It’s the day after the day after Christmas, and I’m patiently awaiting the arrival of the girls’ gift to me – a Kindle eReader. There’s been a slight delay in its delivery, but it will be here any day now. To pass the time since Christmas morning, I’ve haunted Pixel of Ink (a lovely site that rounds up daily free eBook offerings), joined a local book club on Facebook, watched my husband’s childlike joy as he plays with his new tablet, and watched far too many reruns of The Big Bang Theory. Oh, and I’ve also finished one dead-tree book and started another.
eReaders were big this Christmas – and that means the eReader-vs-real books debate is big in the days that are following. I follow the threads of conversation and opinion with a slightly amused but completely interested air; I resolved my own which-is-better internal conflict some time ago.
I’m on record as being a voracious reader and book owner; there’s no debate there. Books -the reading and owning of – are a part of my very core, one of the things that give my personality some of its definition and depth. In fact, reading is so ingrained in our family’s experience that just this week, during Christmas dinner and conversation, my daughter began to share an anecdote she initially attributed to “someone I know” and then stopped herself. “Never mind,” she said. “I just realized I read it in a novel.”
But I jumped on the Kindle bandwagon a year ago, long before I wanted one for myself. Oldest Daughter was preparing for a work term on a cruise ship; while friends and family wondered about such things as adequate sunscreen, proper nutrition and serviceable footwear, my concern was somewhat different; how, I wondered, would she get enough to read? There was certainly not going to be any space in her tiny, shared crew cabin for even a week’s worth of books, let alone four months’ worth. And restocking would be limited to whatever was offered in shoreside or airport gift shops. That wouldn’t do at all.
So, a Kindle was under the tree last Christmas. And then, in the spring, when the next daughter’s birthday coincided with her impending trip to explore Europe with nothing more than she could carry on her back, the same concern arose -books may be wonderful, and even vital traveling companions, but they’re heavy.
So – 2011 passed with two Kindles in the family, and sometimes in the household. Online accounts were created, and the joy of “one-click” purchasing discovered. Websites were combed for pointers on acquiring free ebooks. Some university textbooks were even purchased in e-form, making it far more likely that they’d actually be read. (lugging 40 pounds of textbooks every day on the bus can suck the joy out of higher learning in a hurry). And yet, still, books in paper form continued to be purchased, consumed, shelved, re-read and cherished.
And Mama, who felt that her work-at-home-amidst-the-bookshelves lifestyle didn’t justify an eReader purchase of her own, got to borrow the Kindles from time to time. And fell in love with the medium herself.
I’d already begun to form a solid relationship with ebooks when Stephen King’s latest novel, 11/22/63 was released. Not normally a King convert, I really wanted to read this book. I was also about to embark on a trip by train to Toronto. I went to Chapters to investigate the newly-released King hardcover. It was heavier than the laptop I needed to travel with, and cost a whopping $40.
In the olden days, I would have chosen at least one of the following options:
- Borrow the book
- Wait until it came out in paperback
- Choose my trip reading material based more on size and heft than on content
Instead, I picked it up for half the cost in its e-version, borrowed my daughter’s Kindle and barely noticed time passing on my four-hour train ride (each way). It also marked the first time I’d paid for a Stephen King book in my life, if you don’t count On Writing.
Flashforward a few more weeks, and I’m working on a school project. How handy it was to download free and nearly free travel guides on the requisite country as I did my research! On the heels of this came a recommendation from a friend about a popular author I’d never tried myself; how convenient to discover he had a few short stories in the Kindle store so that I could try him out first!
By early December, I was ready to move from dating my daughter’s Kindle to committing to one of my own.
I understand the haters’ perspective; the relationship with one’s books is a very personal, intense one. Books are more than just words on the page; they’re tangible proof of the readers’ and writers’ mutual commitment to sharing the experience. Books have a look, a feel, a smell, even a sound, that cannot be translated into a 6-inch screen encased in plastic. For those who spend their days in front of a screen, eReaders appear to threaten the respite we anticipate when we finally turn from our desks and immerse ourselves in the story. For those who are still apprehensive about using technology, it’s one more example of a changing world that seems to be leaving the fundamentals behind.
To the haters, I say, “Relax.” Since the advent of digital cameras, hard-copy scrapbooking as a habit has skyrocketed. Though everyone over the age of 7 appears to carry a cell phone, most people I know still have a “home” phone. And the rise of eReaders appears to have increased the number of people shopping for books. I’m only one person, but Stephen King’s publisher got $20 out of me that they never would have seen otherwise. (by the way, on the same day I purchased the King novel for Kindle, I also spent $20 in Chapters and another $15 on Amazon for actual books I could hold and handle)
You can love eReaders without unloving your books. You can be a “book person” without thinking eReaders are part of a conspiracy to clear off your shelves. You can embrace both, and everybody wins.
And for someone who was that weird kid who sat on the steps during recess with a paperback in hand, it’s kind of vindicating to know that reading has become “cool.” All of a sudden, strangers on the bus have no qualms in asking me what I’m reading, or how I’m liking it. There’s never been a better time to be “people who read.”