The digital age has forced choices; smart phone or single purpose phone, GPS for the car or old-fashioned map (and instinct), broadcast TV or streaming video, and my topic for this column; eBook or physical book?
As an author, my support of the eBook revolution was a no-brainer. It’s all about little time and large numbers. Write it, finish it, publish it, and sell it. No wait for agents to get on board or publishers to anguish through their process. It is conceivable to accomplish the whole process within a week. I suspect some people do.
The large numbers? More and more books available, instantly (purchase and download to your tablet, right now), more books available for free or $2.99 or less, more royalties for authors, more control, more self-determination. More competition? Sure, but I still believe in the buoyancy of quality––it will eventually rise to the surface.
Back to my topic, the eBook or Physical Book question. I’m one of those caught in between, a hybrid, a flipped coin that hasn’t yet landed. I have a stack of books by my bed, those I’m currently reading (seldom one at a time), those I’ve started and stopped but will-get-back-to-one-day, those I intend to read, and those with attractive covers. And the kindle.
I turn to my kindle when I want a certain book, or a certain kind of book, a book that I don’t yet have. With my kindle, I acquire it Right Now. This may happen after I read a tantalizing review in a magazine ( I have a stack of those, too, but not at the bedside…ahem), or after a friend raves about a special author, or if I simply need to get my fix of Elmore Leonard or Larry McMurtry. I never know for sure what format of book I will read tonight––life events will determine that.
As a hybrid, I have come to notice something about book formats. I’m not sure it’s real, but I have a suspicion. So I put it to you. I believe I now judge books not by the cover, but by the format.
I realized this the other night reading Raymond Chandler. I always enjoyed Raymond Chandler. I was reading The Little Sister on the kindle. But there was something missing; the tough guy persona lacked bite, the sexy heroine had less allure, the twists and turns were difficult to follow. And I wondered––would I have those same feelings reading him in a dirty paperback with smelly pages? I wonder.
The next night I began reading Dog Soldier (Robert Stone) on my kindle. Same thing. Something was missing. Could it be the large print I use on the kindle which means I must turn pages every three sentences? Could it be that the light weight of the tablet somehow suggests light weight fiction to my mind? Perhaps it’s the commitment I make when I spend the money to buy a physical book. (I have noticed that those who buy my paperback books tend to give me better reviews, as if to confirm they did indeed spend their money wisely).
So I put it to you. Is reading the master writers on kindle the same experience as it is holding a brand new book that smells of binding-glue in your hand? Is Hemingway the same when his 50 word sentences run for three kindle pages? Does William Faulkner feel the same in a shiny tablet as he does in you grandmother’s dusty old volume? Does Steinbeck have the same power in plastic? Is Thomas McGuane the same author if you can look up his obtuse references immediately?
For my part, the jury is out. But I suspect the classics are meant to be served on silver, not in plastic.