August 30, 2008 at 6:21 am | Posted in Book Blather | 3 Comments

The first time I ever heard of electronic books, I was outraged.  I thought it was about the dumbest thing I’d ever heard of.  I couldn’t imagine having the same reading experience through a cold, hard electronic object rather than a nice warm book.  E-books would totally lack the aesthetic of a book – the smell of ink and paper, the colors and cover artwork, the heft, the ability to tell by feel how close the end of the story is.  It also sounded totally impractical, trying to read off a screen.

Then, of course, I actually downloaded and read one (The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin).  Impractical?  Suddenly I was carrying around an entire book inside an object that lived in my purse anyway.  It marked my spot for me, which is handy when you have a) small nephews and b) a parrot, creatures who agree that pulling out a paper bookmark is great fun.  I could read anywhere I went, like in line at Costco or while waiting for a friend.  Then the lightbulb went on and I realized my PDA could carry half a dozen books!  I used to travel in such a way that, invariably, anyone who picked up my suitcase would say, “Oof!  What have you got in here, bricks?”  My formula was number of books to pack = (number of days of trip + 1).  Now I’m doing much better – the last trip I took lasted 11 days and I only brought three books.  (Granted, they totalled 2000 pages, but I’m trying).

What I have is a Palm PDA I bought on eBay for $50 back in ’04.  (The same model, from 2001, can be had for under $10 now).  It’s the last of the line before they went to color.  I work in a technical field so I get a lot of grief for this, but hey, it has the best battery life of anything out there.  So I’m reading these books off a two-inch square screen.  My older friends, those past 40, shake their heads and say I still have “young eyes.”  This explains some things to me, one being why the Kindle is the same size as a regular book.

Now e-books really seem to be taking off.  There appear to be two different directions to this; one is the Kindle and the other is… the cellular phone.  I can see the appeal of the Kindle, although I’m not about to spend that kind of money at this point – maybe I’ll get a used one sometime around 2011.  But reading on one’s phone?  I must be missing something here.

On the other hand, the fact that people are downloading stuff like The Wings of the Dove or The Mayor of Casterbridge to read is somewhat heartening.  Consider all the other things a smart phone can do.  Yet someone, somewhere, is squinting at one and wearing out his thumb trying to read through The Heart of Mid-Lothian, and hoping nobody calls until he finishes this chapter.



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  1. I dunno… I think I’m still outraged. Books are such a multi-sensory experience. The feel and smell are almost as important as the look. I can’t imagine giving that up.

  2. You make some good points, but I don’t think an electronic device will ever take the place of how a book feels in my hand.

  3. Agreed, e-books are like store-bought pie crust – convenient in a pinch, but just not as good as the real thing.

    Plus it’s harder to smash a spider with an e-book…

    But the main reason I’ll never make the switch permanently is that I’m limiting myself to free titles.

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