An American Editor

September 10, 2010

The Lure of eBooks: Gotcha!

eBooks are like a good spy: seen but not truly noticed until the last minute when it is too late — at least that was the case for me.

As each day passes, I find that I am more inclined to read an ebook and less inclined to read a pbook. This was finally hammered home to me with the release of two new fantasy novels, Terry Brooks’ Bearers of the Black Staff and Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings.

I wanted both of these books for my library, so I bought them in hardcover when they were released (just in the past few weeks). I finished an excellent mystery in ebook form (Vicki Tyley’s Thin Blood, a great buy at $2.99 and an excellent read) and decided to next pickup the Brooks book. My habit is to be reading 1 or 2 nonfiction books and 1 fiction book (usually an ebook) concurrently. So I put down my Sony Reader and picked up the Brooks hardcover and got as far as the copyright page, when I realized that I didn’t want to read the book in pbook form; I wanted to read it as an ebook. I also realized that I felt the same about the Sanderson book. So I bought both books in ebook form and put the hardcovers on my library shelves. For once, the publishers got me twice.

Combine this with my struggling to get through any nonfiction book in recent weeks because I really want to pick up my Sony Reader rather than the hardcover, and a dawning occurred — I finally realized that given a choice between an ebook and a pbook, I really do prefer to read an ebook on my Sony Reader.

The preference for ebooks stealthily snuck up on me. Unfortunately, I also recognize that my preferred books to read are nonfiction and ebooks aren’t quite there yet if the nonfiction book is loaded with illustrations and notes (perhaps the new readers will be better; I plan to try a nonfiction book on the Sony 950 when I get it). So I’m in a quandary: on what do I compromise? Do I forego the footnotes (99.9% of which are useless anyway and are present only to impress readers with the extent of the author’s “research”) and illustrations (many of which help explain the text) and read nonfiction in ebook form, or do I forego the pleasure of reading on my Sony Reader and continue to read nonfiction in pbook form? I suspect that the latter is what will happen for the most part, although I will start buying nonfiction ebooks when possible.

Of greater concern is whether I am seeing a new phase in my buying habits, a phase where I buy the hardcover for my library and the ebook to actually read — format double-dipping. Double-dipping could become a mighty expensive proposition, and as much as I love books, double-dipping makes no sense, especially as I do not truly “own” the ebook versions of the books that I would double-dip.

Here is where willpower comes into play. I am resolute (at least for the moment) that the Brooks/Sanderson double-dip will not be repeated. How resolute I am is yet to be tested, especially if the new device meets my hopes as regards the reading experience. (Wouldn’t it be nice if publishers said buy the hardcover and we’ll give you the ebook for a token price?)

The problem is ebooks and the very positive reading experience, at least on my Sony Reader (I don’t feel this same lure when reading books on my desktop or laptop; then I can’t wait to go to the pbook). eBooks are seductive. First, they are convenient — I love the ease of carrying my Sony Reader everywhere, such as while my wife shops. Second, 95% of the ebooks I buy are significantly less expensive than a pbook, in fact they are usually less than $3 and rarely more than $5. Additionally, ebooks can be better reads than many pbooks, as Vicki Tyley’s Thin Blood, mentioned earlier, and Shayne Parkinson’s Promises to Keep quartet, which I reviewed here and here, deftly prove. Each of these books cost less than $3 yet are exceedingly well-written and captivating.

But as seductive as they are, ebooks, for me, lack the permanence of hardcovers and the ability to pass down to children and grandchildren (which means that I value books, just as publishers want me to do; so why do publishers make it so hard to value ebooks? and, yes, I know I can strip DRM but I prefer not to), just as they lack the price of hardcovers (the great tradeoff). I have yet to surmount the peak where I am willing to forego adding hardcovers to my permanent library and only buy ebooks; I find that I look forward to giving my grandchildren my library. I expect the day is coming, however, when I buy only ebooks, but I do not see it in the immediate future and thus my need for great willpower. At least that willpower only needs to be exercised with fiction (for the moment) and I do not buy many hardcover fiction books. (I much prefer my fiction to be in ebook form so I don’t feel bad about starting a novel and deciding that it was a waste of money and time; ebook fiction is easy to delete and doesn’t take up precious space. I also generally prefer to buy from the independent authors I find at places like Smashwords, which is where I found Tyley and Parkinson.)

eBooks have captured me. Everything is right about fiction ebook reading, assuming, of course, that the book itself isn’t one of those that falls into the Give Me a Brake! or Truman & MacArthur & Why a Good Editor is Important category, which, sadly, an increasing number of pbooks are doing these days. Additionally, what is right about ebooks and ebook reading seems to get “righter” with each passing year, especially as devices get better and authors and publishers more careful and concerned.

