I’m back to the world of the living, or of the living dead, perhaps? (this world is also known as the world of Those Who Teach All Summer Long.) I’m finally getting my feet beneath me during this summer quarter, and am inuring my relatively introverted self to lecturing for 5 consecutive hours each day, though, luckily, I can retreat into the comfort of the red pen on college-rule paper for the final three-plus hours of the day. Tough as it is to go from my weeks split between writing, editing LAR, and teaching to days of teaching only, I’m pleased to say that all my students this summer are smart, engaged teenagers, and that I’m happy to talk with (at?) them every day.
We’ve been reading some fantastic, non-Sparknotsable books thus far, and while I’m pleased to say that those books are turning some reluctant readers into enthusiastic readers, I have been finding that keeping up with my classes’ books has left me with little time to spend with books that I myself want to read.
And so it was with great guilt that, last weekend, I purchased my first ebook. Let me repeat: great guilt. I’m old-school when it comes to books. I believe that a book comes with covers, that delicious smell of paper, and with foldable edges. It doesn’t come on a digital device I’m terrified that I may drop. But just as I’ve asked my students to withhold judgement on the books I’m asking them to read, I decided that I, too, could withhold judgement of the ebook at large, or, at least, finally experience that which I’ve held in negative view for so long.
In buying my first ebook, I had some ethical considerations:
1. The book could not be by a struggling, first-time writer who needed the money a print book could provide,
2. The book could not be one my favorite local bookstore, Elliott Bay Books, kept in stock on a regular basis.
If I was going to go ebook, I was at least not going to hurt anybody by doing so, I thought.
I ended up downloading the iBookstore version of Janet Fitch’s White Oleander, which has been out of stock every time I’ve gone to Elliott Bay for the last year or more. It also didn’t hurt that I had the crazily good fortune to meet Janet Fitch in Santa Monica last August; she was possibly the nicest, most friendly Big Name author I’ve ever encountered–a far cry from He Who Must Not be Named who huffed in my face and turned away in a veritable shunning when I tried to talk to him at AWP–and I rationalized to myself that Ms. Fitch would be kind enough to forgive me for buying the non-paper version of her novel. (Are we getting enough sense of my dread and guilt yet?)
As an ebook virgin, I tried to come to the experience of reading White Oleander with an open mind, and I attempted to create a mental catalogue of the experience of reading an ebook. Here’s what I found:
*I would have loved a glowing, self-contained screen as a child. I was a flashlight-hiding, bedtime-defying child who loved to sneak a book under the covers ever since I was four years old and demanded that my mom teach me to read. I would have been in heaven with a device I could hide under the bedspread.
* A glowing screen is hard on the eyes at my age. Ouch.
* I really do miss the smell of paper.
* Properly curling up with a book is tough when the internal gyro of the iPad spins the text sideways when you move.
* iBook formatters aren’t particularly careful. Words that would break with a hyphen in a paper copy of the book stand hy-phen-ated in the middle of the line in an ebook, as though I were reading a phonics instruction. And double or triple spaces between a word and an apostrophe are more common than are correctly formatted possessives.
* The font choices in ebooks–at least this one–are arbitrary and unsettling.
* For those of us who are all thumbs, it’s easy to leap ahead 20 chapters with an ill-advised swipe of the finger.
* I really want to fold down pages. Even in first editions and signed books, I want to love, handle, and downright commune with a book. I don’t want to “bookmark” it with a sad little red flag. I want to mess that page up.
* The iPad is heavy, and shiny. It’s kind of hard to hold up a glaring brick while focusing on the novel.
* I very much like being able to digitally highlight passages and add “sticky” notes to pages. If I were doing research, I’d likely make very good use of those functions. It’d be a far cry from my composition notebooks that I used so heavily in college.
So, what have I learned? I’ve learned that my instincts were correct: paper is my first love. As books march inexorably on toward e-formats, I hope some of the unpleasant parts of their presentation will be fixed, and I hope that I’ll learn to love reading in a new format. But, for now, I want to curl up, properly, with a good, paper book. I want to mess up every page, devour and love it, to have to try not to keep my husband up with my reading lamp at night, trying to turn each page as quietly as I can while I sink into the fiction’s world, letting the work cast its own light–a light that never burns my old, analog eyes.