If I’m Not Reading Books, What Am I Reading?

I’m “friends” with a lot of writers on Facebook.  Naturally, I wouldn’t recognize most of them if I saw them on the street, and we aren’t really friends, but I get a sense of what they are like through the miracle of the internet.  Some of them are famous, some of them aren’t.  Most of them are regular folks. Some of my favorite authors make really enjoyable posts and deign to chat with us mere mortals, and I love that.

The thing that surprises me the most is how anti-ebook some writers are, even when they derive great income from sales of the digital versions of their works.  A lot of them don’t own ereaders.  Some of them are vocal in their disdain for digital books.  Those writers seem to think that digital books somehow aren’t books, or are pale shades of “real” books.

My mother instilled in her children a great love of books.  It’s the greatest favor she did for us, outside of giving us life and keeping us from dying in childhood.  (“Can I have a dirt bike?”  “No.”)  I played Huckleberry Finn, and my bed was the raft.  I was Pinocchio and Mom was the Blue Fairy, whether she liked it or not. When I entered high school, I was bewildered to learn that my peers hadn’t already read the books on our required reading lists, and I was even more shocked when they whined about being forced to read those wonderful books. 

Mom got old, and she focused her hoarding tendencies on books.  She had ten large book cases full of them.  She had piles of them everywhere.  There were boxes and boxes of moldy books in her storage unit.  I was eventually forced to strip her of thousands of books.

I didn’t stop enjoying bookstores because I had the experience of dealing with tonnage of hoarded books.  That experience certainly marked me, but it didn’t mold me.  I had stopped enjoying bookstores long before I was forced to guiltily toss books into dumpsters, before I realized that paper could turn into a sort of prison.  I stopped enjoying bookstores because many bookstores had stopped catering to readers. 

Big box bookstores started featuring gifts in the 1980s.  Many, many gifts.  Junk gifts for readers crowded the entrances of stores, although it wasn’t stuff that readers would ever purchase for themselves.  Or use, if someone else purchased it for them.  As the gift sections got bigger,  there was naturally less room for books.  That didn’t stop me from shopping in bookstores, but I sure wasn’t purchasing as much or having as much fun.

Eventually, I found that I was walking out of bookstores empty handed, and that was shocking, to me.  In huge stores that specialized in selling books, I couldn’t find books to buy.  One thing that confounded me was lack of organization within the stores.  Books were still divided into sections, but most sections were generally teeny.  The fiction sections were basically all books that weren’t non-fiction.  Organized only alphabetically, by authors’ last names, they were impossible to browse. There were sometimes separate genre sections, but not always, and they were tiny, if they were present.

I also found the selection in bookstores to be just terrible. Genre sections, in addition to being tiny, were mainly hogged by best sellers.  If you wanted a best seller, bookstores were the right places to buy them.  They were prominently displayed throughout the stores.  Of course, Wal-Mart is also the right place to buy best sellers.  And grocery stores, they have best sellers, too. 

The PRICES in bookstores were also difficult to swallow.  Many paperbacks were larger than the paperbacks of my youth.  They cost half as much as hardcovers and twice as much as standard paperbacks.  Budgetary issues and general cheapness kept me from buying those, even when I really wanted them.

Borders was the last bookstore to successfully sell books to me.  They were the best organized.  They had the best selection.  They went out of business, and I was really sad.

I realized that, if I wanted to continue reading,  my options were the internet, the library, or the best sellers in the grocery store.  After a little research, I ended up with a Kindle.  I was worried that reading on it wouldn’t be the same as feeling the paper beneath my fingers.  It did take a little getting used to.  Then, one day, I realized that I was devouring books.  Amazon’s selection was incredible.  The prices were affordable.  I WAS READING, AGAIN.

Digital books are part of a revolution, and it’s a good revolution.  The publishing industry has pulled strings for far too long.  Basically, readers can only read what they are offered.  The books in which the publishing industry has invested the most money are the books that take up most of the limited space in bookstores, and that obviously isn’t good for the few remaining bookstores in America, or for readers.

It surprises me that I’ve read books written by people who think I haven’t read their books because I didn’t read them from paper. Every night, I crawl into bed and I turn on my Kindle.  I’m transported to all sorts of different worlds and different lives before I sleep.  If those worlds and lives aren’t books, I don’t know what books are.

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3 Responses to If I’m Not Reading Books, What Am I Reading?

  1. Jaye says:

    I, too, have been a lifelong power reader. 5 or 6 years ago, I’d had enough. Books had taken over my house. I purged thousands of volumes, reducing my stash to only those books I felt I couldn’t live without. I decided I would only buy those books I would keep. Keepers had to be space worthy and dust worthy. It took a lot of discipline (I was in the habit of busting my monthly book budget on a weekly basis), but the library system in my area is superb. So instead of the bookstore, I visited the library once or twice a week, loaded up on books, then returned them. Win-win for me. Pity the writers weren’t getting my dollars. But oh well.

    Then I got a Kindle. It took me some time to get used it, but not as much time as I thought it would. I could buy as many books as I wanted, with nary a concern about them taking up space or having to dust them. I can buy five or six ebooks (or more!) for the same price I used to pay for a hardcover. It’s convenient. The selection boggles the mind. Considering the price of gas and the distance I need to drive to the library, it’s not that much more expensive than going to the library.

    Do I miss paper books? Not even a little. They’re too big, too bulky, and too heavy for my purse. I can read my Kindle outside, without going blind from glare off the paper. I can read late at night and adjust the lighting and font size and spacing to make it more comfortable. I carry a library in my purse wherever I go. I’m about to move into my newly renovated office, and I intend to further purge the paper books.

    The last time I was in a bookstore, I was disgusted for the exact same reasons you are, Marina. Lousy selection, high prices. No fun anymore.

    I think one of the reasons so many traditionally published writers are anti-ebook is because their publishers are ripping them off with pitiful royalty rates. Advances are going down across the board, except for the mega-best sellers the publishers hope will save them. Lists are being trimmed. Shelf space is disappearing in retail stores. It must look as if the world is ending to those with book contracts. Easy to blame ebooks for the decline. Except, as someone who’s been publishing since the early ’90s, I’ve been watching the decline for a long, long time. Ebooks aren’t destroying the industry, they’re reviving it.

    Is print going away? Absolutely not. It’s a great medium. It’s only one medium, though. Readers–not publishers, not writers–will decide which medium they prefer.

  2. Oh my goodness, you stories of growing up a reader are just like mine. So are your experiences of becoming disenchanted with bookstores. And when I bought an ereader? Wow-wee, all of a sudden reading (and shopping for new books) was fun again.

    I had a shocking encounter with an author at a multi-author event. I was there as a reader/fan, and the author with whom I was in casual conversation didn’t know I was a writer. When I mentioned reading on my Nook, she gave me a high five and said, “That’s good, because Amazon is evil.” Those were her exact words!

    Amazon is evil? Where did this author think the vast majority of her fans were buying her books? Needless to say, I did not buy this silly author’s next book, nor the one after that.

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