The Book is Dead, Long Live the Book!

I have a confession to make. I’m not proud of it, but here it is: I don’t buy books anymore.

Don’t get me wrong. I love books. I love the feel and smell of the paper. I love the pretty pictures on the covers. I love the sight of all my books lining the walls of my house, reminding me of great worlds, great characters, great stories. But … these days I just don’t buy that many of them.

I still buy words, of course. But I buy them on my cell phone. And “real” books — the kind they chop down trees and roll printing presses to make — have become my word delivery vehicle of last resort.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. Or, actually, I am sure. I feel … conflicted.

On the one hand, the convenience of e-books is awe-inspiring. I can fit hundreds of books onto my phone, which now also contains my calendar, internet, fax, and pretty much everything else I need to make a living writing fiction (short of full-featured word processing and an ergonomic keyboard, which I’m sure are coming soon). As a writer of research-driven science fiction and historical fantasy, I also love the convenience of having all my notes and highlights instantly available in searchable form. No need to sift through index cards so I can track down citations for the copy editor. It’s all right there in my computer: notes, quotes, page numbers, everything.

The convenience factor has even changed my relation to my once-beloved paper books. The other day I was ransacking my shelves for a book when I felt a surge of new and unfamiliar annoyance. Why was this book hiding from me in such a childish manner? Why couldn’t it just tell my cell phone where it was and end the pain for everyone? In short … why wasn’t it acting more like the real books that were already on my phone?

That was a very strange moment, and I still don’t quite know what to make of it.

I’m not sure anyone else out there knows what to make of it either. Here are two major players in the e-book revolution — each taking opposite positions about the change from paper books to e-books.  On one end of the spectrum, Joe Konrath waxes poetic about the e-book as multi-media platform and social network. At the other end, Cory Doctorow argues that people still buy his books on paper even though he gives the e-files away for free because reading the old-fashioned way remains a precious refuge from the constant stimulus and interruption of life in the wired age.

And the thing is … they’re both right.

On the one hand, e-books offer both stupendous convenience and miraculous new creative possibilities. Not least, they free writers of the tyranny of printing, binding and distribution costs. They replace the tyranny of paper with the tyranny of time: a publishing paradigm in which delivering words is so cheap that the true “cost” of a book will be measured not in dollars but in attention spans.

On the other hand, as Cory points out, reading a good book on paper is richer, deeper, more visceral than reading it on a screen. And if I had to pick one word to describe what sets paper books apart, it would be — once again — time.

Time flows fast and shallow when you’re on-line. There’s the constant pull to check the email, check the news, make sure you’re not missing the latest frog-on-monkey video. Sometimes I watch myself pinging back and forth between research, email, news, and writing … and I can’t help thinking of the line in The Grapes of Wrath about how a man’s life moves in starts and jerks but a woman’s life flows deep and steady like a river. I don’t know if that’s true of men and women (and I doubt Steinbeck did either). But I do think it captures something essential about the emotional and intellectual commitment we make when we shut the computer, step out of the everyday world, and give ourselves up completely to a book.

When you read on-line it’s easy to get stuck halfway between the book world and the real world. But when you settle in with a paper book, your inner time flows as slow and deep as the story needs it to flow. A great story is its own universe, full of pleasures and insights that only reveal themselves when you let the book set the pace. Some of those rewards are sturdy enough to survive the constant interruptions of reading on-line. But others are more fragile. And that facet of the reading experience — that timeless feeling of being submerged in a dream that unfolds at its own rhythm — is what pulls me back time and again to my favorite paper books.

But on the third hand … here’s an article by Adam Penenberg about the future of reading in the digital age. As he points out, the first cars were called “horseless carriages” — and that’s pretty much what they looked like too. So the books of the future may look as different from today’s e-books as a Maserati is from a Model T. Hypertext and book-based social networks are just the beginning of an evolution that we can’t predict any more than Johannes Gutenberg could have predicted us. In fact, I’ve been talking recently to a high tech startup that’s already developing new interactive e-book features much like the ones Penenberg describes. Their work is intriguing. To me, it’s more than intriguing. It’s downright inspiring. And here’s why….

