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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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Buying Books in Different Ways

            Sunday night I was reading the New York Times book section on my iPad and came across a favorable review by Leisl Schillinger of the new P.D. James volume, Death Comes to Pemberley. At the age of 91, James, one of Britain’s most honored mystery writers, has paid homage to Jane Austen by writing a mystery featuring the characters in Pride and Prejudice, six years after the ending of that book.
            Knowing that my wife, Linda, is an avid Jane-ite, I e-mailed her the review with a query as to whether we should buy it. She answered in the affirmative and checked its availability on Amazon; the Kindle edition was $12.99
            Going to Kindle, I called up the book, bought it using the one-click purchase option, and it was downloaded on to the iPad in three minutes. While I was on the Kindle site, I also bought and downloaded Richard Brookhiser’s James Madison. That night Linda read the first two thirds of the book (Pemberley, not Madison).
            This was way too easy, and a refutation of Carrie Fischer’s remark that the problem with instant gratification is that it’s not quick enough.
            In the same week that I bought the two e-books, Linda and I together bought six dead-tree books at two different bookstores, so for the time being, the old ways are winning. Looking back on the six books I bought (four bookstore, two Kindle) got me to thinking about what the market role of “real” books vs. e-books might look like.
            Kindle and its internet competitors are great when you know what book you want and want it now. If you know the name of the book or its author, it’s a piece of cake to get it. In my experience, once you’ve decided to check out a book online, the idea of self-control becomes an illusion. If you go to the Kindle store looking for a book, you’re going to buy it upwards of 90 percent of the time.
            That, of course, assumes that the book has been digitized. Quite a few older ones haven’t. I recall going to Kindle to look for books by Jack Mann, who wrote some wonderfully atmospheric supernatural thrillers in the 1930s. None were on Kindle and only one was on Amazon as a hardcover book. I’ve had similar experiences looking for the work of authors from 20 or more years back. I have, however, found three Manns at the local used bookstore.
            Three of the dead-tree books I bought were paperbacks by authors I’d read previously and enjoyed. I saw the books while browsing at the two different bookstores and gave them the custom; Kindle wouldn’t have been any cheaper. The fourth was a paperback by an author I’d never heard of, but I found it in the new arrivals section and it looked interesting.
            Bookstores are great for that sort of serendipity, and I find it’s much easier to browse in one than online. Just walking an aisle or checking out a table, you’re more likely to encounter something you hadn’t known existed, and in which you might be interested. I still find online browsing a chore, particularly since I don’t want to rely too heavily on Amazon’s recommendations.
            My sixth book was the Madison biography, which I had seen at one of the two bookstores. It would have come in handy for a Founding Fathers wool-gathering project of mine, but I didn’t want to pay $30 hardcover. At $11.99 for the e-book version, Amazon had a sale.
            So that’s how I’ve been buying books lately, but as the brokerage houses like to remind us, past performance is no guarantee of future results.