English, Reading

Our e-readers, ourselves

Literary world golden-boy Jonathan Franzen this week told reporters that he doesn’t just hate e-books, he think they’re downright evil.

“The technology I like is the American paperback edition of Freedom. I can spill water on it and it would still work! So it’s pretty good technology. And what’s more, it will work great 10 years from now. So no wonder the capitalists hate it. It’s a bad business model.”  

via HuffPo

I’m going to have to beg to differ. Personally, I was leery of e-readers when they first came out–I wasn’t interested in anything that was going to supplant solid, comforting paper and ink books. I got a Kindle before studying abroad, and I have to admit, I pretty much fell in love. With my Kindle, I was able to get The Boston Globe in Madrid, London or Istanbul–in seconds. If I ran out of things to read while waiting in an airport, I could download a new book instantly. Plus, the best feature is that I could take the fifteen or twenty books and magazines I read over the course of the trip along with me in a single small device. It genuinely has made a big change to the way I get my reading material.

But I still buy books. A lot of them. I have so many books I feel like they just sometimes just manifest on my shelves even when I don’t buy them.

If I want something that I know is going to be an instant gratification, probably-never-read-again kind of book, like a trashy romance for the beach or a humor book that I’ll read in one sitting, then I’m likely to get it on my Kindle. It’s cheaper, and it doesn’t take up any space on the shelf. Books haven’t lost any of their magic, though, especially a beautifully designed, quality book that I know is going to be part of my library for life. Plus, real books have a quality that e-books don’t. It’s kind of like trying on clothes in a store. (Did you know you’re more likely to buy something if you try it on? It’s science.) When I can pick up a book in a store and flip through it organically, see the cover, feel it in my hands–well, e-books can’t do that.

I really do believe that e-books and real books can coexisit, and I think the implications of e-books for authors may actually turn out to be pretty cool. It’s amazingly easy to self-publish with Amazon now, and some people are actually making big bucks doing it. So it might be bad news for publishers, but it’s good for authors, and–in my opinion–it’s not going to be quite the apocalypse for printed books that Franzen predicts. Projects like Grantland Quarterly show that people will actually pay for print, if they’re getting something that’s beyond what they’d get from an e-book, in terms of design, innovation, or beautiful illustrations. If anything, I think e-readers may drive a renaissance for print, forcing publishers to be creative and make books that provide a visual, tactile experience that e-books really can’t.

Then again, I didn’t write Freedom and that book was seriously so good I wanted to barf, so what do I know.

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