I bought myself an e-reader for Christmas this year. I thought it would revolutionize the way I read and buy books, but I basically use it to surf the Internet, check Facebook and play stupid games. I’ve written before about my awkward conversion from analogue to digital as it applied to music. However, this transition is beyond uncomfortable—I am ready to just abandon e-books for the familiar, heathen wilds of books with paper pages.
Why is the written word harder? First, CDs are basically just diminutive imitations of vinyl records. If you’ve compromised once, it’s much easier to compromise again. Secondly, I have retrospect; I know about unexpected consequences. I gave up CDs and gained more room, but I lost record stores. In the case of beloved Governor’s Awards in the arts recipient Ear X-tacy, we all lost. Given this failure of progress, I can give at least four good reasons why e-books and I are doomed to part ways: Poor Richard’s; The Wild Fig; The Morris Book Shop; and Joseph-Beth Booksellers. These are just the places I like to go to. I know there are more—Carmichael’s, The Black Swan, etc. We can take a poll right now.
Another reason this is not going to work is that I get tired of sifting through all the dross and detritus in the ether. E-books are a “dime a dozen” and occasionally they cost even less than that. I don’t want to hurt any feelings, but it is easier and less costly to publish or self-publish and distribute an e-book. The benefit of this democratization of text is cool stories like the cult-to-mainstream success of books like “John Dies at the End.” The drawback is all the junk you have to wade through to find something good. I don’t have time for that, as the next paragraph will indicate. It’s easier just to go to a bookstore, strike up a conversation with a patron or clerk and see what’s good and why. It’s not fool proof; there are certainly ink and paper duds printed everyday. However, if you’re bent on making e-books work and you love a digital life, there’s always quality-control help from communities like Goodreads and LibraryThing (which Heidi can tell you more about).
Lastly—most importantly—I am not going to be reconstructed for the very same reason it was easier to “change my tune” with music. I have a one-year-old. The late Maurice Sendak was a curmudgeon about many things, but he was scathing when it came to e-books. I can’t reprint his quote here due to all the cursing—but you get the idea—and I agree with him when it comes to kids’ books. Obviously my son can’t read, but one of his favorite things in the world is a board book about baby animals, and each example includes a piece of felt, fur or feather you can rub to learn about texture. You can’t “pat the bunny” on a Nook; you can’t lift the flaps to help Spot find his Easter eggs and you can’t hone fine-motor and manipulation skills pulling stacks of Kindles off of a bottom shelf until mom gives in and reads one to you.
I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind. I just wanted to share a personal struggle with a change in the world of literary art. Whatever you decide about e-books, just read! Kentucky is certainly ripe with opportunities to find a good book. I haven’t bought or borrowed a real book since December. This is a shameful streak, which I intend to break the second I get paid. How do you feel about e-books?
Sarah Schmitt, arts access director