wherein an e-book reading experiment is conducted

At the very bottom of my website you will find a small, hand-drawn picture of a pile of books.  “I pledge to read the printed word,” it says.  And I do, oh how I do.  But e-books are out there.  They are in the news (“Is this the end of publishing/bookstores/reading?!”), and they are in people’s hands on the train via futuristic little devices that always make me think about how this is the future that science fiction authors didn’t see coming, blinded by larger devices (time machines and hover craft) as they were.  I wanted a taste, to have an informed opinion, to not just hate them on some sort of made-up principle.  So I read an e-book.  Then I read two more.

The Moondwellers by David Estes

I am, perhaps predictably, a member of a post-apocalyptic book group on Goodreads.  When David Estes offered a free copy of his (e)book to folks in the group in exchange for an honest review, I decided that the time had come to try e-reading.  Oh dear.  Not having an e-reading device, I read it on my computer, which was not ideal, but hell, I read a lot on my computer as it is, so why not?

Reading, I found myself having trouble taking Moondwellers seriously.  How much of this was due to the writing (which was passable, but lacking) and how much of this was due to the format?  Every great book I have ever read has been printed on paper.  This is a coincidence of my time, but it plays a huge role in how I perceive e-books.  If I had read the classics on my computer or on a Kindle, all my favorite books, would I feel the same?  Would the medium take away from the work’s beauty if I associated it with both wonderful and terrible writing?  I wasn’t sure, but guessed that, after a couple of positive experiences I would be able to shake the feeling that I was reading a draft.

As for Moondwellers itself, I didn’t like it.  E-book or not, it was…drafty.  It attempts to use a teenage voice in a way that I found unconvincing.  The story was compelling, the setting and situation interesting, but the telling was not well executed.  One of the main characters (the story is told from two perspectives, one male, one female) was an arrogant idiot who I couldn’t stand.  And there was far too much groan-worthy cheese.  But as I don’t like to write book reviews about things I wouldn’t recommend (what is the point of wasting my words and your time when a simple “don’t read it” would suffice?), I won’t say anything more about it.  May folks who enjoy this sort of thing—and I think there are plenty—get their hands on it and may David Estes live happily ever after.  The end.

Whore Diaries: My First Two Weeks as an Escort by Tara Burns

I undertook my second e-book experiment when internet friend Tara Burns published Whore Diaries.  I have loved reading her subscription blog for years—she is a great writer and she has a hell of a story to tell—and I can say the same of her first e-book.  Her take on escorting is philosophical and unorthodox.  The Tao of Tara.  She begins with “Conversations With God in the Titty Bar,” and ends far, far too soon.  Write a longer book next time, huh Tara?  Then again, business master mind that she is, she might just prepping readers for the longer book to come.  I certainly hope so.

Reading Whore Diaries began to raise my opinion of e-books, as did the experience of reading on my phone on the train instead of at my computer at home.  The convenience of having several books with me wherever I go in such a small package is seductive.  I was starting to like e-books.  Looking back, I realized that I had had trouble taking Moondwellers seriously because of the quality of the writing.  I was warming up to e-reading.  I couldn’t, still can’t, fucking believe it.

Ten Thousand Miles by Freight Train by Carrot Quinn

Three times a charm.  And how.  My third experiment involved reading Ten Thousand Miles by Freight Train by Carrot Quinn who I’d known through her blog and mutual friends for years, but have never met.  She’s an excellent writer of the Annie Dillard school, and her prose has come a long way since she first started telling her train hopping tales on the internets.  Her recent post about How to Be Poor is the most wonderful thing I’ve read on the subject in a long, long time.  (Maybe ever?  My memory is not whole enough to say for sure.  If you are thinking about quitting your job, this is on the syllabus.)

