I own thousands of books. I’ve given away hundreds, probably, but there are books everywhere in this house, and a room doesn’t feel lived in, to me, if there aren’t books lying around. My idea of heaven would be a mountain cabin (in the summer), with a view and hundreds of books at my disposal. All through school, I read, constantly. I’d read through class (while listening, which infuriated the teachers, because I could answer their questions); I’d read in the evenings, and when it was time for bed, I’d read into the wee hours of the night until I heard my dad’s alarm go off. He had to be up at 3:30, sometimes, to get into work for his shift, so I’d turn off the light in my room, wait impatiently for him to get dressed for work and leave, and listen carefully as his truck pulled out of the driveway. I also learned the hard way to wait until his truck made it around the corner because it turned out, he could see the light from my window until he made the turn.
I love the smell of books. The texture. The weight of them in my hands. I love holding them at odd angles, propping them up on pillows, turning pages and blocking out the world. My heart races when I walk into the bookstore–so many possibilities there. The mind boggles. A large library can fill me with awe and I feel more reverence there than I ever have in any church.
So when this whole e-reader thing came along, I wasn’t interested. I saw a friend’s Kindle, and while it seemed convenient, I knew I’d never buy one because I would miss the actual experience of a book.
Last year, my husband wanted to buy me a Kindle for my birthday, and I told him no, thanks, not interested. Then one day, on a flight home, the dreaded event happened: I was stuck in an airport, after all of the kiosks and shops had closed, and I had finished my book already. Nothing to read. Hours stretched ahead. Bored. To. Tears.
I didn’t have a Kindle with me, but I had my iPhone, and the Kindle app was free and easy. I’d already surfed the web and that had grown old. So I downloaded the app, browsed around through the really awful Kindle browser, and picked something to try out. (I never use the browser feature on the Kindle, even now. It’s antiquated and slow.)
And I started reading, fully prepared to hate the experience. Because it wasn’t a book. In my hands. There wasn’t the weight and the texture and the cover and I had to click something to turn the pages and… I actually forgot all of that as I started reading. Because the book was so compelling, I forgot the world out there, all of those things that distract, gone.
This shocked me.
And I felt dirty. Dirty rotten betrayer of all things holy.
But like any sinner with a gateway drug, I was too intrigued to let it go at just one. I tried another… and then realized the iPhone screen was just too small. I need more. Bigger. By Christmas, I had a Kindle, and Kindle apps on all my computers. Last week, I added the Kindle app to my Macs (finally), and it was goooooooood.
I am lusting after the iPad, but I will wait until the second or third generation. It’s hard to justify, just for pleasure when I’ve already got a Kindle and enough computers to have back ups for my back ups, but I want one. Badly. For one thing, the Kindle browsing feature sucks. Did I mention that already? Yeah. That bad. It just does not do the books justice, and doesn’t load quickly, and if you’re browsing, those are very important elements to sales: give the customer what they’re looking for, fast, and make it attractive. Kindle fails at this. I’m sure that since the iPad’s introduction, though, the next wave of Kindles will upgrade to color and will try to compete in that arena.
What I am surprised about, mostly, is how my buying habits have changed. What I used to do is check out the books in the stores in the typical fashion–browse, pick up something that looked interesting (the cover caught my eye), read the back cover copy, then, if still intrigued, read a couple of pages and by that point, choose to buy it or put it back. I have bought many a book based on that scenario and ended up not finishing it because it didn’t live up to the initial pages. I’ve also been very pleasantly surprised by a few that grabbed me from their covers alone, and I love that feeling of chance when stopping in front of something I have never heard of because the image on the cover piqued my interest.
With the Kindle, though, I’ve started buying a lot differently. I still try to support my favorite indie bookstores — such as Seattle Mystery Bookshop, Mystery Lovers Bookshop, and Murder by the Book — just to name a few, because these are the types of places that give personal service and have reams and reams of knowledge in the staffs that cannot be found online. You can have a discussion with someone in any of these places about something that you loved, and come away with a stack of fabulous recommendations that you know you can trust because they’ve read the books–they’re not giving you a recommendation based on some sort of computer algorithm. However… there are times when I know what I want and it’s 2:30 a.m. and I want it right now. I love the Kindle for that aspect. There are other times when I don’t know what I want and I have a vague notion of category and I go search by keywords, and find four or five good possibilities. Those with sample chapters get downloaded. I’ll test run the chapter and if I’m captured by the end of that, I can download the book right then and keep reading.
For a night owl read-a-holic, that’s nirvana.
No more lugging six books in my check-on bag because I’m not quite sure what I’m going to want to read or what mood will strike me. No more buying something that kinda sorta sounded okay but turned out flat after just a few pages.
I’ve relegated the “definite” buys to bookstores where possible. (And anywhere I sign, I always ask for recommendations from the staff and buy several books, because I believe in supporting those stores.) I’ve used the Kindle for the impulse buy, the late-night browsing, and the odd research text. I’ve purchased way more books on Kindle than I thought I would (65 in four months), and I’ve ended up reading real gems that I wouldn’t have given a chance in a bookstore, because either the cover was crappy, or it was so over-hyped, I thought I would hate it. I love the sample-chapter feature, though so many authors’ sites have these… what makes it so wonderful is the “click to buy to continue reading” feature.
The Kindle, as an interface? Is ugly. It feels like a Volkswagon in a Ferrari world. But I am now comfortable with the choices it gives me, and when I’m reading–if the book is good–I completely forget the medium that’s delivering the story. I love the fact that I can enlarge the text, and I hate the fact that it’s not backlit for night reading.
One thing is for sure: it changed how I buy books. And read them.
For someone who is a bookaholic–that’s huge.
I know the debate will rage on about whether or not ereaders will increase readership or simply add another method whereby readers access the material. My gut feeling is that it’s always going to be really great stories that strike a chord that increases readership. Just like Harry Potter opened up the YA market to an entire generation who were deemed “non-readers” by so many, and Twilight continued to feed that group, so we’ve seen that same group branch out and hungrily grab for many other stories, propelling them to bestseller status. And it didn’t matter that these were print books–the computer generation read them. However, that said–it stands to reason that an entire generation who have been born into the iPhone world will expect, as they grow up, to read everything on some device instead of lugging books around. Many schools are going to all-digital texts. The world may not change in the next five years, but five years out is too short-sighted. It’s twenty years out, and thirty years out that publishers should be planning for, and those kids? They’re going to be all digital.
It’s not an “if” but a “when.”
So how about you? Have you tried an e-reader? Would you, if they were cheaper? What about the free apps? Have you tried those? What about the kids around you… what are they reading… texts? or digital? or both?