After college, and just before I got my “real” job, I was a Nook Specialist at Barnes and Noble. Every day, I would lean on the counter at the front of the store, and answer question after question about the different Nook e-readers. But mostly I’d tell people where the coffee was being made. And mostly I’d just read on the devices and wait for my lunch break.
And then, every once and a while, I’d get this guy.
Me: [sleepy-sounding] Hi, Welcome to Barnes and Noble.
Guy: [sarcastically] Uh, I’m just here to look at actual books. I can still do that, right?
Me: [dead pan] No. Get out.
Oh, and we laughed. How funny it is in 2012 to pretend that the power cords are taking over, and that anyone standing within 20 feet of the devil’s library is to blame! Naturally, this photo in the New York Times didn’t help.
Yes, that’s me, chatting up the features of the Nook Tablet like they pay me to do it.Because they paid me to do it. But the truth of the matter is, I think there is merit in e-readers, just as much as I think printed books aren’t outdated. In my world, there’s room for both.
Whether it’s a Nook, Kindle or iPad, e-readers have some fairly obvious benefits over the printed word. The first and foremost being: portability. For example, here are the 5 Game of Thones’ books released in mass media paperback (the smallest of the printed book world.)
Here’s a Nook.
All of those books, plus hundreds of others, live on that tiny little thing. And that tiny little thing can go in almost any bag, backpack, or extra large pocket without needing to preemptively schedule an appointment with a chiropractor. And the HD, as pictured, is part of Barnes and Noble’s tablet line, meaning it is one of the larger devices in the e-reader world. The Nook Simple Touch weighs less than 8 ounces, which is significantly lighter than my wallet, due to the large amount of loose change and not because I’m raking in the cash monies. I worked at Barnes and Noble, remember?
There’s a chance you think the pain and suffering of lugging around hardcover books is worth it. That’s the price you pay for knowledge, right? Totally. Look, I get it. I like to suffer just as much as the next girl, but what about the integrated access features that is almost universally offered with e-reader devices? I remember when I was in school, and charged with reading the classics, I had to have a dictionary next to me at all times to look up words I didn’t understand. Eventually, I just gave up looking them up and embraced the search-and-rescue style of context clues. With e-readers, that dictionary search is now built in to the eBooks themselves. With the touch screen Nook devices, all I would have to do is hold my finger down on the word, and select the “look up” feature from the pop-up window; without leaving the page of the book, a floating screen brings me the definition and pronunciation. That’s amazing! Pocket dictionaries are now officially for suckers, and are also impossible to read anyway. The e-readers of today have dozens of integrated features like this one, including bookmarks, notation and highlighting features, and of course, a wiki-fueled web search if wifi is your thing.
On any given day, I am required by the laws of life to make hundreds of decisions. What to wear, what to eat, what to work on first, what can wait – when it comes time to relax, deciding what to read can be all-together maddening. At 7am, my brain thinks two things: wear matching shoes, and lfkjasdlkf coffee. I cannot possibly be held accountable for knowing what book I’ll feel like reading in 5 hours. Enter e-reader. With its ability to store thousands of books, and the wifi online store connectivity, the indecisive, under caffeinated reader doesn’t have to choose just one book to read that day. On the morning commute, I could read “City of Bones” for the fifteenth time, and at lunch, I can dive into “Drift” and see what’s upsetting Rachel Maddow this time. On the way home, I can rest my brain by looking at pictures of pretty people in People Magazine. Before I go to bed, I can play 3 hours of sudoku. Without having to fill my brain with premeditated decisions, the presence of an e-reader in my life gives me a fighting chance at remembering to put on mascara.