  • Imagine reading a science fiction novel where made-up science terms are hyperlinked to a database that explains how the writer invented them and points you to the underlying research from which the invention was extrapolated.
  • Imagine reading a book whose full annotated text is live on Goodreads so you can share your reading experience with others in a permanent moveable feast of an online reading group.
  • Imagine reading the “Director’s Cut” of your favorite book: a version that includes all the earlier drafts so you can follow the editing process from first draft to publication; a version that includes extra scenes or chapters that the editor and writer both liked but that were cut simply to keep down printing and binding costs; a version that includes alternate viewpoints or additional backstory about your favorite characters, or even alternate endings.
  • For that matter, imagine a book with no ending at all … a book that continues to evolve, digging deeper, uncovering new thematic resonance and hidden emotional depths, for as long as the writer is still alive to work on it.

Some of those new insights would come from the writer alone. But some of them might come from … you the reader? After all, why not? Isn’t every serious reading of a book a conversation across time between writer and reader? Why shouldn’t that conversation go both ways? And why shouldn’t it be part of the book? No reason at all, as long as writer and reader want it to be….

These things aren’t science fiction. They’re all possible — right now, with the technology we already have. The only thing standing between them and you is the fact that publishers are still treating e-books like the red-headed stepchild of paper books instead of what they really are: a completely new story delivery system with its own universe of possibilities and opportunities.

So here are some questions I’d like to ask you about e-books — and I might as well confess now that these questions are the real purpose of this post, since this is only my first, provisional attempt to grapple with what e-books mean for me as both a writer and a reader.

  • Have you made the jump to e-books, or are you still on paper?
  • Are there any books you’ll always want to read on paper? Which ones? And why?
  • How have e-books changed the way you read?
  • How have e-books changed the ways you imagine you could read?

I’ll take a stab at that last question myself, just to get the conversation started. And since I’ve bloviated more than enough for one post, I’ll make my answer concrete and personal…

Right now, as I sit in my office typing, I’m looking at a stack of paper in the bookshelf across the room from me. That stack of paper is a book. Actually, it’s three books: a big fat doorstop of a science fantasy trilogy that I finished just before I wrote my first published novel. People ask me about that trilogy all the time, because it’s the book that explains the big picture of the universe my published SF novels are all set in. But even though I know there are readers out there who would love to read it, I’ve never seriously tried to sell it. Why not? Because it’s basically my personal Lord of the Rings. It took over a decade to write. It has an invented language with its own alphabet, marginal notes and illustrations, and lengthy appendices discussing the history, literature, religions, and culture of the major characters. And, um, did I mention the illustrations?

I love all that stuff, of course. And so do lots of readers just like me — the same readers who actually learned Elvish when they were kids and can still tell you who El-ahrairah is and what silflay means. But publishers, of course, hate it with a passion which surpasseth all mortal understanding … for the simple reason that it makes books insanely expensive to produce and screws up their profit margin.

Anyway, El-ahrairah is not the point (though perhaps he should be). The point is that only a decade ago, that trilogy was unpublishable because turning it into words on paper was just not going to happen for any writer whose name couldn’t guarantee publishers an automatic spot on the New York Times Bestseller List. But now? Now anyone with a decent laptop could publish it.

And that is exciting. It’s not all that exciting to me as a writer; even if I decided to get back to that book the second I was done with the books I currently have under contract, I wouldn’t be able to start work on it another five years. And, as the Soviet Union learned to its detriment, there’s a limit to how excited anyone can really get about a five year plan. But it is exciting to me as a reader. Because here’s the thing: If I’m sitting here daydreaming about ‘cheating’ on the books that pay my mortgage in order to self-publish a book that’s too big and complicated and expensive for traditional publishing, then you can bet there are a thousand unpublished writers out there right now who are actually doing it.

