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Hitching a Ride On the E-Reader Train

January 10, 2012 6 comments

Not for me! I said of the e-reader revolution that was rolling through towns and cities, polarizing readers and providing a hot topic for book clubs. No way, no how, a digital tablet will never replace my relationship with the pure-driven paper variety that I caress each night by the light of my bedside table.  As Amazon is my witness.

I love books. I love their weight perched against my bent legs and love their smell, whether hot-off -the-press fresh or mouldy with age. I love the act of turning a page and the feeling of accomplishment it provides (I aim low). I love gazing at my book shelf, where I group my favorites together, and how the briefest glimpse of certain titles can make me feel happy. Books have a visceral impact on me; when the going gets tough, I head to the library or nearest book store.

What I don’t like about books is moving them. I discovered this the year we changed addresses three times. This set me off on a tumultuous relationship with my local library – it’s all  friendly and lovey dovey when my books are returned on time, not so much when a hardcover goes missing.

After one such recent episode, I turned my house upside down looking for my latest library book, and then headed to the Emergency Room of our hospital, where I’d last seen my copy, and turned that upside down. Twice. As luck would have it, my book was entitled When God Was a Rabbit, so the nurses in their scrubs looked at me quizzically when I described what I was looking for, wondering if I was a quack or simply a Buddhist.

At some point during this drama, I started to consider the purchase of an e-reader. Then the world began to conspire:  I read an article trumpeting how easy the e-ink is on your eyes (way better than the iPad, btw), and on the same day, my friend visiting from Atlanta whipped out her e-reader before I could even pour her glass of wine. She sang its praises, saying it was the best thing since, well, books.

After five minutes of extensive research, I ordered a Kindle. At best, I was mildly curious. At worst, it would gather dust alongside the ab-cruncher I thought I couldn’t live without.

The slim box was delivered a few days later. It was as streamlined as any Apple product I have had the pleasure of opening – no confusing manual to master and no assembly required. I plugged it in and an hour later was off to the virtual Kindle store. I was digging it so far.

I quickly realized there were a couple of clever advantages my gadget had that my native books lacked: an online dictionary, the ability to highlight passages, and of course the ability to have any book I would ever want  delivered to my device in about one minute. Inexplicably, I never turned my mind to that last little detail, which is enormously impressive but also potentially as dangerous as crack cocaine to my bank account. Hopefully I can read responsibly.

Here is a familiar scene: I fall into my bed, lights turned low, excited to escape into a fictional world, and I quickly come across a word that I don’t know, and can only guess at its meaning from the context. Or worse, it’s a word that I’m familiar with but unsure of its essence. I would like to know what it means, and suspect if I was the owner of a British accent I would indeed know what it means. But my dictionary resides a couple of staircases below where I am lying, as is my computer, and I am too lazy and forgetful to do anything about it. Two things you can never find in my house are matching socks and working pens, so writing the word down for future reference is also a challenge. Ergo the word remains masked in uncertainty.

E-reader to my rescue: I simply move a cursor anywhere on my page, and the dictionary meaning is automatically displayed in the bottom. The clouds just parted and the sun is shining a light on my swelling vocabulary.

When a passage or a line particularly catches my fancy, I like to make note of it. However, I have an odd phobia about writing in my books – I can’t bring myself to do it, I feel like I’m defacing property. Instead, I write the passage down in a journal, which can take a long time, assuming of course I find a working pen.  And if the author happens to be David Mitchell, this can bring on writer’s cramp. With my new gadget, I can easily highlight passages with a press of a button and it will be saved under my notes for that book. Narly stuff.

I find it as easy to hold as a book, and in fact easier than some weighty hardcovers, and I can’t remember the last time I charged it – the battery kicks my laptop’s butt. To be clear, it’s no tablet, but that’s okay with me, since I don’t want to be tempted by the internet during my sacred reading time.

Still, there are drawbacks: puddles and baths pose problems. So many books at my fingertips might be hard on my wallet. The gadget itself isn’t as attractive as the beautiful kaleidoscope of spines on my bookshelf.  And what could be more alluring than scouring second-hand book stores for gems? I don’t expect my e-reader to replace physical books altogether, but it only took five minutes to decide it is a brilliant addition to my library.