Tuesday, March 22, 2011

My first ebook

At my library they let you check out Kobo ereaders and "borrow" books--temporary downloads--from an as yet fairly limited selection.

So now I'm reading my first book on an ereader. It's Spies of the Balkans, by Alan Furst. I thought I'd better make my first book a real "page turner," as they say.

First impression: it's hard to take such a small block of text very seriously. It's hard to take seriously a "book" that you can see so little of at any one time. I'm enjoying Furst's tale-telling, but the bottom line is, this is not an improvement on the traditional reading experience. Not even close.

I get that it's convenient at times--on planes, for example--and I get that the books are often cheaper, but I'm mostly a library guy anyway, and buy very few books. I also think that the more good books one reads on one of these devices, the more a reader will begin to associate all the pleasures of the "reading experience" with the device in his hands. This little piece of plastic may just grow lovable over time!

But . . . no, it's not an improvement. The lag as the device "turns" the page is definitely annoying (Kindles and Nooks, I'm told, do not have this problem). It is not in any way easier to read a book on one of these things, and it is certainly not a pleasing object in itself (as many books are, with their distinctive covers, their distinctive typeface, etc.).

Sale of ebooks are skyrocketing, and so I suppose we will all be reading on these devices more often than perhaps some of us would wish. I am by no means a Luddite waxing nostalgic for old technology, but when the new technology comes along, it is often in some significant way an improvement over the old (even if something is always lost as well). But that does not appear to be the case with ereaders.

Foucsing strictly on the reading experience, it is serviceable, but it is not an improvement.


Sam Sattler said...

I agree...the experience is not even close to the real thing. For me, an e-book Reader is only a matter of convenience. It's handy to have a few dozen books trapped on one device and the ease of finding good, free, books on the internet is tough to resist. But compared to reading a Real Book, the e-book experience will always be second best...a distant second best.

Glynn said...

I'm not quite ready for ebooks yet.

I thought you'd might like to know -- Houghton Mifflin is publishing "What There is to Say We Have Said: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and William Maxwell" on May 12. I just finished reading an excerpt in Oxford American magazine and said I had to tell my friend Bob about this.

Bob Spencer said...

Glynn, that's very good to know. I'm definitely interesting in reading their letters. Eudora is, in my opinion, among the best writers this country has ever produced, and you know how I feel about Maxwell. I'll have to keep an eye out for that one!

Bob Spencer said...

Sam, you and I are of the same mind. But I have to admit that the device more or less disappears from your awareness as you read, that is if the book is engaging. Which is as it should be, of course. But then, when you finish reading, you don'd have in your hand a distinctive object packed with memories and associations, but an almost weightless piece of plastic. A nothing. Ah, well...

Mark Babikow said...

Bob...I was talking about this concept with my brother...the same old thing about the demise of certain things...and he mentioned bookstores and books. He is about to buy his wife an ebook/kindlenook...Ibook thingy....I have no clue...and I love the idea. But, good grief, I am 43 and NOT a voracius reader, but I love books and paper and something I can hold in my hands. I may not have read all the books that I should have read....but those books I have read are on a physical shelf. There is something about seeing them on a shelf and the cover and pages. I also love music and I am not going to ever buy an album again...But that is because they aren't around. If I go into a store and Dire Straits/Dire Straits is sitting on a shelf in lp format....I would probably buy it. I guess that for me,as a lover of Tolkien and Lewis fantasy, I know that it won't get any better for me personally...so the best part about them is the memory of turning those pages and looking at the cover when a huge part of the plot was reached and the cover picture started to make sense is something that will never go away. I guess I love the complete access thing, but miss the mystery as well.

I still see books as being different than other types of media or entertainment. Reading is still reading and having that book in your hands is not so overwhelmed by the digital book that I cannot still read a book and turn the pages anbd get something that I cannot otherwise get. I feel so old :)

btw, my Dad and I love your blog, keep writing:)