Thursday, January 12, 2012

Succumbing to Kindle

Elizabeth Zelvin

I hope I won’t regret admitting publicly that I got a Kindle for Christmas. Or was it Chanukah? As a reader, I look forward to traveling without pounds of books in my backpack or luggage and never running out of reading matter. As a writer, I feel more ambivalent. Amazon’s world-changing e-reader has permanently debased the price of books (and therefore author earnings) and cut radically into the business of the independent booksellers and librarians who are the best friends of midlist writers like me. On the other hand, it provides opportunities that didn’t exist before to share my work with readers, and affordably, at that. I don’t want to add to the millions of words on the subject of the changing publishing industry that are already floating around the Internet. Instead, let’s talk about me as a reader with my first electronic reading device.

Can the reader be separated from the writer who inhabits the same brain and body? Maybe not. My very first download was my own story, “Navidad,” currently enjoying new life as an e-story on Untreed Reads, after originally appearing in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. As I write this, it occurs to me that if I actually read the thing, I’ll have a better idea of how this e-publisher presents its material. I’ve only thought of this because I noticed flaws in the formatting of the first e-book I did read: Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the very first Hercule Poirot mystery.

I know that HarperCollins plans to publish new editions of all 80 of Agatha Christie’s mysteries. Now, there would be a grand project for a Kindle reader, if it’s not prohibitively expensive. (I can’t imagine going out and buying 80 new print novels that I’ve already read, not to mention giving them shelf space. Can you?) But what’s available now for free or close to it consists of two novels, the first Poirot and the first Tommy and Tuppence, The Secret Adversary, which I also downloaded.

The Christies were not the first. My first visit to the Kindle store (which was not involved in the acquisition of my own short story) took me to two longtime favorite authors of whom I’ve read most but not quite everything in my lifetime: in order of acquisition, Louisa May Alcott and Jane Austen. My hardcover copies of Little Women (“special contents of this edition,” presumably the foreword and full-color illustrations, copyright 1946) and Jo’s Boys (Goldsmith Publishing Company, Chicago, no copyright information whatever) are falling apart. The spine of Little Women flaps precariously; the brittle brown pages of Jo’s Boys flake off as I turn them, trying to find a date. I still re-read them, and yes, I still cry every single time Beth dies. Um, is crying on a Kindle as bad as spilling coffee on a computer keyboard? If so, I might be in trouble.

I know I have my Pride and Prejudice somewhere, though I haven’t opened it in a while. It’s a trade paperback I got for an English lit class in college, which means it’s close to fifty years old. I don’t really need to re-read it to remember more than enough to enjoy P.D. James’s Death Comes to Pemberley. Yep, I treated myself to a $12.99 current read I might otherwise have reserved at the library. P.D. James is not one of the hundreds of mystery authors I know personally, so I won’t pretend I would have bought the hardcover. But I certainly wouldn’t have failed to read it, no matter what. Anyhow, as Amazon assiduously tells readers, “This price was set by the publishers.” And there I go down the primrose path, buying books again.



Sheila Connolly said...

So we're all closet e-reader-readers. I got a Nook last year, so I could read my first e-story. The first new thing I read was a short story by Herman Melville, about his chimney (there was a reason, really...).

You make an excellent point about downloading reader copies, in order to preserve your beloved physical copies. I've found another use: I'm doing research for my next museum book which involves a very public historic figure. The literature on him is rarely found in libraries, and at least one relevant item is over a thousand pages. But given the date, it's long out of copyright, and therefore available in eformat. So I now have a few thousand pages worth of research on the Nook.

Sandra Parshall said...

I have the Kindle app on my new iPad and have already downloaded a couple of books for research. So much cheaper than buying the print versions. Before I had the iPad, I had the Kindle app on my computer and was using it for research materials.

I think e-readers and e-books are a great leap forward, for many reasons. I love "real" books and believe they'll be around for a long time to come, but let's face it, most of what we read is stuff we'll never look at again, and the books we do go back to (like favorite fiction and research materials) are easier to access in e-form.

Diane said...

I love my Kindle, too. I've had it a bit over a year and have bought a couple of hundred books in that time (and read all but a few that are still 'in the queue').

The place I live in now is quite small, and I love it's hassle free space. But space for bookshelves is at a premium. And - like others - I appreciate not carrying around a bunch of printed copies when on a trip. And, for that same reason, handy for places I have to wait at, like picking my granddaughter up after school.

That same granddaughter, who is a voracious reader, had declared she will only, now and in the future, have printed books. Her older brother, on the other hand, told me what he wanted for Christmas was a Kindle. Not the Fire, just a Kindle. So, he now has one and really likes it.

As for research purposes, like Sandra is using, it's relatively quick to find what you are specificly looking for with the search feature.

I hope the impact on writers is a positive one in the end. Publishers, for the most part, aren't helpful in getting word out about an author's works unless they're already big names. But many could be a lot bigger names if they were given help. Catch 22.

And, yes, the editing could use help in some cases. But I've read printed books with the same issue. I usually am able to move past that and enjoy the story. Unless it gets really bad, then I spend more time mentally correcting the errors.

At any rate, I think e-readers are here to stay.

Julia Buckley said...

Congratulations on your new Kindle. I have one, and I am still able to navigate nicely from print books to ebooks. The two worlds really are compatible, and I think the brouhaha is unnecessary.

Dru said...

I love my e-readers. I buy mostly e-books, but also my fair share of printed book. The one thing I noticed is that I read books faster when I use my e-reader.