Hello everyone! In the intervening time since the last post, I’ve become Dr. Some Stones Unturned (not the real kind of doctor. I got a PhD) and gone to a conference/vacation in Australia. It’s all been a bit of a whirlwind and I now have to find something to do with my life after grad school, but let’s not dwell on that boring-ness. I’m looking forward to a spring/summer not having to think about my thesis and maybe doing a bit of blogging again. And it seems I am coming back to the topic of eReaders.
I’ve talked previously about how I came around on eBooks and that post mentioned things that come up a lot in discussions of eBooks (feel, cost, browse-ability). But a few recent experiences have made me aware of other differences (two advantages and one disadvantage) that don’t come up as often.
1. You can’t throw an eReader across the room
I mean, of course, you can, physically speaking, but it’s not really a wise decision in terms of the satisfaction-to-cost ratio like it is with a paperback. This occurred to me recently when I was reading Game of Thrones. It wasn’t that I hated the book; I actually quite enjoyed it, once I got through the initial walking around and continually talking about how cold it was. It was just that certain characters were, um, frustrating is putting it mildly. Not the ones who stole and lied and murdered, weirdly, but the woman who babied her six-year-old and that sort of thing. And Sansa was just driving me crazy, being so blind to all the things, but I know I can’t really be angry with her because she’s only 11 and is largely on her own but just GRAAAAH I wanted to throw the book across the room. And I couldn’t. And those books are pretty long, so I imagine the thwack of book on wall would be incredibly satisfying, but alas I will never know.
2. You can buy just one short story or essay
This may be possible with paper books and I’m just unaware of it, but all the essays and short stories I have in hard copy are collections of a particular author or anthologies. In the Best American Essays 2007 collection, which is guest edited by David Foster Wallace, Wallace’s introduction discusses how people usually skip through collections to the authors they know, then maybe read a few whose titles look interesting. But people won’t read the essays they aren’t interested in and they definitely won’t read the intro. Not true for me. I paid for the whole thing. As long as it holds my interest, I will keep reading that thing. In order. Because that’s the way it’s put together.
But the strangely apropos thing is that I bought that collection largely because it was edited by Wallace and I found his introduction to be one of the most enjoyable parts (although many of the other pieces are great too). Perhaps if I could have bought just that essay, I would have. This might be considered a point against eBooks, I suppose, since not buying the full anthology might have meant missing out on some pieces in the full anthology I found educational or interesting, but it would be nice to have options is all I’m saying.
And if you would like options, the BookRiot blog recently put together a post on shorter reads, noting in particular Byliner as a way of tracking these sorts of pieces down that I wasn’t aware of. In addition, some pieces are available for free online (notably from Longform and Longreads, which has a lovely Flipboard gadget if you are an iPerson. I haven’t checked it out recently because of the aforementioned PhD/Australia chaos, but was very into it for a while) and can be saved for offline reading using Instapaper, which can then be moved to your Kobo and presumably other readers as well.
Recommendations for Instapaper
Chinese Citizens on Tour in Europe – for some of the universalities (and a few differences) of tour buses from any culture
Wading Toward Home – for a different perspective on Hurricane Katrina
The Falling Man – the story around a 9/11 photograph
And I should probably just re-buy all my DF Wallace in electronic form for convenience, but bits and pieces are available online. An edited version of his Illinois State fair piece is available in pdf and probably a good place to start.
Recommendations for Purchase
I really only started exploring recently, with the Bookriot entry as a guide, so that’s why these things are mostly the things you see in that article: Margaret Atwood’s I’m Starved for You (Why haven’t I read more Atwood? Added to my to do list); How a Book is Born: The Making of the Art of Fielding (really interesting, at least to me who didn’t really know anything about buying and selling books). But I also read Elizabeth Mitchell’s The Fearless Mrs. Goodwin, which I thought spent too much time speculating on police procedures at the time and not enough on Goodwin herself. I know the author was probably limited in terms of available information so long after the fact, but it felt a bit too padded. Nevertheless I sent it to my Mom for Mother’s Day just because I loved the idea of the story and thought she would too. I’ve also bought the Vollmann piece on the Fukushima reactor, which I’m looking forward to both as an interesting topic and since Vollmann is someone I’ve intended to read for a while but never got around to.
Anyway, back to considerations for eReaders…
3. E-Readers for Organizational Freaks
I’ve already complained about organization in eBook stores. But once you’ve purchased the books, eReaders are much better for those who love organization. I got thinking about this recently when I brought a bunch of old books back from my parents’ house, had to clear off some new space to hold them and ended up having to reorganize my shelves. This may end up being more info than you wanted about my life, but I feel like there may be a number of you out there who sympathize with me in my shelf-space troubles so here we go.
