Saturday, January 28, 2012

The (semi) seduction of S

Some six weeks after shocking myself and perhaps one or two others by buying an e-reader, I thought I'd stop in here for a brief posting about my experience with the machine so far.

Mostly, I like it. A lot. There are caveats, however, and, in a weird bizarro-world twist on my reading life pre-E, mostly they have to do with libraries.

First the good news. I continue to love the loss of the heavy weight of physical books burdening my backpack and my back. I love the petite sleek ease of handling that is the key feature of my little red machine. This lovely little number fits my grip as no book ever did, love the grip of books though I always have. I find the reading experience swell. I've also been having a lot of fun searching out and retrieving free books at Project Gutenberg and sometimes Google Books. I've read several issues of the New York Times Book Review on my reader, because the bookstore where I pick up my weekly free copy is unreliable, sometimes offering a pile, sometimes not, and so the weeks when the paper NYTBR isn't available for free, I live a little and spend the dollar and change to buy it onto my reader. The rag itself remains as maddening as ever for its reactionary politics and mostly dimwitted reviews--and in the electronic version, those endless back pages of infinite versions of bestseller lists are endlessly annoying, turning them virtually seeming to be more of a time-consuming obstacle than flipping actual pages ever is--but it's a habit I can't seem to break so it's nice to have the e-option.

I did break down and buy a couple books, quite cheap, but that same week I used a gift certificate I'd been holding on to and also picked up some physical books at a physical bookstore. So it's not as though I've abandoned the old technology.

Except--eek--yes I have! Sheepishly I shall admit: I've quickly grown so enamored of the ease of use of this new approach to reading that, despite the to-read piles of books amassed throughout my apartment, whenever I finish a book and am faced with the choice of which one to read next, I find myself turning toward those on the e-reader and not those towering on my dresser or crammed onto bookshelves. It seems that I can't bring myself to heft a book book anymore. Or at least not yet. I hope and trust that it's just the newness of the thing, and that I'll soon settle down, settle into the pattern I'd predicted and expected, that is, moving between physical and e-books, picking what I want to read next based on what I want to read next, not based on how I'll access the book's words.

There's a further complication. E-borrowing from the library. This has turned out to be an exasperating experience, further skewing, nay limiting in an unexpected way, my reading choices. Yes, the libraries have limited offerings and long lines for those few e-books, I wrote about this in my last post. What I didn't know yet at that point is that the effect not only of the shortage but of the whole e-library-borrowing setup is insidious. See, I'll log on at the library, search its e-book collection, find, say, three or four I'd like to read, and add myself to the waiting list. Then, some days or weeks later, I'll get an email from the library saying such-and-such e-book I requested is now available for me to check out and that I have three days to do so. Well now. If I don't check out the book I lose my shot at it. If I do check it out, a countdown clock immediately kicks in, and I have 21 days to read it. At the end of those 21 days the e-library-book will disappear from my e-reader. Ack! What if I'm in the middle of reading it? Too bad! It's gone! And so I lose all volition. If it's a book I want to read, I have to either set aside whatever book I'm already reading if I'm concerned this library e-book might take a while and start it immediately, or finish the book I'm reading and then have no choice but to start this library e-book as my next one. Either way I'll feel that 21-day clock nipping at me as I read it. The effect is compounded if I've borrowed more than one.

The experience is absolutely opposite the way I've always used libraries. I've always made my rounds--I frequent two to three branches of the New York Public Library, two branches of the Queens Library, and the library of the university where I work--and taken out armloads of books. These armloads become piles alongside the rest of my to-read piles, and I have this juicy embarrassment of riches always at my fingertips. And so I've always danced a splendid dance, arcane, unique, with steps only I know, each time I'm ready to start a new book, roaming among the available volumes until I decide which one it'll be. The library books might stay piled for a good long while, as I renew and renew and renew, so there's never been any pressure to get to them before books I own. No one, no entity,no algorithm, no clock, ever forced upon me the decision of my next book. Now that freedom is gone. I miss it.

Ah well, these are kinks, I'd like to think, and will work themselves out. Overall I remain glad I got the device. One day soon I'll return to this space to report on some of what I've read on it.