And you know what? Some of their books will be great. And they’ll be great in ways that would never have survived the sales, editing, and marketing process imposed on traditionally published fiction. And when those great, new, unconventional books hit the internet … I’ll be right there ready to buy them. And so will a host of other readers just like me.

That’s what it’s all about: readers and writers dreaming together. It is the shared dream that makes a book, not the ink or electrons or paper. If you dream better on paper … well, the paper will still be there for you. After all, people still ride horses for fun, don’t they? But if we use e-books creatively, then they can let readers and writers share new dreams … dreams that might have languished on writers’ shelves in the age of paper. Will the process of transition be disruptive and painful? Yes. I’d be lying if I said otherwise. But it will also be fertile … as fertile as we allow our imaginations to make it.

And when it’s all over? There will still be writers. And there will still be readers. And we will still be dreaming the strange and consuming dream of fiction together. And that strikes me as a pretty damn good thing.

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  1. 1. Elias McClellan

    I haven’t made the jump to e-books. Yet. My paper addiction aside, I’m not sure if this is General Motors or AMC.

    Like you, I love the details, those little extras, (like Sergio Argones drawings in the margines of Mad Magazine). When CDs I loved the sound and quality. Don’t tell me how great vinyl is until you’ve spent your entertainment budget for record warped so bad it bounces the swingarm and wrecks your needle (and your entertainment budget for several weeks). But I still grieved for album covers and liner notes (that suck on CDs). However, my spiffy iPod allows me to view a very nice booklet on Corine Bailey Ray’s album.

    Can’t say I’m married to the print form of any title or genre though I know what could be better and that’s what excites me. E-books have challenged me to consider, (as you put it so well) what extras might be possible. I’d love a progressive map for, say, “The Siege of Stalingrad,” or my beloved “Dune.”

    As my Mrs and I plan our vacation, I might see if Karen Traviss’ latest Boba Fett book is available for e-book.

    Thank you for the insight, Mr. Moriarty. This is a very interesting topic.

  2. 2. carmen webster buxton

    I love my reader because it helps me read more books–and I consider my ebooks to be REAL books. I carry my Kindle in my purse and whenever I have to wait for a few minutes, I read.

    I like features like being able to look up a word or search within the book, but I don’t particularly want books to evolve so much that they’re not books anymore. One reason I love long form fiction is that it allow my mind to digest a story someone wrote and make it into something uniquely mine.

    A dedicated ereader is actually a very unobtrusive technology; you forget what you’re reading ON and focus on what you’re reading. To put it another way, no one reads a Kindle; they read ON a Kindle.

  3. 3. Angela Korra'ti

    As a digitally published author, I’m pretty much obligated to be an ebook fan! But really, I’m more motivated by the simple fact that I’m also a tech geek.

    I love, love, love the ability to carry around bunches of books with me at any given time. And the vast majority of my book purchases have gone digital. But at the same time, I’m also continuing to buy my most preferred authors in print–partly to support those authors because I CAN, but also because if the power goes out, they are the ones I’d be sad not to be able to read.

    I’m also appreciating freeing up shelf space for older books that aren’t actually available electronically.

  4. 4. Chrystoph

    Don’t know what your phone uses for external interface, but I thought you might find this interesting…

    http://www.thinkgeek.com/computing/keyboards-mice/e722/

  5. 5. Sandra Almazan

    I really love reading on the Kindle; it feels as if I experience less eyestrain with it than with paper books. I also love being able to carry so many books in my purse, and I’ve read much more than I used to. However, non-fiction books with a lot of figures and pictures are still easier to read on paper. (The Nook might be more suitable for these books, but I preferred the selection of e-books on Amazon.) But I think I’d be frustrated with a never-ending book because then I wouldn’t feel free to move on to another one!

  6. 6. Chris Moriarty

    @Elias: I completely agree about the progressive maps. That’s a great idea. especially for those two books in particular. Would it be sensitive to where you were in the book so that it changed as you read the story? That might be enough to make me spring for an e-copy of Dune in and of itself!

