Thursday, February 9, 2012

Reading Into This

"And if your mind wanders as you read, do not give up; hurry back and apply your mind to the words once more."

~ St. Romuald (c.950-1025)

Electronic vs. Paper-Published Books

Did you know that...

*  Roughly 2% of American book buyers over age 13 are active ebook users, meaning they obtained an ebook or a reader device in the last year. About half of those were first-time ebook buyers, so the usage of ebooks has probably roughly doubled in the last year.

* (There was a) 25% increase in ebook usage just over the holiday season, so it was a pretty good Christmas for ebooks.

* The most-used device for reading an ebook is a personal computer (47%); Amazon Kindle is number two (32%), followed by Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch (21%). (all the above found here)

* Nearly 50% of print book consumer who have also acquired an e-book in the past 18 months would wait up to three months for the e-version of a book from a favorite author, rather than immediately read it in print. A year ago, only 38% said they would wait this long. (here)

* Sales of printed novels over the first four weeks of 2012 fell by a over a million copies compared to the same month a year ago, according to industry figures seen by The Daily Telegraph. (here)

So.  Harumph.  Doesn't sound good for our books, does it?  I mean real books, with binding and glue and paper and that delicious library smell we bibliophiles love.  But e-books are all the thing these days, and though I was cat-in-the-creamery curious from the moment I first heard about them, I long resisted getting an electronic reading device.  It seemed disloyal, somehow, to even think of it, with all our shelves of  hardbound,  leatherbound, paperback, coffee table, kid series, and school books looking over my shoulder. How could I turn my back on forty years of contented page turning for downloaded words on a little flat computer?  How could I possibly indulge in a Victoria Holt gothic romance that appeared electronically on a cold, grey screen?  And, seriously, the idea of perusing the Summa electronically is unthinkable. I pictured the bowed heads of monks transcribing the Old Testament on parchment with quills, and they looked up at me and sneered at the very idea.

Banish the thought.

But, then...  (Well, you knew it would happen, didn't you?)  When the price on Kindles came down to a somewhat reasonable price this past Christmas, and we were looking for a gift for Afghanistan-bound Paul, Nicole suggested that an e-book device might be just the ticket. We thought that sounded reasonable, considering his need to pack lightly, and the rumor that soldiers over there have more down time than one might expect.  So, we shopped around and got him an Amazon Kindle for a good price. Then, since we were taking the plunge into biblio-heresy anyway, we decided that everybody else on the short list would probably appreciate the technology, too.  So, we got Kindles for college-kids, Kevvy and Nicole, one for high school senior, Michelle, and one for home.  Easy-peasy one-stop shopping.  The only thing we needed to add was a Christmas bow and a lecture about choosing wholesome reading material.

Of course, needless to say, everyone was thrilled with the gifts.  The big kids seemed to know intuitively how to operate theirs, and by the afternoon of Christmas day, Theresa had figured out all the ins and outs of how to use the home Kindle and was enthusiastically scanning the "stacks" at Amazon for downloads that were on the approved list.  Before I knew it, we had an amazing children's library.  For less than $3.00 each, we had the entire Fr. Brown series, all eight of the Anne of Green Gables series, the complete works of Louisa May Alcott, Frances Hodgson Burnette, Gene Stratton-Porter, L. Frank Baum, and Beverly Cleary.  Amazing.  These are all books that I would have loved to have had on our shelves long ago -- if there had been room!  And if I had been a millionaire.  But here, in the blink of an eye -- almost literally -- we now had them at our fingertips.

But we weren't done yet. Not by a longshot. All that children's lit on the skinny little Kindle took up no more space than a teaspoon on the Titanic -- and it was Mommy's turn to explore the stacks.  Before New Years' we had added Fabiola, The Little Flowers of St. Francis, the Imitation of Christ, The Little Way of St. Therese, Abandonment to Divine Providence. the rest of the exhaustive works of G.K. Chesterton, and, yes, the entire, unabridged edition of the Summa Theologica, not to mention a couple digital "shelves" of recommended novels. All for under $20! 


We now have a digital library worthy of Carnegie in the palm of whoever's hand can snatch the Kindle first. And we're just getting started.

Make no mistake: I love my Kindle.  I will never, ever run out of reading material while I have it -- and it fits so well in my purse.  But, I'll never give up my comfortable, old-fashioned, wrist-exercizing books.  Real books line the happiest shelves of my memory.  And, really, this digital book thing is not perfect.

For one thing, I really have a problem with the missing page numbers.  Giving a died-in-the-wool reader a  little "thus far" percentage notation at the bottom of the digital "page" instead of a real page number is like... like.... well, like having a calculus book written in iambic pentameter. Or something like that.   Let's just say it throws me off.  I mean, seriously: how do you know what you're getting yourself into when you settle into a book without page numbers?  I can't heft the weight of the Kindle to figure out what my time commitment is going to be when I pick up the Summa.  And it's not so easy to flip to the back to see how it all comes out in the end, should I get a little anxious...

