Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Electronic Books: Would I Go There?

Electronic book machines are coming out of the woodwork these days, surprisingly enough, in time for Christmas. As a lifelong reader, the question arises: would I go there?

Well, I already have, in my own way: I read my news on the computer.

I read the Washington Post, New York Times, AP News and BBC News on my computer daily. Those sources are in my browser toolbars, and I click on them before I open any other pages. I peruse the headlines and scan the pages to see what the media think I need to know. I regret to admit that I do not subscribe to any print news sources or newspapers (though I would be glad to support the Web sites I use with a subscription).

I do receive sales papers on my doorstep — and, when my neighbor Kathy is home on a Sunday, her copy of the Sunday WaPo. (That's Washington Post, for those of you outside of the metro D.C. area.)

As a former newspaper reporter, I should be ashamed. I should have ink flowing through my veins. I don't. I hate newsprint ink on my fingers, hands, arms and clothing after reading the paper. (No, I don't roll around in the paper to get that dirty. Try carrying newspapers in your arms and see how much ink winds up on your clothes. Smarty.) However, I love the news. Good heavens, I just realized: I'm a news junkie!

But back to the topic. I like the neatness of e-newspapers. I can read news stories on the computer all day. Well, let me clarify: I can read news articles for short bursts on and off all day. I do not stare at the screen for hours absorbing the news, not even on the weekends.

News articles have shortened to the point that Jeff Goldblum's character noted in The Big Chill: you can read the articles while on the toilet. (You're welcome for the paraphrasing.) I still read, and love, longer articles — but I rarely find them, and often wind up having to read them in installments, especially those from The New Yorker magazine. (The cartoons, thankfully, I still can read in one shot.)

But books — would I go "e"? No, books for me are not meant for the monitor or LCD, even when it's small and pocket-sized.

Some multi-feature cellular telephones have book-reading applications, but I don't want to use my cellular telephone to read a book. I'd go blind. The 3-inch screen is not meant to do more than show me what the phone is doing at that very moment.

I don't want a machine I carry in my purse, briefcase or backpack. I've tried viewing my digital camera's LCD screen in the sunlight, and I don't want to have to fight the sun, which is supposed to make reading easier because of its helpful light. I don't want to worry about dropping it and having to shell out a few hundred dollars more to replace it. I don't want to have to worry about it falling in a pool or getting splashed at the beach. My family kills electronics in water or finds their phones wiped clean of all information, and I don't want to follow suit with something I can't afford to replace regularly.

Would a machine make it easier to carry around my library? Would it reduce my pathological hoarding of books? (I have regaled my friends time and again with stories of the 25¢ copy of The Phantom Tollbooth for the home library, so I can lend out multiple copies at a time, or a dime for Franklin's autobiography.) Could I get some classics for free online and carry them with me to read at any time? Absolutely.

And yet....

I enjoy the heft of a book in my hand. I take pleasure in reading in direct sunlight (or by flashlight, even). I feel at home surrounded by stack of books on my nightstand and thousands of books piled on every flat surface in my home. I like perusing the spines to see what looks good, both at home and in commercial settings. I am gleeful to find Treasure Island illustrated by N.C. Wyeth in the thrift store bookshelves.

If I drop it in the tub, a book will dry, ultimately (though it never will be the smooth volume it once was). I can (and have) dropped my books down the stairs, lost a grip on an entire box of them and watched them crash to the ground or come to a stop on the landing. The cats have knocked over stacks, curled up on whatever I set down on the bed or table and chewed the corner or two of whatever distracted me from them.

My favorite place on the planet was Acres of Books, the now-defunct used bookstore in Long Beach, Calif., whose name was a literal description of the store and its inventory, with row upon row of towering bookshelves only shoulder-width apart. (Vicky would spend short bursts of time with me in there, bless her claustrophobic heart.)

In short: I love books. I do not plan to surrender them for anything "e."

Someday, I may change my mind. I suspect my love affair with the printed word will strain next year when David and I pack what most likely will be about a hundred boxes of books when we move. Someday my eyes may need assistance that only a future device can provide.

But it is not this day. I appreciate reading in any form, but I intend to continue my love affair with the printed page.


John said...

All the electronic book devices are readable in direct sunlight. They don't use LCD technology. Well, the nook does, but it's not the part that's used for actually reading the books. There's still no solution for the water issue though.
And yes, not having to store them is the second best part of electronic books. The best is being able to buy the next book while you're on the go.

Daniel said...

I love my Kindle 2 (just as John loves his Kindle original).

One nice thing about them is that they are _not_ LCD's. They are what is called e-ink. There is no refresh rate nor is there an issue of reading them in the sun. Though I guess I have been an e-reader for years now (reading them on my Palm before this). I just love the convenience of having multiple titles on me at all times.

Chris said...

Thank you for the clarification on the whole "read in sunlight" thing. I guess maybe I should have tried it before dissing it, huh?

I am tempted by the whole "carry a huge library around at all times" part....

Myra said...

Enjoyed. Will bookmark.

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