    @Carmen: This bit of your comment really struck me: “but I don’t particularly want books to evolve so much that they’re not books anymore. One reason I love long form fiction is that it allow my mind to digest a story someone wrote and make it into something uniquely mine.” I think you’re onto something there. Maybe there’s a tradeoff in the conversation between writer and reader? I know that as a reader that I need enough space and silence to make the story my own. I wonder if making it too easy to jump out of the book and into conversations *about* the book would take away the uniqueness of each reader’s vision?

    @Angela: “I’m also continuing to buy my most preferred authors in print–partly to support those authors because I CAN, but also because if the power goes out, they are the ones I’d be sad not to be able to read.” I so agree. And the books I want to be able to read when the power goes out are the same ones I want to read slowly and with my whole mind … which is somehow also part of the paper experience for me.

    @Chrystoph: Why are you trying to make me poor??!?

  7. 7. Elias McClellan

    Mr. Moriarty, more instrutive than anything else. I’m ashamed to admit that as the son of a Marine from the Chosin and nephew of two drill instructors, I still have trouble visualizing maneuvers. My national service was four years washing dishes for college funds.

    Plus, having a visual sense of the topography and distance would help me immensely as I’ve only read original “Dune” novels five or six times.

    Oh, oh, just considered how very helpful and illustrated appendix, (or splene, I’m not picky) would very much change my feeble understanding of the KSR’s Mars trilogy.

  8. 8. cathy

    I’ve had an ereader for 3 years and I find I read more ebooks now than paper. Last year I started reading on my ipod Touch and while I find it easier to get distracted when reading on it (compared to my ereader – I think it’s because the screen is small) but still use it more than paper.

    Too many links would be distracting though. I even pass on reading footnotes in Terry Pratchett books now – I don’t like to be distracted from the story while reading.

    I’ve moved a lot in the past 6 years and with each move I was getting rid of too many paper books. I initially made the switch for space considerations and now I like the convenience.

    I do still read old favorites that I have in paper, but I think it’s because I’m more likely to flip around to favorite bits and skip others which is easier with paper. I’ve actually gotten frustrated reading new paperbacks lately because they keep flipping closed. I guess I’ve lost some of my ability to read a paper book one handed. :)

  9. 9. LJCohen

    I have a kindle, as well as an ipod touch with apps for kindle, ibook, and stanza, so I’m no luddite. I do love the convenience factor of being able to have my personal library with me at all times. Especially handy when I travel. But, I still vastly prefer to read the paper version of a book to an electronic one.

    I think there is a difference between a narrative told purely in words to one told with intertwined media. I think of the difference between a traditional novel and a graphic novel. I know there are tons of graphic novel readers, but I don’t really enjoy them. I find the artwork to distract me and pull me from the story. As one commenter already said, I find footnotes in books annoying. It’s one of the things that got me to give up on “Jonathan Strange”.

    A hyperlinked, media enhanced story would be a very different animal from a book. I’m certain that some stories would be right for that kind of treatment, but I’m not sure we could still call them books.

    I hope that wherever our future takes us, that there will still be a place, and an important place, for the written narrative.

  10. 10. Kerry

    I read more ebooks than paper books these days. I find them easier to read than paper and love being able to carry a library around in my purse. I have a Kindle and love the eInk. I do also read on my iPhone, but prefer the Kindle.

    For me, personally, paper books have become collector’s items. I still buy them, preferably hardcover, from my favourite authors and enjoy seeing them on the shelves. I also buy those books as ebooks and I’m much more likely to read the ebook, but I love having the paper versions.

    But for most authors, I’m wanting to read the words, the story, more than I want to have an item on my shelf. For those, I’m perfectly happy to just have the ebook. (And my shelf space – or lack thereof – thanks me.)

    As someone said above, I don’t really want the concept of a story to change – I just want to be able to immerse myself in it and enjoy the ride.

