Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Reading in 2020

Don't get me wrong. As many of you know, I am, by no means, anti-e-book. I have an iTouch, and I have downloaded free e-book apps (including The Kindle) and have played around with (oh yeah, and read) them. I have discovered that I don't have much trouble reading a book on the small screen (something I had thought would be a problem), and I love the convenience of it: instant books (I have not yet paid for a single e-book, which probably is not good, since I work in publishing. This will change when Bob and I get an iPad -- we're waiting for the second generation), one small gizmo to carry around in my bag (on my last business trip, I only took one print book with me. That would have been unheard of in my pre-iTouch days), and the ability to quickly look stuff up online while reading a book, if I want (I know. I know. Many say that sort of thing is ruining the act of reading, but I do it anyway, because...well, I can. The novelty may wear off at some point). And, as I've always suspected, I was thrilled when I began reading my e-book version of Eothen, or Traces of Travel Brought Home from the East by Alexander William Kinglake (great book, by the way. Download it and read it if you've got the Kindle app), got to my first endnote, tapped on the number, and was instantly taken to the note. When I was done, I tapped again and was instantly taken back to my place. Such service! What else could a reader want?

As it turns out, quite a lot. Sure, e-books provide plenty of conveniences, but conveniences always come hand-in-hand with inconveniences. You'd think they were sixteen-year-olds in love for the first time. You rarely ever see them apart.

We readers are an imaginative lot, and my imagination seems to love to play around with e-book scenarios. It's been making up all kinds of scenarios that might become reality if the likes of Jeff Bezos have their way and manage to kill print publishing. Even if, say, they don't make the mistake of catering to ADHD techies instead of readers, attaching all sorts of bells and whistles to the latest Neil Gaiman novel, and merely give us what we now have, the book in a downloadable format, I don't think I'll be too happy living in such a world. Here are a few of the scenarios my imagination has been serving up:

Scenario #1

Emily's Friend (EF): So, did you finish Cool Mysterywriter's new book yet? What a great book. I was so surprised. I just didn't see that ending coming at all.

Emily (E): Well, actually...no.

EF: No? But you told me you started that at least two weeks ago. I couldn't put it down. I read it in, like, one day. Don't tell me you didn't like it. How could you not like it?

E: No. I loved it.

EF: You loved it, but you haven't finished it? God, you've got so much more self control than I have. I had to put my life on hold for that one.

E: It's not that. I wanted to finish it, was putting my life on hold, too. Then, it disappeared.

EF: What? Oh, God, not with that book. I'm always afraid that's going to happen to me with a book like that. Luckily, it hasn't so far.

EF: Yeah, well, it's the third one this year that's disappeared on me. I'd just started the next to the last chapter, and that was it. Gone. I checked all the files, everywhere it could possibly be. Nothing. Lost forever. And I refuse to pay for it again. Now I'm on the interminable waiting list at the library. But don't tell me how it ends. I don't want to know.

EF: Don't worry. I won't. But, God, I don't know how you can wait. I'd lend you my copy, but well, of course, you know, I can't.

E: I know. And to think, I thought I hated Amazon back in 2008. I knew nothing about hate back then.

Scenario #2

EF: Oh, I just finished the most fun book. It's Katie Chicklit's most recent, and it's so funny. You downloaded that one when you went to London, didn't you?

E: Yeah, but I never read it.

EF: Too bad. It would've been perfect airplane reading.

E: Oh, I'm sure it would've been. I had saved it for the plane ride back. But then, we got stuck on the ground before taking off from Heathrow.

EF: Oh no!

E: Yep. They loaded us all on board, wouldn't let us get off, and then we sat for 3 1/2 hours before we finally took off. I'd forgotten to recharge my battery the night before, which would have been fine, if we hadn't had that extra 3 1/2 hours tagged on. Of course, my #$%! battery died. I had enough power to finish up the one book I was reading, but not enough for Katie Chicklit.

EF: God, what did you do?

E: I was stuck watching some Godawful, barely memorable movie.

Scenario #3

Tech Store Clerk (TSC): I'm sorry. We can't fix this.