 There's no writing in the margins in a Kindle, either.  And no provenence.  We've always loved to come across an inscription on the fly-leaf of a "found" or rescued novel, saying things like: From Aunt Shirley and Uncle Fred: To Archibald: Christmas, 1942. And the littlest of our children love fingering the pages of the dog-eared books their big brothers and sisters read years ago.  Sometimes they even find slips of scribbled paper and holy card bookmarkers left like little time capsules in the pages. Don't have that kind of serendipity with a Kindle. Or that warmth.

There is something human and substantial and real about an old-fashioned book that I don't think we'll ever want to be without as a people.  What kind of a world would it be without libraries and book stores to meet in?  If you love to learn, love to imagine, there is no greater thrill than walking through those rows of books, with their solid wealth of information and imagination, and catching the eye of another book lover who's enjoying the same thrill.  The knowlege and wisdom of the ages has been passed down in books.  (A good amount of garbage, too, but what are ya gonna do?)  And, cheap and fun as the e-books may be, do we really dare depend on electronics to preserve our most treasured works when we see our economy evaporating with all the digital "money" that we pull up on a screen, too -- and can see -- but is not really there? Scary. But traditional, page-turning books have stood the test of time; they're solid and real.  Like the four Biblical investments -- land, cattle, gold, and silver, real books are always a safe investment in the future.  And they're here to stay; I'm sure of it.

You know I believe it,  having lugged umpteen-dozen bins of books around with me through four moves in seven years.  Ugh.  But, I'd do it again. (Not any time soon, please God, but I would.)

Anyway, I'm sure any readers who have made it this far are rubbing their eyes (Have no fear; you're 98% of the way there now), and I'm ready to retire for the evening with my Kindle and the Gene Stratton-Porter novel I've been reading steadily for four days and through which I have only moved 26%.  (I'm beginning to think maybe I might just as well have picked up the Summa, for all the commitment I seem to have gotten myself into here...)

But, before I go, here are some more quotes for the road:
* The rumors of the demise of independent bookstores have been greatly exaggerated. Entrepreneurs continue to enter the industry, reimagining how the printed word is distributed to passionate readers. It has been an exciting year, but we promise you that the coming year will be even more exciting.

~  Jeff Mayersohn, owner of the iconic Harvard Square Book Shop on   The Universal  Hub

* While e-book sales continue to grow, there is mounting evidence that publishers are taking notice of this desire, and catering to a growing market for top-quality, collectable books.

The Folio Society, a London publisher dedicated to illustrated hardback editions of classics, currently has a membership list of 100,000, and has recently started selling books online to non-members, as well as in select locations such as the British Museum, Fortnum & Mason's and Paul Smith. Now, the company's publishing director David Hayden says, "other publishers are catching up to the power of the beautifully designed book. That is a function of the extremely rapid move to digital reading".

Hayden describes himself as pro-tech, but argues that "the physical book is still an incredibly effective piece of technology. Your memory of reading a book, all the tactile associations that go with that, are still very powerful".
~ Jessica Holland, Long Live the Printed Book at The National 

* When it comes to the longevity of paper book technology and virtually any digital technology, there is simply no comparison. Assuming that the paper a book is printed on isn't too acidic and it's well-kept, it will last for literally thousands of years.

 Digital formats have evolved quickly and it's likely they will continue to evolve for the foreseeable future. Even if we assume that digital storage formats won't ever change again and we'll always have access to computers than can read them, the physical media itself simply breaks down in a matter of years.

The thousand year view is simple: if you're going to commit knowledge to writing in some form, you need to ensure that it will exist and be readable in a thousand years. I can tell you that I've personally gained insight and understanding about our world by reading a lightly-distributed instruction manual for rural, parish priests in England — written in the fourteenth century. Will an independently-created iBook 2 textbook be around in the thirty first century?

~ Dieter Bohn, The Verge (More of his great article on E vs. Paper here)


auntie said...

I too succumbed to a kindle out of a desire to spare my back. Each semester I seem to be toting around between 60 and 80 pounds of printed material in the form of anthologies along with my laptop. The kindle has been a lifesaver. Like you however I wouldn't trade those cozy moments spent turning pages and imagining the last person to have lovingly handled the book that I am presently immersed in.

Anonymous said...

This may sound a bit paranoid, but the other reservation I have about ebooks is that they're so vulnerable. I can remember loving the Brer Rabbit stories when I was young, and now they've all been "edited" so as not to offend. How long will it be before our religious and political books are messed with? And science texts that don't agree with global warming? I know this sounds nuts, and I got a Kindle this year too, but I'll keep lugging my "real" books around, too.

GrandmaK said...

I have really enjoyed my kindle...I have no more room on the book shelves and this has been a blessing. My most resent addition to the "library" is Scott Hahn's book, Many Are Called. Enjoy!!! Cathy