The main downside to e-booking so far, has come at review time.  I enjoy reading on my phone.  I enjoy the convenience of always having a couple of books with me, but I haven’t gotten the hang of marking passages yet.  This, in combination with the format, means that, come review time, I can’t sit down to thumb through it again, letting my eyes find passages of interest a second time, helping me sum up the experience in words.  Scrolling just doesn’t do it for me, and my eyes are less likely to stick somewhere relevant on a screen.  But!  The find feature!  Because of the find feature I can share my favorite metaphor—and Carrot is quite good with metaphors—in the entire book, can give you a tasty little morsel to get you ready for a delectable meal.

She is describing hitch hiking, and the way that the people who pick you up tend to spill their life stories.  Why do they do this?  “Talking to you is like stuffing a note into a bottle and tossing it into the sea.”  Brilliant.

and beyond

It was around this time that I discovered a number of sources of free e-books.  Books that I would have liked to have taken out of the library, that weren’t in the library here, but that I had no intention of buying are now in my phone.  This is incredibly exciting, and I am catching up on all the books I have been listening to people chat about, but didn’t have library access to, for the past several years. And I am finding myself e-reading more and more often.  On the train (no book to forget or lug around in my already full-of-baby-crap bag).  In bed at night (no need to turn on the light and disturb Pickles and the Beard, as the phone creates its own light).  In line everywhere (since my phone is always with me, I always have about thirty books on hand, which is just fucking great, particularly for that moment when you finish a book unexpectedly but didn’t think to bring a second read).  I can’t imagine buying a Kindle or similar device—it would negate many of the positives that have convinced me—but reading on my phone (whose identity has stretched from just phone to phone, book, computer, dictionary, notepad, mp3 player, stereo, and game console) has been a very positive experience.

Thanks to a stupid little piece of metal and plastic I am able to read more voraciously than ever, to use every single stolen second to indulge in a few more sentences.  It has happened.  I am an e-book convert, though my religion remains dualistic.  E-books and paper books—there is room for them both, it seems.  (But don’t forget that YOU are the tide on which your local bookstore rises and falls, so support them with hot cash!  If we want to keep both paper and e-books in our world, we’re going to have to show it.)  Now if people would just stop attacking the library system…

0 Comments on “wherein an e-book reading experiment is conducted

  1. I am curious: What phone do you have?

    Kind of surprising to find out you own what seems to be a state-of-the-art cell phone.

    Mine is too small to read long texts comfortably, though it is possible.

  2. Jan: Hahahaha, true true. I can hardly imagine myself with one. I have a Samsung Space Phone, umm smart phone. With all the touch screen jazz. There were three factors involved in my getting it. 1. My old phone died. 2. Part of what people pay me to do is be a Community Manager, which means I need access to the internet pretty much all the time. and 3. Curiousity as to whether I hated or loved the new fangled toys of kids these days. Turns out I realyl like it, though I still don’t like typing with the touch screen. Should have maybe gotten something with real buttons for that bit. Ah well.

  3. i can’t imagine getting into e-books because i hate reading anything lengthy on the computer or phone. and also stubbornness: they’ll pull the books from my cold, dead hands and whatnot. that said, if i lived somewhere without a good library (in my native tongue) i could see myself getting into it. but, given the choice, paper is the way for me. i think it would also be hard for me to not think of what i was reading as a draft, or a blog post or article, like you said.

  4. loved this post. i have recently started getting hooked on kindle and ebook editions after growing up with the printed word. I share your opinion that you can love both and both are here forever:)

  5. finn: I hear you on them having to pry them out of my cold dead hands. Though what I keep thinking about lately is why am I so attached to paper books? I mean, it is the words that are the meaningful bit right? Just now I was thinking that the whole tactile experience really adds something to it. The e-reading experience is in no way satisfying in that respect. Though I could imagine that there theoretically could be some boko form that would be satisfying that isn’t made of paper. But I can’t imagine what it could possibly be, and if books start changing forms every ten seconds (like moves with the whole vhs, dvd, blueray whatever the fuck), well that will just be stupid. Anyway.

