Diary of a Reluctant E-Reader: A New inReads Column
I sold e-readers for over a year before I bought one.
Admittedly, it was less a personal stand than a simple matter of apathy. The first generation of e-readers were clunky, buggy things, their allure purely that of cheaper, more portable books. I had an employee discount. I already got cheaper books, and I had finally buckled down and built myself some serious bookcases to house most of my library. No e-reader needed.
The tipping point was a cross country move from California to Austin and the sobering realization that I would have to leave about ninety percent of my library behind. I had two choices:
1. Stop buying books (insert rueful chuckle here).
2. Buy books in a portable format requiring minimal additional storage.
I chose the latter.
I’ve been reading on the e-reader for about six months now and alternating it with print books fairly regularly. I have been happy with the experience. That’s happy, not elated, overjoyed, or evangelical. I am neither a doomsayer pointing to the e-reader as the end of print, nor am I one of those converts who runs around telling people how I will never read another book again. Those readers, like a drug addict turned born-again Christian, seem to be using their zeal to convince themselves as much as others. Despite what those snarky Kindle commercials say, there are stories that simply don’t feel right when not in physical book form.
Stripped of all aesthetic and philosophical concerns, the e-reader is an extraordinarily useful tool. We’re talking about something that can synthesize the western canon out of the air, for free, at 3AM if you so desire. Out of print is a concept of the past. In the very near future, you will be able to access any work, by any author, at anytime. That’s astounding.
However, no matter how useful, no tool is created to do everything. We don’t want to end up like Homer Simpson attempting to repair a camera with a hammer and a power drill.
Diary of a Reluctant E-reader will be an attempt to suss out just what this tool is useful for. Half editorial, half capsule reviews, it will look at how e-readers are changing the experience of reading, and how physical media is holding up.
WHAT I READ THIS WEEK
The Devil and Sherlock Holmes
Random House, January 11, 2011
The Devil And Sherlock Holmes is precisely the type of book I prefer to read on an e-reader. Consider it a nonfiction collection of “Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction” stories (imagine Ricky Jay with a social conscience). Most of them were written during the David Grann’s tenure at The New Yorker. On the e-reader it felt easier to avoid an exhausting attempt at getting through the book in one sitting, even natural to space the stories apart. On an e-reader, the stories were accessible at anytime as something convenient to read during lunch, or a palate cleanser in between other books.
Grann’s prose is journalistically lucid, his subject matter interesting and his research impeccable. With such a wide variety of subject matter, only the rare reader will have trouble finding something of interest here.
Praised by genre stalwarts such as Stephen King and Ramsey Campbell as one of the finest ghost stories written in the 20th century, Hell House sadly does not live up to its reputation. The book is creaky and Matheson’s prose is at its declarative worse. Though a valiant effort and undoubtedly influential, there is simply nothing here that the modern reader cannot find in Matheson’s more successful predecessors.
That said, Hell House gave me a unique opportunity to make use of one of my e-reader’s best features: annotations. I’m writing a book about the horror genre (available to read as a work in progress on this blog) and the skill and ease with which my e-reader allows highlights and annotations and access to these notes cannot be overstated. If you are researching what you are reading, the e-reader is your best friend, bar none.
The Elephant To Hollywood
Henry Holt and Co., October 26, 2011
Ironically an e-reader would probably have made an improvement on the one book I did read in physical form. Michael Caine’s memoir makes for a charming, engaging read for most of its page count, but it does go somewhat soft around page 200, when Caine’s career loses steam and the narrative becomes quite digressive. Sometimes endearingly so: Michael Caine’s Christmas Mixtape! Sometimes not: Michael Caine buys property in Miami!
The e-reader probably would have made it easier to slip past the vignettes on restraunteuring, manse building, and unfortunate extended metaphors (did you know the word “Wood” appears in Hollywood? Michael Caine does and he’s going to tell you about it for half a dozen pages).
For the most part Caine makes for a charming host. He’s witty, conversational, and at times, endearingly star struck. Those with any affection for the star will get their money’s worth, and those without affection for him will probably gain some by the time they finish.
Let us conclude this first column with a reminder of why, despite the doomsaying, books will never go away entirely. You simply can’t do an art book on an e-reader.
I was living in LA the first two years that Gallery 1988 hosted the Crazy4Cult show. It was Vahalla for movie geeks. I’ve never been to an event that oozed such cinematic love from its pores. And I’ve been to BNAT.
For the most part, Crazy4Cult does an admirable job of capturing the feel of the original show. That said, I do have to quibble with a few editorial decisions. I understand you can’t reproduce everything, but the sculpture work done for the show is underserved. Some films are over represented (Kevin Smith’s work) and some are underrepresented (Donnie Darko).
That said, these are nitpicks. If you want to make the cinephile in your life very happy, get them this. Just make sure that you don’t need them for anything in the next few hours. This book is guaranteed to send them off to dreamland.
MOVED BY WHAT YOU READ?
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Elsewhere inReads: Read about the switch to e-books from the writer’s perspective.