    Books with “bells and whistles” I think will become a separate entity, depending on what the reader wants. They will become an “experience” while more traditional books will be “stories”. Both are currently called books because of the content container we are used to. When we’re considering the content rather than the container, they may well become very different types of entertainment. (Does that even make sense?)

  11. 11. Simon

    I gave up buying books on paper a couple of years ago, after I ran out of room. (And every wall in this house has a home-made bookshelf…)

    Now I’m actively de-booking, getting rid of everything but those precious books I could never relinquish. I’m hoping to end up with a ‘normal’ thousand or so paper books once I’m done.

  12. 12. Douglas Hulick

    I’ve had an e-reader for a year now, but still find I prefer paper. I’m more selective about what I get in paper (is this book a “keeper”, or do I just want it as an e-book?), which I suppose means I still see e-books as not quite “real” in that sense. In one sense, I suppose this makes certain books seem more disposable to me, which is a bit sad. I certainly agree that I feel much more engaged with the paper version than the electronic, even when using a dedicated e-reader.

    I’m spoiled in that I have a B&N about a mile from my house, and a couple great SFF bookstores in town. That makes it easier for me to “stay paper”. I also still prefer the in-person browsing/buying experience to the on-line version. That said, I have become a fan of the “read a sample” option with e-books–it’s let me find several books, and avoid several more I may have otherwise ended up paying for in a traditional paper format only to regret the purchase later.

    I also have to say that the book “experience” Chris describes sounds horrific to me, both as a reader and a writer. With all the distractions and pull-aways we have at present, one of the few things I can still count on for full immersion is a book. The last thing I want is hyperlinks and pre-edits and the like cluttering up the story. As a writer, I likewise would prefer to focus on delivering the tightest, best finished product I can, and not have to worry about tracking every idea or link for later inclusion (I still prefer paper resources, since I am much more comfortable writing in the margins than than bookmarking a document–old school academic, I guess). I can understand the appeal of this for some, but the prospect of a never-ending story, or of having to re-dig through the ugly guts of something I thought done to produce a “author’s cut” send shivers down my spine. I don’t care how many drafts it took a person to write a wonderful book, I just want the wonderful book; you can leave the not-so-wonderful drafts and extras bells and whistles off, thanks–I have plenty of other things to distract me as it is.

  13. 13. Chris Moriarty

    Hi again, Elias! You are so right about both military maneuvers and Kim Stanley Robinson.

    I had a great military history prof in ROTC, and his breakdowns of famous battles were mindblowing. But on the other hand, actual real life maneuvers? Not so much. And your comment brings back many ridiculous memories of wandering around Fort Dix in the rain saying things like:

    “Um … does anyone else think we ought to maybe, um, take the map out again and just make sure we’re where we think we are? Because, er, we’ve been going uphill for a long time now … and also, I’m pretty sure, north? And if you actually want to go south to the river to engage the enemy then maybe … ah, f#$%# it. The sooner we “die” the sooner I get a hot cup of coffee!”

    Finally, have you ever seen the movie Ronin? If not, you need to. There’s a “discussion” of military tactics in there, complete with diagrams, that will really make you laugh.

  14. 14. Elias McClellan

    I especially LOVED the crossfire bit in “Ronin.”

    If they taught weapons and tactics at at Great Mistakes, I didn’t know it. Too consumed with not freezing off my South-Texas tuckus. But boy-howdie can I brew you an urn of coffee to serve 300. With clean cups!

  15. 15. Chris Moriarty

    @Cohen. No! Tell me you didn’t jump ship on Jonathan Strange!?! I believe I’m officially on record in dead tree media as saying it’s the most important new work of British fantastic literature since Tolkien. Still, I forgive you. I could never really be mad at anyone named Cohen. Do you actually exist out there in the material world … or am I in virtual correspondence with the Artificial Intelligence, part-time Mossad agent, full-time fashion diva who was the main character in my last two novels? Which, I’m sorry to say, do indeed have footnotes. So don’t read them. They’ll just make you sad. And I wouldn’t want that :-(

    @Cathy. I’ve noticed the one-handed thing too. Especially with small kids, who always try to eat real books but ignore my iphone … at least until the horrible day when they finally get old enough to realize they can play games on it. After that I’ll probably go back to reading on paper because it’ll be easier than prying the phone out their grubby little fingers!

