Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Drinking the ebook Kool-Aid

I stuck my nose inside a book when I learned to read, and people have been trying to pull it out ever since. Fiction is my first love, but I've been known to step out with a good non-fiction on occasion. Books transport, educate, distract, seduce. The abstract (stories, facts, opinions, conjecture, philosophy, even blathering drivel) is made concrete in books.

I love books as physical objects. I love touching them, flipping through the pages, breathing in their scent. When I walk into a used bookstore or the stacks in a library, the smell of old books triggers the pleasure center in my brain, and my mood lifts. So when ebooks arrived, I held nothing but disdain. Pundits prophesied the end of print, and I laughed. Right...like I want to curl up in bed with my computer until I fall asleep. Ebooks weren't portable. They weren't convenient. The whole idea was ridiculous.

Enter the portable e-reader. For the last couple of years, I've listened to people wax lyrical about their Kindles and Sony e-readers, but I remained skeptical. Not for me, I thought. They're expensive...$200 - $300 expensive. Then you still have to pay for the content. Plus, it's not a book. It doesn't smell like a book. It doesn't feel like a book. You can't flip through the pages to get a literal as well as a literary feel for it. No thank you very much.

My aversion bordered on irrational. I'm not a technophobe at all. My most prized material possession is my iphone. Seriously, I love the thing. If technology can improve something, I'm all over it. Why was I so threatened by the ebook?

I believe nostalgia accounts for 50% of my ebook aversion. Books have always been a source of happiness for me. No matter what is happening in my life, I know a good book will provide a few hours escape. And while the experience of reading is primarily intellectual or imaginative, it is also sensory. The cover art is visually stimulating and often the first lure in checking out a new author. The smell of ink on paper and the physical sensation of touching and turning pages add to the enjoyment.

The other 50% has to do with the idea of permanence. Books have existed as physical objects since man started writing things down. Books don't require electricity or batteries. A virus won't corrupt the data. Yes, I know books can be destroyed, but ink and paper don't seem as fragile as bits and bytes. As an aspiring author, I don't dream of seeing my name underneath the title on an e-reader. I dream of running my fingers across the raised letters of my name on the glossy cover of a physical book.

I know you can't fight the future. We're all barreling into it at light speed, and clinging to the past won't slow it down. So, I dipped my toe into the pool. I downloaded the free Kindle app onto my iphone.

*Insert sheepish grin here*

I now have one more reason to love my iphone. Amazon has a service called "one-click ordering." You find an interesting book, click one time, and shazam! The book is on your phone. I can have any book I want whenever I want with one click. So dangerous...so very, very dangerous. You don't even feel like you're spending money because you entered your credit card number way back when you set the account up. There's no mention of a monetary transaction when you "one click order."

The text is easily readable on my iphone screen, and ironically, more portable than a physical book. My phone is always with me, so I can read anywhere...and I do. I have always had a book for doctors' office waiting rooms, the hair salon, and such, but now I read in the checkout line at WalMart, at the post office, the bank, anywhere I have to wait. My attitude about waiting is vastly improved because I don't feel like my time is being stolen from me. I'm using it to do something I enjoy.

Then there is the massive pile of books in the corner of my bedroom, a constant source of aggravation for Bruce because I refuse to part with them. There are four more large boxes full in the basement. I do lend books to my friends all the time, but with a few notable exceptions, I never pick most of them up again once I've finished. When I'm done with a book on my iphone, I delete it because Amazon keeps a record of what I've bought. If I want to read a book again, it's in my archived items, and I download it again for free.

Yes, I've not only drunk the ebook Koolaid, I've drunk deep.

I probably won't shell out $200 for a regular Kindle. The app on my phone works just fine. Amazon is not losing anything on me with my "one click" fascination. I'm still secure in my love of print books. They're not going anywhere. For the casual reader, print is still the best game out there. Libraries full of print books are a load-bearing support beam for a democratic society.

The smell of ink on paper still hits my brain like brownies baking, but for instant gratification, you can't beat "one clicking" an ebook.


  1. Ok, now you've given me a reason to get an iPhone! I've felt the same way about ebook readers, but the convenience of having it when you are waiting (especially places you didn't expect a wait) sounds great.

    I apologize for the sudden, random comment. I am an old friend of your brother's and just started looking at your blog. Very enjoyable reading!

  2. I love sudden, random comments! You really can't go wrong with an iPhone. I loved it before the Kindle, and now it's indispensible.

    Thanks for reading!