Kicking & Screaming Into the E-Book Age

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Since Amazon introduced its Kindle some years ago, I have watched it with both a yearning and skeptical eye. I love the idea of the convenience and portability of e-book readers, but … I also love books. Real, physical books. I love the way they feel, the sound of the hard cover as it opens and closes. The meditative flip of the pages. I used to love the smell of books, too, but that has changed and evolved over the years into something less organic and more chemically. Still – I love books.

I have casually looked into the Kindle, but usually with only a passing interest. A fleeting fancy easily quashed.

But then, Barnes & Noble came out with the nook, and it had More Stuff On It, including a full-color touchscreen. Intriguing.

Still, a desire I could push to the side with ease.

Until all of my damn friends went out and bought one.

Whether Kindle or nook, absolutely everyone is going bat-crap crazy over their e-readers. Now, working in the library, I see them all day long, too. Some of the librarians spend lunch flipping through them, and I see patrons eagerly sharing e-books back and forth. Surely, if The Ladies at the library (who must have considerably more emotional investment in their books than I do,) love theirs, I should give them a closer inspection.


So I did.

After spending a couple of tortuous hours at the mall yesterday, I braved the even more torturous MSU football traffic in East Lansing and went to the large Barnes & Noble store on campus. In my childhood, this store was a Jacobson’s, a somewhat upper-end department store. We shopped here often, but I think the bookstore is a far better use of the space, even if it is a large-scale chain. It’s hard not too be in favor of bookstores, in whatever form they may take.

There was a nook advertisement over the information desk, and I hesitantly asked the attendant (a very tall young man with a kind face) where I might get my hands on one to try out. He gently motioned toward the countertop display three inches to my right. Oh. Ok, then.

I’m not a person who wants to Be Sold. I don’t like a pushy salesperson. I want to examine things and try them out without someone hovering over me and hammering me with questions or small talk. If I have a question, I promise to ask. The Tall Man understood this without being told and let me be… after showing me where the power button was hiding in plain sight. >.< When he walked away, he quietly told his replacement I was just browsing the nook and to let me poke at it. He is either extremely intuitive, or simply understands that patrons may not wish to have their spaces invaded uninvited.

The replacement woman didn’t get this. In response to his very understated request, she loudly said, “WELL OK THEN! I’LL JUST LET HER BE, HA HA HA!” as if he were surely joking, because what sort of person wouldn’t want her constant assistance? She proceeded to hover behind the counter in my general direction and make sure, every few minutes, that I was still “Ok.” After a polite smile, I ignored her and tried to like the nook, tried to fall in love with it.

It wasn’t cooperating. At every turn of the page, the e-ink display flashed from black-on-white to white-on-black for a split-second, which my ridiculously sensitive eyes find somewhat jarring. The unit itself was too small and thin to hold comfortably for long periods of time. Still, I kept trying. I asked a few questions of the lady about function and size comparison with the Kindle, because it had been awhile since I’d compared them online. She answered my questions and proceeded to quiz me. I thanked her and walked away, back to the reassuring stacks of Actual Books.

I don’t know why I have this irrational, sentimental attachment to books, but I do. I think I inherited this, among so many other things, from My Crazy Mother, who has shelf upon shelf, stack upon stack, of books she’s had for decades, which she won’t ever read again, but with which she hasn’t been able to part. I get this. I have a smaller, but still substantial, collection. It takes a Herculean emotional effort for me to donate books to charity, but I do manage from time to time.

There is something very reassuring about a book. There is so much potential pleasure in a book store. It’s comforting to simply be in the presence of boatloads of books, surrounded by written words on tangible pages. Lifetimes of reading, and here I am stalling and playing stupid internet space ship games.

I picked up a few books I’d been hearing about from friends, at the library and on NPR. I paid attention to their heft, to their colors, to the textures of the page, to the print. I sniffed a few, but the earthy aroma of yore is indeed gone. I enjoyed the way the books warmed in my hands, the organic feel of them. I caressed covers. I listened to the turning of the pages, felt the friction of page sliding over page. And I love it all!

The intrusive woman ran into me again at a display table.

“So, what do you think about the nook?”
“I’m going to have to think about it. I just… I just love my books. I’m not sure I can give them up. Maybe I’m crazy.”
“You’re not. Well, maybe you are, but you’re in good company. I actually hear that a lot.”

Before the encounter turned into something more awkward and painful, I thanked her for her help and turned back to the book in hand.

In my mind, I was going over the pros and cons, like a good, non-compulsive consumer. You know – like a normal person would.

