This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

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Friday, June 10, 2011

Old-School Print Guy Reads E-Book

            I lost my e-book virginity this past weekend to a woman I met online. She’s been dead a while, too, if that makes the story any more marketable.
            Her name is Anne Austin, and in 1931 she published a mystery novel titled Murder at Bridge, about a woman shot to death in a Midwestern city while a number of her friends are over for a friendly round of cards. I wouldn’t recommend that you run out and buy this book, but I did because it was 99 cents at the Kindle store, and there was no sense in sinking too much money into an e-book library until I’d read an entire book that way.
            When the first e-readers came out a few years ago, Linda asked if I wanted one for Christmas, and my response was a less polite and more profane variation of “Over my dead body.” I am an old-school print guy — English major in college, newspaperman for two decades. I love the feel of a book in my hands and the look of it on the shelf. I love paper and ink. After years of trying, I still can’t get used to reading a newspaper online. It just doesn’t seem like the real thing, and I was sure an e-book would feel equally wrong.
            A few weeks ago I bought an iPad, primarily as a way of taking my business, or a significant piece of it anyway, easily with me when I leave the office. Since it can double as an e-reader, and since I had some money left on an Amazon gift card, I reluctantly decided to try an e-book just one time. As Voltaire observed in another context: Once, a philosopher; twice, a pervert.
            It took a while to get the iPad connected to Amazon and the gift card, but once done I searched the Kindle store for mysteries and it kicked up a few of the classic era that cost next to nothing, probably because the copyright had expired. I chose Ms. Austin’s tome and another by two Edwardian authors I’d never heard of.
            Saturday afternoon, iPad charged to 100 percent, I sat down to read the book and was pleasantly surprised. Not by the book — I deduced the killer less than halfway through — but by the experience of reading on the iPad.
            Several years ago, on one of the CSPAN Sunday book shows, they were interviewing Tom Wolfe, who was railing about the experience of reading on computers. It took humanity centuries to progress from scrolls to the book, he said, and now computers have taken us backward to the scroll. The e-reader takes us forward to the book again, with distinct pages, easily turned with the tap of a finger, and much as I hate to say so, I liked it.
            The advantages: Bigger, easier-to-read type with a bright background; can hold with one hand or lean against a leg while holding a cup of tea in the other hand; nearly impossible to lose your place.
            Disadvantages: No page numbers; harder to flip back to an earlier page with a diagram; probably have to take a recharge break for the battery if reading a longer book (this mystery, which I would estimate at 225-250 standard pages drained 65 percent of the iPad’s power by the time I was finished).
            All in all, not bad. Three years ago I would never have believed I could say such a thing.