    @Everyone else. This is the first time I’ve guest posted on this blog, and it really needs threaded comments, doesn’t it? I’ll see if I can do something about that….

    Meanwhile, in reading the comments from Sandra, Cathy, Cohen, Kerry, Simon and Douglas I see a unifying theme: enjoying the convenience of e-books but not liking the idea that e-books might change the reading experience so much that it wouldn’t be recognizable as Reading a Book.

    I feel the same conflict … but on the other hand I’m still really intrigued by these other ideas about opening up stories and making a space for writer and reader to talk directly to each other. And your comments have given me a lot of insight into what is making me feel that way. So here it is, to the best of my newly improved (thanks to you guys) ability to articulate it….

    I love the experience of reading a book. And most of all I love the experience of reading novels. But as much as I love it, I still see it as only one small subregion in the vast domain of “storytelling.” 19th century novels and the sugenres that originated from them, including science fiction and fantasy, were designed to be read in paper books, so it makes perfect sense that they work best that way. But most stories ever told in the history of our species were created with a completely different user interface in mind. They were told directly, face to face, in social settings where the storyteller engaged with listeners at every moment and the story itself changed with every retelling.

    There’s no one true version of Homer, or ancient Irish legends, or the Norse sagas. There’s just the version that we happen to have — the one that got written down by some poet or monk or ethnologist precisely because the oral tradition was dying and people were starting to realize that if they didn’t write it down it would be lost forever. And the reality is that we don’t know — we can’t know — what it would be like to experience those stories the way they were meant to be experienced. I was once lucky enough to actually hear a master singer perform a real modern saga — one that was still part of a living oral tradition. It was on a bus in Northern Greece, of all places, sitting with a bunch of Albanian refugees. Which is another whole story. But that experience – even though I only heard the saga through an on-the-fly translation from my seatmate — well, let’s just say it changed my life. And though I don’t want to give up the novel reading experience that I love so much, I’m also very aware of the power and grandeur of what we all lost when we started thinking of stories as unchanging words printed on paper.

    So while I feel the same apprehension that you guys do — will e-books ruin the novel-reading experience I love so much? — I take solace in the conviction that the changes that stick will be precisely those that don’t ruin the reading experience. Because it will be readers who determine the shape of the new media. And readers are really good at figuring out what works for them and what doesn’t. Just look at the evolution of novels over the last two centuries: from broadside ballads to Dickens’s serials to what we think of as a novel today. It wasn’t driven by brilliant writers and publishers pushing their products on passive readers. It was driven by readers going where they wanted to go and pulling everyone else along behind them. I predict that the same thing will happen with e-books. Call it the Anti-Field of Dreams Pinciple. Not: “If you build it, they will come,” but: “Where readers go, books will follow.”

    Or at least that’s how the future looks from where I’m typing.

    But on the other hand, Douglas is completely and absolutely right when he says that “the prospect of a never-ending story, or of having to re-dig through the ugly guts of something I thought done to produce a “author’s cut” send shivers down my spine.”

    Now that I think about it, it sends shivers down my spine too. I’d happily read through the blow-by-blow of other writers’ revisions in order to improve my own craft. But now that I think about the drudgery of actually preparing such a slouching beast for publication … let’s forget I ever mentioned it!

  16. 16. sjhigbee

    I’m relatively new at this ebook business, having only recently acquired a Kindle. I have to say, I’m very impressed at how much easier it is to read in bed & I love the dinky little light. I also like how much easier it is on the eyes.