E-Reader Pros:

  • Environmentally friendlier. At least, in theory – fewer slaughtered trees, fewer resources consumed in the long run, right? I mean, there’s the chemical nastiness of the production of the reader itself, but over its lifetime, maybe that will even out.
  • Damned convenient. Back when I read a lot, I would read several to many books at one time. Depending upon my mood, I’d pick up the “right” book for the moment. An e-reader would make this possible without toting around six books at a time. Too, I can search for passages I want to reread, add bookmarks, highlight passages and make notes (if somewhat slowly and awkwardly) on the virtual keyboard.
  • Cost over time. It is cheaper to buy e-books than real books, which offsets the up-front cost.
  • Maybe it will rekindle (no pun intended) my love of reading and get me to spend more time doing it, instead of waiting for the computer to feed me shiny things.
  • Ability to change fonts and select font size.
  • Smaller and lighter than most hardcover books.
  • I like toys and gadgets.

E-Readers cons:

  • My attention span is not what it used to be. Not at all. Not in the slightest. I have a stack of books on the dresser in the bedroom I have barely even touched. Will I actually use the e-reader any more than I read my physical books? I don’t know.
  • Cost up front. While it was only $140, that’s still a significant chunk of change in my little, broke-assed world. For some folks, buying it and not using it wouldn’t be a big waste of money. For me, it’s enough to make me stop and think several times. Like, for two years.
  • Glare. Despite the (quite remarkable) e-ink technology, the nook case is shiny plastic, as inexplicably are the beveled edges surrounding the reading page. Overhead light is reflected quite brightly at many angles, and with my crazy eyes, it bothers me to an extent.
  • Potential failure. Short of being physically destroyed, books don’t break. You can drop them in the tub, and while they’ll come out wrinkly, they’re still legible. Sitting on them, dropping them on the driveway, running them over with a car – books can survive all these things. The e-readers, not so much.
  • Very little tactile feedback.
  • Small reading field.
  • Yet another gadget to haul around with me.

I talked myself out of buying one, at least for the day. I wandered around more, looking at books to see if anything grabbed my attention. Flipping through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I expected to be wowed, but found it lacking and moved along. I read through some of His Holiness Dalai Lama’s words of wisdom and was calmed.

I wandered some more and found myself at the main entrance.

Where there was another, unattended nook display.

And this one had nook holders.

Really soft, supple, pleasant-to-the-touch holders. Holders made from, and I kid you not, “Genuine Italian Synthetic Leather.” I’m all for non-leather products, but honestly.

I picked up some of the nook covers and held them, stroked them, opened and closed them. I dismantled the packaging and put the nook inside the one I liked best. It felt much more like a real book and much less like a cold, electronic thing. I noticed The Tall Man and The Intrusive Woman noticing me holding it, and I figured they probably knew they had me at that point. They both wisely stayed away, perhaps sensing timid prey on the verge of flight.

I went back and forth from books to nook several times, and then, after an hour and a half, made my decisive move.

At the check-out counter, The Tall Man smiled kindly and asked how he could help me. I had a small writing journal in my hand, which I laid upon the counter and looked him in the eye for a second or two. I’m not sure what I was searching for in those eyes, perhaps the absence of a hawk-like salesperson, hell-bent on a sale at any cost. That trait was surely not present from what I could see. He seemed genuine, and I liked him without knowing anything about who he was, other than Some Guy Who Seemed Quite Nice.

“Ok, so. If I totally hate it, can I  bring it back within 30 days or anything?”
“Fourteen days, no restocking fee, and you’re not going to hate it.”
He laughed. “You’re not going to hate it.”
“Ok. I’ll get one.”

Despite the silly label, I chose one of those genuine synthetic Italian leather covers, because it is unbelievably soft and supple to the fingertips. The quote on the front is fitting, as well, but is secondary: “When I step into this library, I cannot imagine why I ever step out of it.” ~ Marie de Sevigne. While the Cromaine library isn’t one of those awe-inspiring, serene and meditative places, I do love the libraries that are.

The Tall Man had to go to the basement to find a wi-fi-only model, and I took the opportunity to ask the other employee behind the counter her impressions. I briefly explained my emotional book attachment, which she shares. She had borrowed one from the store for a few days, also skeptically, but she soon found she actually wanted one. She hadn’t taken the plunge yet, but said she was planning to sometime soon.

What the heck. Worst case scenario, I bring it back within two weeks.  My only real reservations were the page-turning-black thing and the white, glarey case plastic. Maybe I’d get used to the former and be able to do something about the latter.

Less than twenty-four hours later, I have finished my first book and am quite pleased. My eyes aren’t as annoyed by the page-changing antics as I thought they might be, and the glare isn’t really awful, even in full overhead sun. I’d still ideally like to make it go away, though. I was somewhat vexed to discover, a couple of hours after my purchase, that Amazon has released a flat-black “graphite” model of Kindle that looks to have a matte surface. That might have swayed me in the Kindle direction, but alas. I’d have to see one in person to decide if it’s worth switching out now.