In a perfect world, I would split my books simply into fiction and nonfiction. Fiction would be organized alphabetically by author (anthologies at the beginning by editor) and non-fiction would go by subject (a Dewey-esque system only I can fully follow). But in the real world, I have limited room, so I have to split my books between rooms: ~50% in a case in my living room, 50% on various spaces I have repurposed in my bedroom (half a printer stand, a section of my desk and now a part of my dresser that relies solely on bookends to keep 20 or so books from falling off its edges. There’s also a growing to-read stack on my nightstand, but I don’t think it would be fair to include this in the “organized” section). I have become a lot less strict about organization due to these limitations, but there still needs to be SOME order. Currently I have separated out mysteries, sci-fi and fantasy and moved them into my bedroom, leaving classics and non-genre fiction on the living room shelf. However, that splitting left me with slightly too many books in my room and a little space on my shelf, so I pulled out some of the more “serious” sci-fi (a completely arbitrary call, particularly since I haven’t even read some of the books I pulled, so I was literally judging based on the cover and the summary and blurbs) and shelved it in the general fiction. Clearly this is an imperfect solution and I’m bothered far too much by how a single Alfred Bester novel separates Jane Austen from Anne Bronte. Still might move that one back.
But the point is, eReaders don’t have this kind of space restriction. And you have the ability to create “shelves” (I’m using my experience with Kobo, an old version which they may have improved upon. I assume other software does similar things, although I have less experience with it. The point isn’t really what a particular piece of software actually does, but what it could easily have the potential to do) so you could have a general fiction shelf with everything or have shelves for every subgenre you can think of or whatever you want. THE E-SKY IS THE LIMIT.
But even if I had all the shelf-space I needed all in the same room, I would still likely not be satisfied with my physical book organization. The space on my printer stand, for example, will only fit standard paperback-height novels and nothing taller. So some books have to be pulled out and placed in a special “oversized” section. Likewise in the living room, the dictionary should clearly be at the start of the non-fiction section, but also at easy height for grabbing to look things up, but also its position is limited since it can’t fit on every shelf. I’m sure a topologist could figure out the optimal organization given shelf sizes, but with an eReader, the size of the book is a non-issue in terms of organization.
But even a topologist could not solve the largest problem a
crazy person concerned reader has, which is what to do with in-between books. I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but the world is a very complex place. SHADES OF GREY PEOPLE (um, not the book. Just meaning not everything is black and white). Is Sherlock Holmes a mystery or a classic? The Princess Bride seems like it should go in fantasy, but doesn’t it make sense to shelve it with the rest of Goldman’s books and isn’t it a stretch to put The Temple of Gold anywhere other than general fiction? I like to keep an author’s works together. You might think that this is due to my space limitation and if I hadn’t separated out the genre stuff, it would be a lot clearer, but this isn’t so! I would still have to split up authors like Franzen, whose How to Be Alone would be nonfiction and The Corrections (I will read it someday…maybe) would be fiction.
With an eReader, you could be browsing your shelves, see Goldman’s “Which Lie Did I Tell?”, wonder what all you had by Goldman, click his name and voilà: all his fiction and nonfiction together. (Again, I speak in terms of possibilities. I don’t believe my eReading software currently does this, but certainly software could be made that did. That’s how my music library works on my computer for example. Or how tags and categories on blog posts work, where multiple tags and/or categories are allowed for a single post and posts in the same category could have different tags. Is there eReading software with a tagging feature? Let me know if you’re aware of any).
And splitting up authors isn’t the only “in between” problem. What should be done with The Best American NonRequired Reading series? It contains essays, but also comics and short stories and IT IS RUINING EVERYTHING. What I really need is the ability to have two copies of the book and then I could shelve one in fiction and one in non-fiction. But with an eReader, you don’t need multiple copies, you can just point to the book you want from multiple shelf-like objects, each going to the same “copy” of a book. Done. This is also handy if you have a non-fiction book that falls into multiple categories (eg. Bike Snob is obviously about biking, but is it about biking as a hobby, which puts it more with crafting and yarn books, or biking as a sport? Or it could also be considered a collection of humourous essays and housed with those).
And as a final possibility, the great question of whether unread books should be kept separate from completed books and books in progress could be abandoned. I have a lot of unread books. Placing them all in the to-read pile would result in a precarious tower (or two or several) leaning over my bed. E-Reader solution: tag things as unread. Or have the software automatically move things to a completed list when you’ve finished them and also keep things you’re currently reading separate (which is kind of annoying when you re-open a book just to look something up and then you get all confused when you go to your “currently reading” list because you’re sure you already finished that book. Just me?).
But yes, if you like to pretend that your life is organized and your soul is at peace when you are in fact incapable of moving things from the “to read” pile on your nightstand to the finished section of your bookshelf until the whole terrible mess comes crashing down around you in the middle of the night, an eReader might help you cling to that illusion of control and safety a little bit longer. Or so I assume; I’m not the sort of person who would know anything about that, naturally.