Friday, November 4, 2011

I said I wouldn't ...

... buy an e-reader until I could get one for around $50, and could borrow library books on it, and wouldn't be locked in to one single source for book buying or one single file type. I said I wasn't opposed to these devices on any principled or ideological basis, of course not, but that it pissed me off how they were only available to the moneyed few, of course it did, and also that I had various worries about what using them means for your reader's brain, how they changed the reading experience. None of my concerns has changed but the, ahem, material conditions have, enough, that I'm now on the verge of getting myself one of them thar doohickeys of some persuasion or other.

Price isn't quite down to $50 but e-readers have become considerably cheaper and I need not be quite as hardline about a firm figure for myself because I'm being offered one as a present. It's now easy to take out library books with all the devices. I have not found any report showing evidence of brain changes in reading--that is, just reading, reading a book in a linear concentrated fashion--on an electronic device as long as all you're doing is reading and you've got all the distracting features like hyperlinks turned off so you stick to the page and don't jump around here and there. It's the jumping around, as most of us do when we're in front of a computer screen, that leads to brain changes, new neuronal connections that are all about multitasking and short-term attention, with concomitant loss of neuronal connections that support deep concentration, imagination and creativity. I still have not had the chance to hold one of these contraptions in my hands, except for a minute or two at a store, no chance to sit for some time and read on one--so I still have no idea whether I'll actually like it, get used to it, find the same heaven on an e-ink screen as I have on so many thousands of paper pages over the years. I still find it hard to believe I will. But I've quizzed a number of friends who do have e-readers, all, by the way, my age or older, and they all say that while the device takes some getting used to, once you do the reading experience is indeed as deep, as engaged, as creative and dreamy as it is with a physical book.

So. I'm edging pretty goddamned close. I might even get one of the hybrids that also provide WiFi for newspaper reading and sundry other web portals.

A couple months ago I bought John Sayles' new novel A Moment in the Sun, which has to do with the U.S. war in the Philippines at the turn of the last century. The book, published by McSweeney's, is unbelievably beautiful, just a beautiful physical object, stunningly designed with a sort of old-fashioned swirl of detail, and full of tactile delights as well. But goodness gracious it is gigantic. Physically huge, and it's been sitting on my dresser for these several months staring at me, daring me to even pick it up, let alone try to hold it to read with my tiny hands (have I ever mentioned that here, my bizarrely small hands for which I have to buy toddler-sized gloves so here we are yet another winter approaching during which I'll pine for a pair of grown-up gloves). Lug the Sayles behemoth with me to and from work to read on the subway? Perish the thought! I finally decided to wait till the holiday break, when I'll be off work for about a week. I'll read it then, at home, I figured, which'll at least avoid the lugging-around problem if not the how am I even going to hold this sucker issue. But lately I've realized, hey, I might not finish it during that week. What then? Back to the lugging it on the train problem.

Not if I get me an electronic machine that weighs under a pound and shines the words out at me from a six- or seven-inch screen. I can borrow a library copy onto the magic apparatus and finish the book thus.

Within the next couple weeks I think all the end-of-year new-model announcements will be done. Will I be able to rise out of the mire of indecision about whether I really do want to get one of these machines to own as a reading option, as well as about which one to buy if I do? I might. I really. Finally. Might.