    About the idea of hyperlinks?? Hm… I can see my husband getting all excited about immersing himself in the world in that way – particularly something like Miles Vorkosigan – however, I personally prefer getting completely pulled into the narrative, allowing the author’s craft to carry me along WITHOUT any distractions. It is my personal piece of heaven to just get lost in the words… I’d hate extra bells and whistles that eroded that feeling! But I’m aware that generations of younger readers coming up behind me may feel quite differently…

  17. 17. slpsjp

    I have attempted to read books on my laptop but found that I did not enjoy them and did not finish them. And I don’t relish looking at the screen for long periods of time. I can avoid this when I am “writing” because I just type and don’t look at the screen at all, at least not until I am ready to do a quick proof.

    I do enjoy paper books. I love being absorbed by them — and that’s saying a lot, considering that I mainly read nonfiction. I also like the sense of progression I get from a printed book, as I can do a quick check to see how far along I am in reading the book, and how close I am to the end of the chapter. Being told that I am on page 194 of 356 pages doesn’t seem to have the same effect for me — even though I am a scientist, and it should.

    One of the things that discouraged me from trying an e-reader was the expectation that reading from a screen would be hard on my eyes. Now that I have heard a few people mention that they are easier on the eyes than a book, I may give them a second look. I cannot imagine, though, that I will get the same feeling of progression when I read a paper book, or the same feeling of satisfaction when I’ve finished it.

  18. 18. jere7my

    I don’t enjoy reading books (or fiction of any length) on a screen. I find it a shallow experience, like I’m rehearsing reading rather than reading, if that makes sense. The tactile experience of weight and paper, the sound of the pages, the thump as I close the book for the night — all of those are important to my reading enjoyment. Offering me a Kindle is like offering a wine snob Zinfandel-flavored chewing gum and saying “It tastes exactly the same!”

  19. 19. Chris Barna

    I recently acquired the new Kobo Touch, actually it was given to me as a gift. I have been on the fence, humming and pondering if I would enjoy such a gadget for a year or so now, but I was always a little afraid. It is a little bit of a double edged sword in my view, especially after the whole 1984/kindle incident.

    So now I have one, and I am still a little hesitant, even though I love the shiny new piece of electronics. I have downloaded many free books, bought a couple and read a few short stories from the new(?) Kurt Vonnegut collection. I find it wanting. I will never read The Lord of the Rings on it, or the Dark Tower series. I can’t see myself re-buying books I have hard copies of. So I am left wondering what I will use this thing for?

    I will always buy hardcopy, as long as they print them. The experience is totally different, the book has only one use, it is a delivery system for a story/ideas. I can lend it out or give it away as a gift, or if it’s really bad use it to start a fire when camping.

    To me, the e-reader is perfect for a short distraction, something to read when you’re on the bus, or on a plane traveling and you don’t have the luxury of bringing a bunch of books with you. I think I will primarily use it to read short stories with. Perhaps my usage will change over time. I found it took a while to get used to reading with it at first, but slowly I was able to loose myself in the story. Perhaps with more time I will find myself reading the e-reader more, but at the moment it takes about 10% of my reading time, with 90% going to traditional hardcopy.

    I hope the market will allow for both the old and the new to coexist in the long run, as both of them are good for different things, but perhaps that is just the hopeful thoughts of a guy how loves The Books as a physical thing, as well as the words contained within.

  20. 20. Chris Moriarty

    @sjhigbee – You are so very right about the gadget-gender vector. Also I completely agree that the Vorkosigan books seem like an ideal hyperlinks application. (I suspect Charles Dickens and Balzac would both have been totally into hyperlinks for the much same reason — not to mention the limitless possibilities the internet creates for sneaking in thinly disguised intertextual jokes about the kind of stuff that happens in boarding school bathrooms and prison showers. Hmm. On second thought, maybe we’re all better off living in a universe where Charles Dickens didn’t have hyperlinks!)

    @slpsjp and Chris Barna – Yes, there’s definitely an adaptation curve with e-readers. And I can’t honestly say that it’s less eye strain than paper eithert. But, ah, that magical ability to carry a whole library in your pocket! Hard not to like that, even if I would hate to lose my paper books….

