In May of 2007, the last time I wrote about book lust – we all know what that is, don’t we? – the publishing world existed in a universe quite different from today’s.
I waxed rhapsodic about the bookness of a book:
What in this world is more wondrous, magical, intriguing, alluring than a book? An entire world contained between two covers! But It’s not the content alone that I love. I enjoy the feel of a book in my hands, I admire a sturdy spine, I appreciate an attractive cover and an elegant design. I’m a type junky and always check to see whether the book includes a note about the type. I’m disappointed when I don’t find that information. (My favorite typeface, at least for the moment, is Sabon, which is used in Stephen Booth’s British editions.)
I admitted that once I owned a book, I never wanted to let it go. When we moved, about 20 years ago, from one Washington, DC suburb to another, we thinned our book collection and donated dozens to the Arlington County (VA) Central Library’s used book room. As soon as they were gone, I began to suffer an agonizing remorse. How could I have given them up? How could I live without them? For a long time after we moved next door to Fairfax County, I made regular trips to the Arlington Library, where -- yes -- I gradually bought back a fair number of the books we had donated. They were mine. They belonged at home with me, not with strangers.
Every reader and writer I knew felt the same way. Although they sometimes complained about the lack of space in their houses for other objects, not to mention humans, they could not part with their books.
That was May, 2007. On November 19 of that year, the Kindle went on sale. Some of us laughed at it. We already knew about e-books. We knew that practically nobody read them. After all, who would want to read off an electronic screen when they could be holding a real book in their hands?
But while earlier e-readers had languished in the marketplace, the Kindle had the might of Amazon and its breathtakingly huge inventory behind it, and the Kindle began to sell. We heard a rumble deep in the heart of the book world. We felt a faint tremor in the earth beneath our feet. The rumble grew to a roar, the tremor built to a violent convulsion that threatened to leave no bookstore standing.
And the definition of book lust morphed into something undreamt of in the spring of 2007 B.K.
People who coveted printed books in the Before Kindle era started looking askance at those piles of rectangular objects that took up so much space at home and were a nuisance to carry while traveling. To be sure, diehard fans of “real books” remain. But many have turned into hybrids, declaring that as much as they love printed books and always will, they don’t have room for any more and prefer to acquire e-books instead. E-reader tablets continue to sell, and as many as one-fourth of all Americans already own one. (At the end of 2011, Amazon sold a million Kindles a week.) E-book sales are gaining market share by leaps and bounds.
In the wake of all this change, I have noticed the parallel growth of e-book lust. Some people declare that they have more e-books on their machines than they will ever get around to reading. They troll for free e-books online and download them in staggering numbers. I suspect that a great many of those books will never be read, which is not something the authors want to hear. Electronic book hoarding has a lot in common with print book hoarding. Its one virtue is that it takes up less space.
I have an iPad with the Kindle app on it, and I’ve downloaded a handful of e-books. If a reference book I might use often for research is especially cheap as an e-book, I will download it. I stay away from the Kindle Store because I know I am a book addict and I don’t want to tempt myself. Once I give in to the urge to go browsing, I will be lost.
Now let’s talk about your book habits.
Do you own an e-reader?
How many books are on it right now?
How many downloads have you bought in the last month? The last year?
Are you buying more e-books than printed books?
How many of your downloads have you actually read?
Have you downloaded books on impulse, only to realize later that you’ll probably never read them?
Do you remove a book from your reader after you’ve read it or decided you don’t want to read it?
Have you ever given an e-book as a gift? Do you think you ever will?