Number Seven: I Hate That I Love My E-Reader, Part Two

(Continued from “Number Five: I Hate That I Love My E-Reader, Part One”)

In the 2000’s, e-books were trying to gain a foothold in the market. I tried a couple of them — most notably Stephen King’s e-serial entitled The Plant — but the experience left a lot to be desired. The titles I read involved downloading a .pdf file to your computer and reading on your monitor. I did not enjoy being tethered to a device, and figured e-books would never be for me.

As the 2000’s were coming to a close, e-reading was becoming more popular. Companies were releasing devices made exclusively to read e-books, and the distribution of content was much more streamlined and user-friendly. Despite my piqued curiosity, something about e-reading still bothered me. The entire process – from battery-powered device to the downloading of books to reading on a screen – seemed cold and sterile to me. Where was the loving book design? The stunning artwork? The physical manifestation of the story as a whole? It didn’t seem right, so I kept holding back…

…until late 2011. My Lord, what a fateful year. It’s the year I stepped-out on my first love (books) and started a torrid love affair with a sleek, sexy mistress (e-books). At some point I heard about e-only content that companies were releasing as a way to bring readers toward their devices. Finally broken down after putting up a good fight, I grudgingly decided that I would buy an e-reader, but *only* to read material I couldn’t get in physical books. I loved books, dammit, and didn’t *want* to read on a screen, but I felt like the publishing world was forcing me to go in that direction with its exclusive-content chicanery. I started by buying B&N’s Nook e-reader, followed some months later by Amazon’s Kindle. I dipped my toe into the e-reading pool by purchasing the aforementioned exclusive content, pinched my nose shut in disgust, then waded in.

Lo and behold, I enjoyed the experience. The devices turned out to be nothing like reading on a computer screen. The Nook and Kindle I purchased were not backlit, and the technology was such that the screen mirrored a book’s page as close as possible. To say I was surprised is an understatement.

The home screens of my devices ran advertisements for e-books that were on sale each week, some of which contained books I wanted to read, and at sharply reduced prices. Instead of paying $15-25 for a hardcover, I could pay $5-10 for the e-book. Surprised at the savings, I found myself digging through the extensive e-catalogues and being shocked by how many good deals there were. Deeper dives revealed newsletters and message boards that listed weekly deals for low-priced and *gasp!* FREE e-books. And we’re not talking dreck, folks…we’re talking fantastic books I would have happily plunked down money for.

And thus, my new seductress dug her claws into me even further.

Another selling point was the ease with which I could find books that were difficult to locate in physical form. For instance, I enjoy noir. You know, old-school pulps with cops and robbers and dames and all that jazz. Most are out of print and high-priced on the secondary market, but companies like Prologue Books have massive e-selections of popular titles for very low prices. Gone were the days of hunting high and low for a book that was a) for sale in the first place, and b) for sale at a price I could live with. I’d be lying if some small part of me didn’t die when I gave in on this point — the “thrill of the hunt” was fun, creating a feeling like no other when a rarity was finally unearthed (as alluded to in Part One of this essay) — but considering how much time and money I sunk into old books that I could now purchase for a song, well, the choice was easy: download and start reading.

A customizable reading experience was another thing that sucked me deep into my new lover’s embrace. Between 2012 and now, my wife and I added two children to our family. Our four-year-old had his own room when he was a baby, but our two-year-old slept in our bedroom until just a few months ago. Much of my reading over the years was done in bed at the end of the day, but I could no longer turn on any lights with the baby in the room. By then, I’d upgraded to an iPhone (complete with numerous reading apps) and a Kindle with a backlight. Both devices not only allowed for the backlight to be ratcheted down for less light, but I could also turn the background black and the text white (as well as adjust font size bigger or smaller) which meant I could read in bed with virtually no light to interfere with people’s sleep. Sweet.

Device portability meant I could read in places I never could before. Suddenly, running miles on the gym’s elliptical was much more bearable when I could set my e-reader on the machine’s “dash” and free up my hands. Long line at the grocery store, or waiting in the car for kids’ activities to be done, or sitting in a clinic’s waiting room? Pull out the phone and read a few pages. Bathroom break? Well, you get the idea.

Perhaps the final nail in the coffin happened a couple years ago. I was reading a paperback, plugging right along, and did the unthinkable: I actually swiped my finger across a paper page while trying to move on with the story. When I realized what I’d done, I sat there like a deer in headlights. How far had I sunk? I was so indoctrinated, belly sloshing with gallons of red Kool-aid, that I swiped my damned finger across a book! No longer able to hide my infidelity, I had to admit that I loved my e-reader.

I never thought I’d be in this position. At one point I had a collection that contained every book I had ever purchased from childhood through adulthood. Hundreds, if not thousands of books. Now? I have one lowly box of books in a cupboard in the basement. It might have 50 books in it, purchases I made in the last 30 years that I haven’t gotten to yet and may never get to. I couldn’t tell you the last time I pulled that box out, selected a book, and read it from start to finish. A couple years, probably?

I still purchase a physical book from time to time, but I’m not sure why. They sit on my bedside table, collecting dust and languishing in silence. I don’t remember the last time I’ve gone to my favorite stores — like Dreamhaven Books or Half-Price Books — hunting for my diamonds in the rough, or purchased a deluxe edition of a book for my personal collection or to hang on to it for future resale value.

This may sound like sadness, but I assure you it’s not. First and foremost, I’m a reader. Doesn’t matter if it’s a physical book or an e-book, I’m still being entertained and learning new things and being whisked away to fantastical lands. These days I’m just able to store my library on a pocket-sized device and carry it with me wherever I go. Do I miss the moldy-yet-somehow-pleasant smell of a used book? Or being surrounded by shelves and shelves of books at a store, filled with anticipation over what I might find? I can answer in all honesty and say no, I do not miss it much. I used to tell people “I hate that I love my e-reader,” liking the play on words and laughing off my love affair to friends who stayed faithful to their books. Now? Now I flaunt my new love, and don’t have a shred of guilt while I do it.

Until we meet again…

Andy

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