    Sarah: Well, if we ever use up all our resources to the point that a lot of electricity use isn’t feasible anymore or creating the devices isn’t, then I can imagine e-readers not being around forever. Books seem more sustainable as far as the resources they need go (though not in the mass form they are getting made in now, and probably not with the kind of paper used now and inks and etc).

  6. it’s definitely interesting to consider different ways of reading the written word. i think maybe books are so satisfying because they were designed to be read? like that was the entire design behind them, whereas e-readers and phones are more of a compromise to the modern way of life. companies are trying to design more satisfying ways to read things on screens, but since the essence of reading on screens is pretty uncomfortable to begin with, it seems like they might never get to the tactile comfort of a book. (and not just books, because i would rather read a newspaper or a scroll than a screen.) or does it have to do with the posture of reading a book? is it harder to imagine really curling up and getting comfortable with a phone screen?
    i guess thinking about e-books makes me think of books on tape. i’ve always felt strange saying i read something that i actually only listened to. e-books are sort of the in-between, yet i’d still rather listen than read a screen.

  7. Okay – if you have a fave book/s keep them on paper. Really.

    I’ve had two Kindles die on me inside of two years – the first one had a screen problem and the second one had software issues that Amazon seemed completely relaxed about (I’ve heard that the built in obsolescence point of ereaders is around a year so each of mine kinda support that theory). I got refunds and won’t be buying another ereader. This position became even easier once I heard about the ‘no-ownership’ principle behind e-books.

    Luckily I had only got rid of classic texts that remain freely available via Project Gutenberg etc (and I can still access them via my notebook computer should i wish to).

    I agree the words/ the message are the main point but if you don’t actually own the text and can’t access it unless you keep investing in technology… it’s best to buy likely favourites in paper format.

  8. finn: Good point. Was paper actually invented in order to be used for writing and reading? I just realized I don’t know jack about the history of that. One thing that is different for me is that I find reading with a phone in my hand a lot more comfortable than with a book a lot of the time. I always end up with book arm really quickly. Particularly since Pickles showed up, most of the time I’m reading while nursing, aka not in the position of my choice aka my arm starts hurting really quickly if I have to hold a fat book up. I’ve always kind of hated reading paper newspapers as well, I don’t like the way the paper feels at all. So for those two instances I like the reading experience more. Surprise surprise, most of all to me. I feel the same way about books on tape too. I feel strange saying I’ve read something if I’ve listened to it. Such a different experience. Oo, actually I’ve been thinking about the oral versus written story thing a lot lately because of something else I’m working on. Can I send youa message and pick your brain?

    Lily: Oh don’t worry, like I said to Finn, they will pry the real books out of my cold dead hands. I am using ebooks exclusively for books I would have gotten out of the library (I have two seperate reading lists, one of books I am so sure I will like that I want to buy them, and one of books I am less certain of and want to borrow from a friend or check out of the library). When I love something to bits I will buy it on paper and no way in hell am I getting rid of my paper books. That sounds absolutely horrific, what happened to you. And that amazon didn’t even seem to give a shit! That’s not going to do them well business wise in the long run. Makes me want to go back to crying death to ebooks again. 🙂

  9. you can definitely send me a message. the oral/written thing is interesting, especially with what lily was talking about. computers make me uncomfortable partially because everything on them doesn’t really exist. the essence of written word is its being able to be passed down, that humanity’s knowledge is built upon through the generations, etc, so when everything (including photos, records, books) is moved to digital there’s a level of… erasing that? taking something tangible and making it formless again. just like oral histories can be lost, so can everything digital. hmmm.

  10. I’m just catching up with your blog and found this. Holy crap, thanks! I’m glad you didn’t give me a review like you gave the first guy.

  11. finn: Message sent.

    Tara: No problem. And of course you didn’t get a review like the first guy. Your book is good. His was not. Can’t wait to read the new one!

  12. Pingback: the year in books 2013 and a book-lover blog hop | click clack gorilla

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