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eReaders–Isabel Swift wonders: what’s with the “But I love BOOKS” response?

October 24, 2011 by in category From Isabel Swift tagged as , , , , , with 2 and 0
Home > Columns > From Isabel Swift > eReaders–Isabel Swift wonders: what’s with the “But I love BOOKS” response?

I’m sure you’ve had the same experience–or have been one of the players in this conversation.

But first, a bit of background….

In addition to being VP of editorial for Harlequin, over a decade ago I also chaired a digital/eBook task force charged with exploring this new business opportunity. Additionally, much later, I was part of the new business group launching a number of new digital initiatives. So I guess what I’m trying to say is: I swing both ways. And in the course of my work, I had a lot of conversations with people–readers, writers, booksellers, digital entrepreneurs. Today, I still love to find out what people are reading–and how they are reading.

Back to the present. So, I’m at a dinner party, or cocktail party, or just striking up a conversation in line or traveling–and the subject of books and reading comes up. Often one person has an eReader (frequently a Kindle, sometimes an iPad or other eReader) and is either extolling its virtues, or reluctantly (or not) going through the learning curve.

Someone else invariably chimes in (sometimes with passionate intensity) “But I love BOOKS! I could NEVER get an eReader!” Then they go on a bit about the smell, turning the pages & the multitude of pleasures, information and sensation that a physical object offers. The self-confessed eReader reader is given the hairy eyeball, or at best, a pitying look. Emotions can (and have) run high over this line in the sand, this perceived chasm.

And don’t get me wrong–I love books too. Physical books. But I am stumped as to why there is such a prevalent and passionate assumption that physical Vs digital is an either/or choice. Like once you purchase an eReader, a scarlet TTTWW (for Traitor To The Written Word) will be emblazoned on your forehead and a magnetic force field will drop down (visually similar to the Cone of Silence in Get Smart) preventing you from ever touching another physical book with your dirty digital hands. You have not remained faithful to the books that raised you–dipping your wick elsewhere is clearly felt to be a relationship ender.

Huh? I just don’t get it. My reading world is not monogamous! I believe in choice! I love stories. I love storytellers. Books have not changed my life–stories have, with their information, insights, compelling worlds, emotional challenges and eye opening truths. Stories that are shared though listening (conversation, audio, radio, lectures,…), seeing (performance, films, TV, museums,…) or reading (books, newspapers, magazines, documents, letters,…).

Yes, the story’s trasmission vehicle can make a difference in the impact of a story. Watching the Rolling Stones’ Steel Wheels concert live Vs at an IMAX theatre with rabid fans Vs on a DVD alone at home delivers quite different experiences. Reading a hardcover, paperback, listening to the story on audio, reading it on an eReader all deliver a different experience.

Sure, there may be preferred formats for certain stories. Haven’t you heard people say “You don’t need to see that movie in a theater, it’ll be fine on DVD”? I assure you watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show live at midnight is a great example of the transformative impact of how you experience a story Vs sitting at home with the remote.

But everyone understands the benefits of access, choice, convenience. As a reader, I don’t like to be without something to read. And while I am usually a fairly committed reader, I must confess I’m not entirely monagamous. As a frequent traveller I have found myself lugging stacks of material: manuscripts, educational/business reading, fun reading, recommended reading, themeatically appropriate reading, books 2 and 3 in the series, just in case… You know what I’m talking about!

Now I can have everything on one slim tablet and people no longer ask me if I am carrying rocks in my suitcase. Maybe I’ll have a paperback in my purse too–cheerful in the knowledge if I tire of it or finish it, I have other options. Bedtime reading with sleeping spouse can cease to be an issue with a back-lit iPad. And another interesting aspect of the digital reading experience is product privacy. No one knows what you’re reading.

(Though for some that could be a drawback, as looking intellectual, educated, in-the-know and generally superior could be the key driver behind plowing through an improving literary tome. But surely a secondary market will spring up of sheaths for one’s tablet that will say perhaps: “Don’t bother me…Riveted by Rushdie!” or “Intellect @ Play” or “I’m improving myself. And you?”)

Alternatively, maybe you really don’t mind carrying two or three volumes around in your gigantic purse. Perhaps you are unmoved by the ability to download a recommended read instantly at the dinner table in The-Back-of-Beyond. Unlike me, perhaps you may have a house filled with empty shelves, just waiting to be filled, with your other bookshelves are stacked with easy-to-find, easy-to-search titles. But that is not my world.

So enough with this “I love BOOKS!”. Of course you do. But I love stories….

Isabel Swift

2 Comments

  • Anonymous
    on October 30, 2011

    Exactly!

  • Anonymous
    on October 25, 2011

    How true! Yes, I love the physical aspects of holding a book in my hand, but not so much the cases of once read books in the shed, nor the stripped books that ended up in landfills. I read to devour the gift of story from the writer. And certainly when I fly the Kindle is far nicer than the six pounds of books I used to cram into my carry on bags!
    Monica Stoner w/a Mona Karel

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