Tuesday, August 24, 2010
eating my words
Like most writers, I love books. Not just the stories they contain but the books themselves. Especially hard-bound books. Especially hard-bound books with leather covers and beautiful end-papers. Opening such a book is a never-ending joy. Crisp, clean type on fine paper. The smell as you open the cover, the anticipation of the adventure to be had on those pages. If I've been lucky enough to meet the author and have him or her sign my treasure, it will get a favored forever-spot on the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in my library. Right at eye level among the most well-loved books I own. Right next to The Lord of the Rings.
Beyond being a lover of books, I'm an aspiring author. All my life I have dreamed of holding a book with my name on the cover, of seeing it in a bookstore, of autographing it for friends, of placing it in the most favored spot among those beloved books on my shelves.
For both of these reasons I have said -- vehemently, repeatedly, and publicly -- that I could never picture myself reading a book on a computer. I certainly couldn't picture myself enjoying such an experience.
And then I purchased an iPad.
Mind you, I didn't buy it to read books. I bought it so that I would have a light, portable device to carry with me on business trips for personal email and web-browsing. It's bad enough that I have to lug my weighty work computer on and off planes, schlep it from gate to gate, in and out of taxis, on and off trains, and load it in and out of my bag for security screening. I certainly didn't want to carry my personal computer as well. But an iPad is so light it adds almost nothing to the load, and it can go through screening inside my bag. Security says it isn't a computer. Posh. Is too. But who am I to argue when it saves me one more thing to juggle?
But I digress. My point is that I had plenty of good reasons to want an iPad, and reading books wasn't among them. The folks at Apple are pretty smart, though, and they pre-loaded their free iBooks app with A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh, another of my all-time favorite books. When it was right there on my iPad, how could I not look at it? Imagine my surprise to discover how beautiful that crisp black type looks on the bright white screen, how intense the colors in Ernest Shepard's endearing illustrations. I discovered the bookmark feature, which let me zoom back to where I left off with a tap of the screen. I discovered that even after my husband turned off the light and went to sleep, I could keep reading without straining my eyes or disturbing his rest. I discovered that I could set the type to whatever size my aging eyes demand, and the words re-paginate themselves so that I can read without scrolling, as if the book were custom-printed just for me.
As I discovered these wonders I became curious about what else Apple offered in its iBook store. OO, there's Eat, Pray, Love. And The Help, I've been wanting to read that. And they're only $6 apiece? What a bargain for a current New York Times best-seller. At that price I could buy more books than ever before, support the careers of more authors, try more selections without feeling cheated if I didn't love them all.
I wrestled with my conscience. I had sworn I would never go over to the dark side. But I had that four-day business trip coming up, with layovers in each direction and two two-hour flights each way. What a good test that would be...and no one but the good folks at iTunes and American Express need ever know. My fingers strayed to the "purchase" button. Again. Again. Three books, no extra weight, all for less than I normally would have paid for one.
As I read Eat, Pray, Love, I discovered passage after passage that inspired the writer in me, turns of phrase so perfect and metaphors so apt that I wanted to find them again quickly. I learned that I could bookmark as many pages as I wanted. What a great way to find those passages again. I admitted to myself that I would never have purchased that book or the others at $24.95 or more. And slowly but surely I began to realize that we writers and book-lovers may need to re-think our animosity toward the e-reader.
Here's what the iPad taught me: I'm a reader who loves books and even I don't buy as many of them as I used to. I don't have time to lounge around in bookstores and browse. Shoot, I barely have time to nip over to Amazon and order the must-haves for research on my own novels. Once I order I hate waiting for my books to arrive. I want them now, darn it. But when they do arrive, at least half of what I order I never get to read. My only downtime is when I travel, and I travel too heavy to lug a bunch of recreational reading with me.
e-books solve all of these problems. I can browse online. When I find something I want to read I can get it immediately. I can buy on impulse, which means I buy more. That's great for the authors and publishers. I'm also willing to take more chances and buy more titles because the prices are low, which translates into even more sales. And because I can take the books with me on the road without adding any weight, I'm actually reading more of what I buy. Bottom line, if my experience is even close to typical, e-books are not only good for me as a reader, but they are potentially very good for the publishing industry and its authors.
Do I still want to see my name on the cover of a real, print book? Absolutely. Will I keep buying print books? Without a doubt; I don't think an iPad would hold up very well to the sand and salt of a beach vacation, for example, and you can't get an author's signature on the title page of a virtual book. But the iPad and its iBooks app have finally opened my eyes to the possibilities of e-publishing. I now see that e-publishing offers the opportunity to get a lot more people reading -- and buying -- a lot more books. For all of us who love books, and especially for those of us who write them, it seems to me that this can only be a very good thing.
What do you think?
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