Thoughtful Thursday: E-books, v6832567298459

Seriously, it seems that all the media does anymore is talk about the decline of the print book.  And with Google announcing it’s e-book service this week, the demise of the paper book has again been prophesied. But, in the spirit of Monty Python, I would like to proclaim, on behalf of books, “I’m not dead yet!”

Reasons why books will always be a part of my life.

1. I’m an academic. I teach political theory. That means I teach texts that are thousands of years old. So not only do I have my own notes in the margins, I have my teaching notes in the margins. I’ve tried e-readers, and though you can annotate and mark, there is something radically different about writing your own notes rather than typing.  Because I like to draw diagrams and arrows, and number things and write “Pbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbtttt!!!” in the margins, that is especially hard to convey in e-texts, where the notes are detached from the actual text.

2. Flipping back and forth is difficult. If I want to compare multiple passages on an e-book reader, it’s a pain. With an actual text, I can put a finger in one spot, and a finger in the other. Much easier.

3. I won’t be out a lot of money if I drop a paperback in the bathtub. I don’t think hairdrying a Kindle is part of the approved owner’s manual techniques.

4. Books smell good. Kindles smell like copper.

5. Conflict electronics.

6. I like taking Aquinas’ multi-volume Summa Theologiae into class and dropping it on the table. It keeps students from whining (as much) about the little bit of it I made them read. You don’t get the same effect with an electronic file.

7. Books will survive solar flares and electromagnetic pulse weapons.

8. I have a three year old. Him tearing a page is less traumatic than breaking the screen.

9. Books are easier to swap with friends. I don’t lose my entire collection when I give one book away. I lend you my reader, and then what am I supposed to do? Go outside?

10. I am a reader. I could go all hermeneutical on you, but I am the reader. Not some piece of electronics.

11. I like browsing people’s bookshelves to get a sense of their personality. That’s much less intrusive than flipping through someone’s electronic device.

Having said all that, I’m going to try teaching using e-texts next semester. The school is pushing us to reduce costs to students, so we’ll see how it goes. Who knows, maybe I am being overly-Luddite in my approach. But my final reason for preferring books to e-texts is personal. My dad saves news clippings and cards from his kids in between the pages of books that he is reading when he gets them. Going through his books is like discovering a journal of my dad’s life. Books are personal in a way I don’t see e-texts being.

So, add your own reason to prefer books to e-books, or tell me I’m misguided and out of touch. And tell me which reader I should get for next semester. :) The most convincing comment will earn you a book from our stacks. And don’t forget to enter our “Anticipate the Best of 2010” contest from last week while you’re at it.

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RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit's staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

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  1. @Kat that’s where the ownership thing gets complicated, and I’m not sure there will never be a solution that will make everyone happy. If there are authors who have reservations about used bookshops or libraries, then they should probably find another profession. Furniture makers, and auto manufacturers do not get the luxury of DRM. I have purchased an object, that object becomes my own. DRM takes that away from me. That object is no longer mine to do with as I please, it becomes this half mine half theirs sort of thing. If the price were to truly reflect my level of ownership I probably wouldn’t be so mad, but Jim Butcher’s Storm Front is still $10 on ebook…why? I can buy it all day brand new for $7 and then loan it to everyone in my family. I can sell it on ebay, or swap it for another book. It’s obviously the superior product. I feel the system is broken, and until it’s fixed I will primarily buy printed versions of the books, and then I can do as I please with them.

  2. What Justin said, basically.

    Also, the few authors I’ve interacted with appreciate libraries. If every library in the country buys a hardcover copy of a new book, it adds up to a lot of sales. It also allows readers to discover a new author, and they will possibly buy books by that author later. I have nothing but sympathy for authors who don’t make a lot of money (which is partly why I spend hours of my life writing reviews and running discussion groups and so on) but complaining about libraries doesn’t work for me, also because it’s often the only way that some people actually get to read books. As for used book stores, there’s a used market for everything, from music to cars to books. That’s been the case since before ebooks came around. I don’t consider this a valid argument to force me to buy an inferior product.

    It’s also ironic that the rise of e-books has created a thriving new piracy market, which probably costs the authors even more sales than the few copies that get sold to used book stores. That never was a big problem with books before. To be 100% clear, I absolutely don’t condone piracy in any way, but as soon as you add DRM to something, it’s going to happen.

  3. Camilla /

    I prefer printed books too, but I am seeing some uses for e-books. For instance, there are thousands of free e-books to download from Project Gutenberg and similar sites. Sure, you can read them on your computer, and I’m doing that now, but it would be nice to have a smaller, lighter device. Also, the Kindle doesn’t need to be recharged for a whole month. That’s pretty impressive.

    However, I think e-readers will be most useful for reading news. Printed newspapers really are a waste of resources.

    Hopefully, print books and e-books can coexist for a long time.

  4. For those wondering about lending ebooks–Amazon has announced their e-lending feature but it’s flawed in many ways.

    There’s another way to do it as well–any Kindles registered to a user’s account have access to all the books purchased on that account. If you trust a person with your account you can have them de-register their Kindle and then register it on your account.

    Of course this means that their books are then not available to them but it does solve the 14 day waiting thing.

    I actually think 14 days is a very reasonable time limit. If I’ve borrowed a book from a friend and haven’t finished it in 14 days, I’m probably not ever going to finish it. Likewise if I’ve gotten started on it, but haven’t finished it I’m probably not going to finish it.

    If I was planning on finishing it 14 days is more than long enough for me to know if it’s something that I’m going to want to purchase on my own.

  5. Carrie Conley /

    Old school….I like having the book in my hand….I need to fold the corner so I will no where to start when I return….

  6. I’m really hesitant about ebooks. I always worry that I’ll lose the files somehow and that would mean losing my books. It feels like carrying all of my eggs in one basket, which could be devastating to my book-loving self if they all just disappeared. It would take a major catastrophe (like a fire or flood) to lose my physical books. Plus I can’t hug an e-book. ;)

  7. Justintmaj /



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