The E-book Heresies

Back in 2007 when Amazon was pushing the Kindle, I said it didn’t stand a chance.  “There’s something about the feel and smell of a book that this can never replace!” I cried, firm in my belief that people would not embrace it and staunch in my conviction that I would never succumb to such technological laziness.

Flash forward to two weeks ago when I got a Nook.

Okay, first of all, it was a gift.  But a gift I had strongly hinted I wanted.  It only took three years for me to make a complete hypocrite out of myself.  That’s a record long.

The ice started breaking last year when someone had a Kindle with them at a Fourth of July cookout.  It looked kind of neat, and talking to them about it, they said it was just like reading a book.  “Only without the feel and heft of an actual book,” I said.  “And without the shelf space that requires,” they responded.

Now Hannah can attest to this:  I have a ton of books.  I have more books than shelves.  I have books that I bought ten years ago that I still haven’t read yet.  Hannah dies a little inside when I bring home a new one.  I honestly think she’d rather see me walk in with a swimsuit model than another damn book.  But I would was rhapsodic about liking the idea of having shelves of books in the house, how I wanted our children to be able to browse the shelves and be amazed by what was available to them.  Sure, they suck on ice when it comes time to move, but that was worth it to have shelves and shelves of different stories to read.

So when she found out that you could fit thousands of books on one of these e-readers, she became a big fan.

I began considering the blasphemous idea, especially once I embraced e-books when it came to role-playing games.  Your typical RPG book runs about $40, and that’s often for a soft-cover book.  But you can get PDF versions very often for half that.  And a lot of older games threw their entire lines out there for free in the format, just to keep the game alive.  So suddenly I was in possession of a good number of things I swore I’d never had.  I tried to justify it, to claim I hadn’t really fallen from the faith.  “These aren’t really books, they’re game manuals.  It’s different.”

Then Tor Books started sending out free e-books, and I figured, “Hey, I’m not paying for it.  I’m still pure.”  But I was in complete denial.

So back to that Fourth of July, and the first spark of interest in getting into the harder stuff.  The price was still prohibitive, and I wasn’t crazy about Amazon’s rights management issues, so I filed the thought away as a passing fancy and didn’t give it much more thought.

Cue Barnes and Noble and the Nook.

I’m a complete and utter Barnes and Noble junkie.  I’ll wander around one for hours and buy nothing.  I’ll spend more for a book at B&N than I could get it for at Borders.  It’s a sickness, really.  So when they announced that their e-reader would have expandable memory, could be used with more formats, would not have insane DRM issues, well, they had my attention.  And then when they came out with the WiFi version for under $150 a few months ago, attention turned to fascination turned to obsession.

And so my wonderful wife went and got one for me.  I’d call her an enabler, but I was ready to take the plunge anyway.  She just gave me the push into the pool.

So far, I”m loving the thing.  I have almost 80 books on it (thank you, Project Gutenberg, you evil, evil website you) and I’ve barely scratched the memory.  It’s easy to read, I enjoy the daily blogs, and I’ve got a subscription to the New Yorker on it so I feel sophisticated while reading in the bathroom.  It may not feel or smell like a book, but when it comes down to it, it’s the words that are important, not the format they use to get to my eyes.

And so I’m happily filling up my little electronic piece of crack, and Hannah’s happily watching my bookshelves not getting any fuller.  In fact, some of my books will be going away now that I have electronic versions.  Some I’ll never part with — I will always have a print version of The Lord of the Rings in my house, for instance — but even as big a bibliophile as me can’t justify having two copies of a book laying around.  Hannah would probably leave me if I did.


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