Anna Holmes Gets It, and a Few Random Thoughts on the Uses and Abuses of E-books

Here’s an excerpt from “How do e-books change the reading experience?”:

Physical, paperbound books provide a sense memory that has informed so many of my most important encounters with storytelling: sight, smell and touch, yes, but also the experience of anticipation, progress and accomplishment. Not to mention recollection. To call to mind a certain Toni Morrison book has as much to do with the care she took in crafting it as the physical sensation of reading it. Twenty-five years after I first read “Song of Solomon,” I still remember the exact location of a particularly devastating, gorgeous passage about the emotional violence inflicted by Macon Dead on his wife and daughters. (It was situated toward the beginning of the novel, at the bottom of a left-facing page.)

Lastly, I feel a certain disappointment in the electronic format’s performative limitations. Anyone who owns and enjoys books understands that the volumes we keep on our shelves — and in our hands on a busy subway — tell several stories. There’s the author’s story, which is the actual text; there’s the publisher’s story, which has to do with the choice of format and design; and, finally, there’s the reader’s story — what a particular book telegraphs about one’s education and tastes. Who or what we choose to read can be as telling as the clothes we wear, and an e-book feels like a detail withheld, even a secret kept. (This is not necessarily a bad thing, and it probably explains why the three books I own about dealing with a loved one’s alcoholism are on my Kindle, not my bookshelf.) Unlike the shopworn cover of an early paperback edition of “Native Son” or the crisp jacket on the latest Donna Tartt, Kindles and Nooks tell others little to nothing about their owners, except that they enjoy a certain amount of disposable income.

At the very least, physical books provide a convenient and visible distraction: What else are wallflowers at pretentious cocktail parties supposed to busy themselves with? Oh, right: their iPhones.…

An astonishing number of comments come from readers with disabilities.  Here’s a particularly moving example:

My left hand remains very balky after a small stroke two years ago. It seemed for a while that my leisure activity of choice was a thing of the past: page turning became a real chore and it was nearly impossible to keep a book in my hands for more than a minute before it landed on the floor. Enter Kindle rigged with a Velcro strap. I flip pages with my thumb and have no trouble keeping “my book” at the perfect reading angle. It is lighter than almost any book available in “dead tree” format and even my old Kindle is visually sharp. I understand the appeal of paper books but find the objections to e-readers irrelevant.

Does anyone else have the feeling, with an e-reader, that you are being turned into a revenue stream for Amazon?  Not that that isn’t also true of print books as well.  An additional concern is the proliferation of books on Amazon like the one linked to the url below. It is nothing more than a 20 page research paper, with sources like wikipedia, put together in a day or two.  I made the mistake of purchasing it.…

Finally, on two occasions, Amazon has sold e-book versions of The Annotated Peter Pan, unauthorized copies made and sold on Amazon until I wrote in to ask to have them removed (and they were).

3 thoughts on “Anna Holmes Gets It, and a Few Random Thoughts on the Uses and Abuses of E-books

  1. Hi Maria,
    Can I sit on the fence please?
    I have a house filled with books, objects that as the article reads, hold sensorial memories of time & place from the spine and cover to within the pages. I still find pressed flowers and leaves, old bookmarks, receipts and sketches in those pages. My ebooks have a much diluted sense of memory as it requires looking in my elibrary to trigger such connections which are limited to the front cover.

    Often I buy paper books online from Book Depository (free postage) though it is now owned by Amazon and most of my ebooks are purchased through Kobo (too often ebooks from Amazon aren’t available in “my area”) which I read on my handmedown ipad, independent book shops online and in RL are diminishing.

    For fiction I find ebooks are generally cheaper and quick to obtain, though the variety can be lacking, my nearest 2 bookshops are cheap chain-style affairs and offer less diversity.
    The ebook saves on space and weight, I think about this every time I move house, but I also love unpacking books, revisiting and handling favourite stories.

    I have had paper books which fall apart within months (a nice looking edition of Neil Gaiman’s stardust)

    I have never bought a non-fiction ebook, the sense of place within the book and pages, the viewing of text and image in relation to one another are too important to give up (though maybe a large screen with intelligent note taking would suffice) and maybe it will one day.

    The ill practice of selling unauthorised e-books and from Amazon is bad news, indeed I had thought there were plenty of ‘free’ downloadable sites without Amazon joining in and making a profit too.

    I use both a paper sketch book and my ipad for drawing, both mediums are useful with different capabilities.
    Too many pros and cons on both sides, I enjoy both but love books (paper ones).

  2. Good point about books falling apart way too fast these days. I’m reading Donna Tart’s GOLDFINCH, and what a please to have a beautiful cover, nice paper, and print that is easy on the eyes.
    I’m with you about sitting on the fence, especially after reading the comments to the piece in the NYT.
    Looked at your website and Forbidden Chamber 2013 is exquisite!

  3. Hi Maria,

    I tend to buy everything on Amazon and Kindle (physical books here are just to expensive to experiment), but I don’t buy the life-changing literary fiction, rather the bubblegum instant gratification books and then I binge on anything in that series. If I do come across something beautiful and meaningful, I go buy the physical book and give it to a friend. I used to love collecting books, now my house is full and give them to other people…!


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