Category Archives: e-books

shift happened

I do my reading almost exclusively on screen. I’ve got a kindle, an ipad, an iphone, a blackberry, and a laptop, but this weekend, I did something radical and old school, I checked a big thick book out of the library and attempted to read it.
This is going to sound incredibly lazy, like someone who gets in their car to drive a few blocks rather than walk, but the physicality of the book, having to hold it open then lift and turn each page, was a lot more exhausting than I remembered. All of that holding and lifting and turning distracted me from the act of reading, took me out of the story if you will. A few pages into it I gave up, logged in to Amazon, and bought the Kindle book.
Like many people, I’ve romanticized the feeling of paper books, so I was surprised at how easily I spurned the one used to love. I’ve been watching the evolution of reading devices for the last seven years, but it was the experience I had with this library book that made me realize that the shift is no longer about to take place, it has taken place. Other readers are switching allegiance from paper to screen as quickly and irreversibly as I did. What does this mean for the publishing industry? For bookstores? For libraries? How will they reinvent themselves to attract screen-smitten readers?

e-reads i-Wash

The announcement this morning of the launch in the UK of a new waterproof laptop looks like another nail in the coffin of the traditional paper book, as the new device at last makes it possible to read a downloaded electronic fiction while relaxing in a hot bath.
The manufacturers claim that the latest in e-ink technology makes concentrating on a complex text 21% easier on the electronic device than with a conventional paperback. Users can switch between reading on screen (with font -size increasing automatically to aid understanding of complex sentences), listening to an audio recording, and utilising a revolutionary new facility called ‘skimread mode’ which provides a spoken précis of the gist of more tedious passages from literary classics.
The device is the size of a large paperback, can be read in landscape or portrait format, with or without back-lighting, is fully recyclable and light as a sponge. The i-Wash is launched in the UK on April 1st and will be available in the USA as soon as the economy picks up.

chicago tribune on e-lit

A November 27 Chicago Tribune article by Julia Keller bundles together hypertext fiction, blogging, texting, and new electronic distribution methods for books under a discussion of “e-literature.” Interviewing Scott Rettberg (of Grand Text Auto) and MIT’s William J. Mitchell, the reporter argues that the hallmark of e-literature is increased consumer control over the shape and content of a book:
Literature, like all genres, is being reimagined and remade by the constantly unfolding extravagance of technological advances. The question of who’s in charge — the producer or the consumer — is increasingly relevant to the literary world. The idea of the book as an inert entity is gradually giving way to the idea of the book as a fluid, formless repository for an ever-changing variety of words and ideas by a constantly modified cast of writers.
A fluid, formless repository? Ever-changing words? This is the Ipod version of the future of literature, and I’m having a hard time articulating why I find it disturbing. It might be the idea that the digitized literature will bring about a sort of consumer revolution. I can’t help but think of this idea as a strange rearticulation of the Marxist rhetoric of the Language Poets, a group of experimental writers who claimed to give the reader a greater role in the production process of a literary work as part of critique of capitalism (more on this here). In the Ipod model of e-literature, readers don’t challenge the capitalist sytem: they are consumers, empowered by their purchasing power.
There’s also a a contradiction in the article itself: Keller’s evolutionary narrative, in which the “inert book” slowly becomes an obsolete concept, is undermined by her last paragraphs. She ends the article by quoting Mitchell, who insists that there will always be a place for “traditional paper-based literature” because a book “feels good, looks good — it really works.” This gets us back to Malcolm Gladwell territory: is it true that paper books will always seem to work better than digital ones? Or is it just too difficult to think beyond what “feels good” right now?