot of authors who complain about ebooks have no idea how many readers nowadays have discovered them online instead of a book shop or loan by a friend.
Stop heckling others and recommend them a good book instead.