I wanted to test it out with a book I knew would hold my attention. Something fluffy and fun, nothing laborious. Sadly, in my case, that often means Janet Evanovich, one of my guilty pleasure authors. I adore her writing voice, and I identify too strongly with Stephanie Plum. I’d abandoned the series when I abandoned reading, and had no idea where I’d left off, but To The Nines sounded about right. Twenty seconds after purchase, it was on my nook and ready to go.

Two hundred pages later, I think I’m hooked. I read in bed last night, on the deck and in the yard this afternoon, more in bed this evening and am pleasantly surprised by how much the nook disappears in much the same way a physical book does when I’m not specifically paying attention to it. The nice cover helps very much in this regard. I even find myself reaching up to turn a non-existent physical page from time to time.

When I was showing Mike Neir the new toy last night, he bent the cover backward in half.

Alarmed, I said, “Oh no no no no no, we don’t do that. I’m not a spine-breaker.”
“But it’s not a real book!”
“Well, it might… wear it out faster or something.” I think he rolled his eyes as he opened it back up again, but humored his crazy girlfriend.

Turns out, as is so often the case, Mike Neir is probably right. I found myself tentatively folding the cover in half at times. Nothing cracked in protest, nothing strained.  Hm. Ok, then.

Next up, another pleasure read: Under the Dome, by Stephen King. King is another author I have devoured and adored over the years, and yet let slip away. I’m so convinced computers, computer games and the internet have largely ruined my life. But I’m trying to reclaim things.

I wish there were a way to easily (and without cost) transfer the books I already own into the nook. Especially the stack of books I bought last winter, including The Help, Cleopatra, and the Wendell Berry books I’ve been thinking more and more about. Alas, they will have to be read as they are, in book form. Maybe that’s a good thing, though.

I’m a bit disappointed the battery is down to 62% already, after only 200 pages, because I am really awful at remembering to charge the batteries on my gadgets, but I’ll develop the habit of plugging it in. I think. Maybe. (My dead phone might bespeak otherwise.)

All in all, though, I am fairly impressed. I’ll need to pick up a little book light of some sort, since the reading field has no back light (part of the no-glare package,) but that’s fair enough.

Ok, little nook – let’s fall in love.


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8 responses to Kicking & Screaming Into the E-Book Age

  1. hah! I knew you would get hooked! I will likely buy one for Meranda when I have some more money. I have a feeling she will also be purchasing a large amount of books so I will have to be careful with this venue into the e-book world.

  2. I still love my nook. I had largely slacked off on reading real books in recent years, but now I read every single day without fail. With the hundreds (maybe thousands, hard to really say) of free ebooks available, I’ve read a VAST array of novels that I otherwise would never have looked at pre-nook. All sorts of genres. I bought a too-expensive but gorgeous hand tooled purple leather Oberon case for mine and I loooove it!!! I fold it back in half without any issues, and it is really comfy to hold. We can do the Lend Me feature if you ever want to!

  3. Erin D.

    travis – i think she’ll love it, but indeed, it’s certainly another easy way to let money slip through one’s fingers. 😉

    lisa – i’m really glad to hear you still love yours! we’ll have to do the lend me thing sometime; i’ll send you the short list of what i have thus far.

  4. ardichoke

    I told you that you would like it. If you had really wanted an extended trial I could have loaned you mine.

    As for the battery life, turn off wi-fi when you’re not using it and your battery life will skyrocket. Oh, and if you would like to give Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a go, let me know and I’ll send it to you. You can only loan nook books for a 2 week period, but that’s better than the no loaning at all kindle.

  5. Erin D.

    Yo, Rdeshone – I’d love to borrow GwtDT when I finish up the ones I’m in the midst of now, thanks. Likewise, I’d be happy to lend you _Under the Dome_, or _The Art of the Commonplace_ (somehow, I don’t think you’d dig Janet Evanovich, so I’ll leave that one off.) 😉

    Thx for the tip about the wireless, too.

  6. In order to make an empty comment, jokingly make it one long html tag and have it be swallowed by wordpress.

    Imagine I just ranted about how everyone I know purchasing gadgets compels me to purchase gadgets. *lovingly strokes the apple remote he bought yesterday after seeing Jay’s*

  7. Brian W

    I ended up with an Aluratek e-reader. It uses a reflective LCD screen so it doesn’t have the screen flash issue at all and is still visible in full sun. It also has the advantage of being cheaper than the Nook or Kindle even at their new prices. It reads epub books which are available at Borders and I’ve read several of the pre 1927 books that are available for free through gutenberg that I’ve been meaning to read for eons.

    Overall I like it and look forward to using it borrow e-books form the library soon too.

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