I believe it’s safe to assume that by now I have you all furiously searching for a sale on the newest Nook or Kindle, so let’s talk about why the existence of the e-reader is ruining our society. The majority of devices that are being used for reading are tablets. This is because people, in general, love all-in-one technology. Remember when HP first came out with the “3-in-one” printer? People went bananas over those things! “I can scan, copy AND print?! THIS IS THE FUTURE.” So whenever I’d explain the different types of Nook devices, I’d always get the same blank stares over why someone would choose the black-and-white Simple Touch over the bright and shiny Nook tablet. In this century, no one is buying into anything that does “just” one thing. So why is this falling in the “con” category? Because those tablet devices are backlit, meaning there is a light coming from somewhere behind the screen, shining directly into our eyes, slowly burning the life out of our retinas. Reading has always been considered a healthy habit, but that was established much before the mediums we were using to do it became glowing, damaging LED screens. Another downfall of the backlight? The ball of fire in the sky we call the sun doesn’t play games with that noise. Have you ever tried reading your iPhone in direct sunlight? I’m sure you have. How did that work out? Not great, right? The sunlight doesn’t vibe well with the backlight of a touch screen, and the two tend to wash each other out.
The pro of this, however, is that you are likely to get 80% less sunburned while reading with a tablet, if that’s a concern.
Another pitfall of the e-reading world is the lack of quality sharing features. Most of the things my friends and I talk about can be broken into three categories: awkward social interactions with strangers, last night’s episode of whatever, and books we’re reading. That’s one-third of my friendships being based off books, and it’s sort of peculiar to tell someone about a book you just finished that you loved, and not be able to offer up your copy. E-readers, with their decreased prices per book, have not fully embraced the sharing is caring mantra. With the Nook, for instance, you can share a book with another Nook owner, for two weeks. That would be great if that person was a professional reader, but if she happens to have a full time job that wasn’t reading “Bossypants” by Tina Fey for 8-hours a day, there’s a chance she might not be able to finish the book in 14 days. And there’s no choice to extend the lending period. You get one shot, and then you can never give that book out again. So the conversation goes like this:
Me: I have it as an eBook, do you want to borrow it?
Me: Are you ready? What does your work week look like?
Friend: Oh, uh, well there’s a project, but I mean, nothing too intense.
Me: A project, huh? Any chance you’ll have to work late one night? How long will this project run? Are you in charge?
Friend: I, uh, I mean, maybe?
Me: You’re not ready. I’ll wait.
Friend: But…I wanted to-
Me: YOU’RE NOT READY.
eBooks, due to their dramatically cheaper production costs, are generally cheaper than their printed counterpart, which another benefit for the e-reading world in this dwindling economy. But where does that leave the local bookstore? Pretty pressed for cash, actually. Even the big chain bookstores are hurting for customers, thanks to Amazon and the home computer. One of my favorite things to do is to go into a bookstore and browse for hours, coffee in hand, at the thousands of spines just waiting to be picked up and further examined. But with the rise in popularity of the digital book, comes the gravitational fall of the printed one, and that’s a terrible thing in my opinion.
For me, books fall into two categories: the one-offs and the forevers. The one-offs are books I will only read once. Non-fiction titles mostly fall into this category. I love to learn something new, but I rarely feel the urge to relearn about the Rise and Fall of Prohibition from the same author. These are the types of books I see as eBook potential. Then we have the forevers; the books that I reread over and over and over again. The Harry Potters. Treasure Island. Frankenstein. Me Talk Pretty One Day. These are my cracked-spine, hardcover collections. These are the books that overflow from my bookshelves. The forevers are what we stand to lose if everyone finally leaves the ink-and-paper behind.
It’s all about the balance. I don’t think I’ll ever stop wanting to buy books. I love the smell of a bookstore; I love the texture of the paper, and the rewarding feeling of turning the last page. But I also love my spine. Owning an e-reader has given me an opportunity to read new, different authors that I might not have gravitated towards in a physical store, but as an aspiring writer myself, there is no bigger dream than to see my own writing printed on that artfully bound paper. So I’m torn, and I’m okay with that. The hardbound bookies are out there fighting the good fight, and Amazon is working on a hologram e-reader, set for release in 2015. (That is probably not true, but I don’t know for sure either way.) The important thing is that, as a society, we keep reading, one way or another.
Because you know what happens to people who don’t read, right?
They don’t think floating cupcakes are suspicious at all.
Eleanor Thibeaux is a writer, audio engineer and cake-enthusiast living in the Northern California Bay Area. She can often be spotted on the freeway in her Scion TC dancing and singing along with Disney show tunes during in bumper-to-bumper traffic. You can’t hear her, but she sounds REALLY good. She can found on Twitter, and on her blog, Grumpy Girl Monologues.