    @jere7my – They make Zinfandel-flavored chewing gum now?! Damn! I may have to start chewing gum again! That sounds almost as good as that hot dog on a stick wrapped in a blueberry pancake with REAL fake maple syrup that Jon Stewart’s always talking about….

    @Elias – “Ambush? Ambush?? I ambushed you with a @%#@ing cup of coffee!”

  21. 21. LJCohen

    @Chris Moriarty Sad to say, I am no where near as interesting as an “Artificial Intelligence, part-time Mossad agent, full-time fashion diva.” LOL. Probably more likely for me to be a Mossad agent than a fashion diva.

    I was actually frustrated that I didn’t fall in love with “Jonathan Strange.” I wanted to–really, I did–but there was something about the voice of the novel (along with the blasted footnotes!) that simply turned me off. It was one of those moments that hammered home for me that some things *are* a matter of taste. It put those thin envelopes from agents with “not right for me” into better perspective, anyway.

    I do like the distinction you make in your comment about the difference between storytelling and the novel. Perhaps there are stories better suited to different media. Perhaps there are stories perfectly suited to the novel. I hope we’re able to make the right distinctions and continue to have many ways to tell a story.

  22. 22. Mac

    I have an Android Nook app on my phone, and I love it. (I don’t like the Kindle app nearly as much.) and I have a BeBook e-reader.

    What I find is that it is very hard for me to read anything difficult on an electronic device. Simpler potboiler or beach-read books I can fly through — faster and more efficiently than in print, even, because I have a bad habit of reading the right hand page first in a book spread. My eyes fly ahead of me, and I have to keep backtracking. And it’s very convenient to download PDFs of websites and manuscripts to my e-reader rather than print out hundreds of pages to read on my homeward commute.

    But for a more convoluted, longer read (your brick-size fantasy, or schoolwork) I find I need paper. I tried to study for the GRE with Project Gutenberg texts downloaded to my BeBook, and the inability to flip back conveniently (and being limited in the number of bookmarks I could have) really stood in my way.

    This is so contradictory, because what I like about the electronic devices is that they force me to pay attention. You’d think that would be BETTER for schoolwork…

  23. 23. Simon

    A comment on screens: there is NO comparison between a backlit LCD (e.g. laptop, ipad, smartphone) and an e-ink screen as found in dedicated ebook readers. The former is like reading sheets of paper held up to a flourescent light. The latter is like reading printed pages. With e-ink, the more light you shine on it the clearer the text, which is the reverse of LCD devices.

    I only mention this because you often see people remarking that they’ve tried reading a book on their laptop, or their iPad, and they didn’t like it. E-ink (Kindle, Sony Reader, etc) is totally different.

  24. 24. Moby4444

    Books, (regardless of whether they are paper or electronic), are about ideas, characters, stories and plots. Ultimately, it matters little how you consume them. None of us lives forever and when you die… well, like they say, “you can’t take it with you”. I love my Kindle and derive the same pleasure in consuming a book in digital format as I previously did in paper.

    Years ago I decided that I had too much “stuff” in my life. Be it cars, boats, or anything else one might consider material wealth. I came to the conclusion that I didn’t own these items, they owned me! I went so far as to rent a storage facility to house these items. I paid a fee for a couple of years. Eventually, I sold everything I had in storage. The proceeds didn’t even cover six months of my storage fees.

    Books are food for the mind. Not the space they occupy collecting dust on a bookshelf. To deify or represent some paper version as better, or inherently more satisfying, is just plain silly to me.

    A quote from the father of an old friend summed it up to me best. He said, “The one with the most stuff when he dies, wins!” It’s the American materialistic way!

    For me, if I can consume the eggs without keeping all the shells forever… well, that just works better for me.

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Chris Moriarty

Chris Moriarty has been making a living writing science fiction and fantasy for over a decade. Chris's books include SPIN STATE, SPIN CONTROL (winner of the 2007 Philip K. Dick Award), and THE INQUISITOR'S APPRENTICE. Chris also has a regular review column with the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Visit site.

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