E: What do you mean you can't fix this??! I've got 1500 books loaded on that thing. You've got to fix it.

TSC: It's nearly two years old. We don't have the parts to fix something that old. There's nothing we can do.

E: There's nothing you can do? I just lose all my books? That's it?

TSC: Well, you could try "We Fix Everything." They sometimes have some of the really old parts.

E: And where are they?

TSC: Let me get their address and phone number for you.

E (while TSC is typing and looking at her computer screen): Do you have any idea how much that might cost?

TSC: It varies, but it usually starts at around $3000.

Scenario #4

Online Headline News:

"Amazon Spanks Readers with Worldtakeover II"

Jeff Bezos announced today that the Worldtakeover II, Amazon's new e-book reader, will be on sale in time for Christmas 2020...blah...blah...blah...blah. "Well, yes," he says, when asked to confirm rumors that those who want to read the latest John Grisham novel will have to purchase the $1500 Worldtakeover II, "it's true that none of the new e-books we'll be publishing will be compatible with the Worldtakeover I. But once readers see what these new machines can do, they will no longer want to read books on machines with that 6-month-old technology." Blah...blah...blah...blah.

Luckily, my imagination is truly unable to picture a world without books. It tells me that, although creating these scenarios is fun for it, I need not worry that I will ever actually have to live any of them. We'll see. In the meantime, watch me: I'm going to start stockpiling print books like crazy. Okay, okay. "Continue stockpiling print books like crazy."


knitseashore said...

I am already hoarding print books for my old age; do you think that batteries, etc, will be readily available for us if we are in a *facility?* The idea of being in assisted living with nothing good to read scares me so much that I am taking all 28 (probably 30 now) boxes of books with me, just like I did when we moved here.

Oh, the terror just thinking about this...I'll finally have lots of time to read, and if I have a device that won't work and not enough money to fix it...

Anonymous said...

I definitely can see the last 2 scenarios. But like you, I don't think books will disappear that quickly. Esp if we all keep buying them.

Stefanie said...

LOL, your imagination is going wild I can see :) I don't know what Apple is doing but if you purchase a book from Amazon they keep a copy of the book on their servers so if you accidentally delete it from your Kindle reading device or break your device, you still have a copy online as a back up.

I'll be sticking with the Kindle for my e-reading. The battery lasts a week or more between recharges if you have the wifi turned off.

A coworker has an iPad and let me play with it briefly the other day. She has a Kindle too. I asked if she had read a book on her iPad yet and she said no. She's using it more as a laptop replacement/smartphone upgrade and does her work and stuff on it.

Emily Barton said...

Ms. Knits, oh yes, the horror of being stuck in assisted living unable to read sends shivers down my spine.

Lilian, I'm doing my best to keep print books from disappearing (I must be prescient, because I have been for many years now).

Stef, "going wild" is basically my imagination's constant state. My iTouch battery lasts quite long, too, as long as I have the Wifi turned off (or even have it "sleeping," for that matter). Still, I am very forgetful and just wait for that day when I'm in the midst of something great and the battery dies, and I'm nowhere that I can re-charge it.

Jodie said...

Yes all those things are why I do not yet trust ereader makers enough to buy their products. Especially that 'you can't lend' thing, I am not going to lend my ereader out so friends can take years not to read the book I lent them.

Smithereens said...

Oh your 3 scenarios ring so very true! I was on a business trip and wolfed down 3 (print) novels in 3 days, so at some point I was thinking of the benefits of buying one of those tech gizmos, until I was stuck with a dying computer battery on the train and I was so lucky to return to my paper books!! -but I'm a late adopter for this kind of things, business guys don't count on me to make choices.

Unknown said...

Emily, thanks for verbalizing the contempt and dread I've been feeling toward the Kindle and its kin since my little brother, the computer guy in our family, started touting the gadget. He's reading Anna Karenina on his Kindle right now and bandies it about, pointing to passages, wanting to discuss with me a book I read 20 years ago. It's like the only reason he didn't read the Russian classics earlier is that they were too heavy. I just shoo him away from me, unable to explain why this slim, white toy elicits such nausea in me. I think I might have to link to your post so he'll understand my apprehension.