I guess this needs to be viewed as a warning to all those yet to be initiated into the addictive pleasure world of ebooks. Once you stick your toe into the ebook waters, you will be captured because the reading experience is excellent and keeps getting better as publishers take ebooks more seriously. This is one of those experiences that compel you to go forward, that does not permit backward movement. Just remember to keep control of your pocketbook so you don’t end up like me: buying the same book twice; instead buy more ebooks, which is something else I do because I find I read significantly more books than ever before since I was captured by ebooks.

July 21, 2010

On Today’s Bookshelf (IV)

After my recent post about too many books in my to-be-read (TBR) pile, one would think that I would wise up and simply stop adding to the TBR pile. Alas, books are an addiction for me. I truly believe that every book I obtain I will read in the not-too-distant future, but the rational part of my me knows better.

So, I’ve decided to base my acquisitions on a new rationale: I will be going into semiretirement when I’m 70, which isn’t that far away, and my income will decrease while my time available for pleasure reading will increase. A decreased income will mean less money available to purchase books, so I best build up my collection of reading materials now. Increased time for reading means I will get through more books more rapidly. Seems like a good rationale to me :).

No matter how I cut it, however, I love to read. I read all day for work (after all, it would be tough to edit a manuscript without reading it), and when the workday is done, I like to read for pleasure. I don’t watch TV, the kids have moved out, and there is only so much time I am able to spend puttering around the house. So my escapism is books.

Since my last On Today’s Bookshelf (III), I have added these hardcover books to my TBR pile:

  • Henry Clay: The Essential American by David S. Heidler and Jeanne Heidler
  • Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America by Jack Rakove
  • Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England by Anthony Julius
  • Betsy Ross and the Making of America by Marla R. Miller
  • Dreyfus: Politics, Emotion, and the Scandal of the Century by Ruth Harris
  • A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad by Robert S. Wistrich
  • American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People by T. H. Breen
  • Imager’s Intrigue: The Third Book of the Imager Portfolio by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

In addition, I have added the following ebooks to my TBR pile on my Sony Reader:

  • Brechalon by Wesley Allison
  • A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay
  • Amsterdam 2012 by Ruth Francisco
  • Last Legend of Earth by A.A. Attanasio
  • The Quest for Nobility by Debra L. Martin
  • Amber Magic by B.V. Larson
  • Fall of Thanes and Bloodheir by Brian Ruckley
  • Call of the Herald by Brian Rathbone
  • Merlin’s Daughters by Meredith Rae Morgan
  • Miss Anna’s Frigate by Jens Kuhn
  • The Orffyreus Wheel by David Niall Wilson
  • Truitt’s Fix by Rex Evans Wood

I believe I have said this before, but perhaps not. One advantage to my ebook reading device (i.e., my Sony Reader) is that I tend to read both more books and more quickly on it. I have yet to understand why this phenomenon is true, but other ebookers have told me that they, too, experience the same phenomenon. Many ebookers have also said that where they bought 1 or 2 books a month when they were reading print books, that number has tripled and quadrupled with ebooks — and the ebooks are getting read, not just piling up! Consequently, I expect I’ll be able to get through many more of the ebooks — that is, once my wife returns my Sony Reader to me (assuming she does; she has fallen in love with it) — than I will of the hardcovers.

Of the hardcovers in the above list, the only one I have managed to get through is Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England by Anthony Julius. It is an interesting history of antisemitism and well worth reading if you have any interest in the subject matter. I will warn you, however, that I found it to be a bit dry of a read. It was quite detailed and focused, although long (approximately 850 pages) but in comparison to A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad by Robert S. Wistrich, which is sitting on my bookshelf, a short read (A Lethal Obsession comes in at approximately 1200 pages). Julius’ book was reviewed in the New York Times earlier this year by Harold Bloom. Subsequently, Edward Rothstein did a comparative review of the Julius and Wistrich books in the New York Times.

Currently, I’ve turned my attention to American history and am reading Henry Clay: The Essential American by David S. Heidler and Jeanne Heidler. I find this to be a well-written book about a fascinating American. One tidbit that I learned: The reason why the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives is so powerful is that Henry Clay, upon ascendancy to the position, found himself frustrated by how powerless he was as speaker and decided to change things. His innovations changed the speaker’s position from essentially a parliamentarian’s role to the powerhouse it is today. If you like biography, I’d recommend this book, even though I am only about a third of the way through it at the time of this writing.

As I have noted before, free time may be more precious in the summer months when the outdoors beckon, but there is nothing like a good book to stimulate the mind — and a good ebook reader on which to read.

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