Reading Old Paper

While I love my new tablet and have a number of eBooks downloaded and ready to read,  I have found myself re-reading old-fashioned paper books this weekend.   Back in 2009 I received an advanced reading copy of Michael Connelly’s thriller The Scarecrow.    Advanced reading copies were one of the nicer things that big publishing used to do for book sellers and book reviewers.    Released only to the aforementioned specialized readers prior to hard cover publication,  these were trade paper back versions with the same art as the dust jackets of the forth coming book.    I got my very first ARC, of Michael Chabon’s debut novel The Mysteries of Pittsburgh way back when I was a book store clerk in New Orleans.   I quite enjoyed that novel and did my best to sell it once it was published.    Sadly,  less than three years after the publication date The Scarecrow is no longer available from Amazon in any print format.

In addition to The Scarecrow,  I have also this weekend been re-reading Gary Jennings’  Spangle– a trilogy of novels about a circus troop in the days following the US Civil War and their travels in Virginia and across Europe and Russia.  I first read these novels many years ago and have held on to the paperbacks,  which I have enjoyed re-reading many, many times.  Good stories,  I have found,  age well and continue to entertain and delight all these years after I first read them.   One good thing about eBooks I am realizing is that they are mine forever,  with no need to keep and save a relatively fragile physical artifact.    Both Smashwords and Amazon allow readers to re-download any eBook they have acquired.   Even when (inevitably) I have to replace my laptop or my tablet,  the books I’ve acquired can be downloaded again onto whatever new devices I may purchase.   In my heart I strongly suspect that I will always continue to cherish and re-read old paper books.   But I have to say I really am genuinely excited about the new world of eBooks.


31 comments on “Reading Old Paper

  1. I doubt I’ll ever be a convert or at least not until they stop publishing paperbacks anyway. My current library is >500 and counting lol

    • John, when I moved from the New Orleans area to the Boston area I shipped cartons and cartons of books. Years later when I moved from New England to the Pacific Northwest I again shipped cartons and cartons of books. And the sad fact is that all these years later I have very few of those books, which I took such care selecting an cherished so genuinely. Paper books are fragile and heavy. It costs real money to store them and protect them. And even if you do, you still may lose them at any time. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely do still own and cherish books, and I love reading paper books. But there are a lot of compelling things about eBooks for me as reader, as a writer and as a publisher.

  2. As I write i can see on my desk just behind my laptop a samsung galaxy tab with the kindle app. The tab was given to me alone with 1000 books. There are some real classic on there. Well I have tried more than once to read a book on this thing but just can not. But than again I still love my 8 tracks.

  3. The biggest worry for me and digital only books, is the ability to not verify the source written material. its a long shot, but the power to change the wording and narrative of books is a possibility. its a matter of keeping the source open. cant wait till I get my own tablet though.

    • I definitely hear you about wanting a tablet. I have been so thrilled to get mine, which as I said has been great for reading ebooks. It hasn’t been that good for web surfing, twitter, Facebook, etc. I’m hoping that some day i will be able to afford to replace it with a more functional tablet.

  4. I don’t yet have a tablet or kindle, I do lots of reading on my iPhone but I still read paper books. It’s pretty much the only thing I’m old fashioned with.

  5. I’m not won over yet. I just don’t want to sit down with a tablet reader. I want to hold a book in my hands, turn corner, add a post-it note even write in the margins. I USE my books, I don’t just consume the words on the page. I realize that there are digital ways to highlight and such but I just prefer the tangible form. The only downside I see to physical books is that it is a helluva pain to move when you have dozens of boxes of books. Otherwise, I don’t see a reason to switch.

    • Liz, paper books are fragile. In particular, books that are not printed on acid free paper can age quite poorly. I spent a bunch of money shipping cartons of books from New Orleans to Boston when I moved. Then years later I spent a bunch of money moving those books and more books from Boston to the Puget Sound area. And in the end, I ended up losing most of those books. I completely agree with all of the folks who’ve expressed real joy andd fondness for reading paper books. But I definitely have to acknowledge many advantages to eBooks.

  6. EBooks have their advantages. As a novelist, I make more from EBooks per copy, while the readers pay less; they have that going for them. And, to borrow from Adams, the Kindlle eliminates the need to carry around several large office buildings all the time.

    What I have noticed, though the Kindle isn’t entirely to blame, is that EBooks prove a lot easier to put down. Or in fact to abandon halfway through in favour of a newer one. With a physical book, wherever I set it down, it’ll be there, reminding me to get back to it; with the Kindle, once I open a new book, the old one leaves the screen and I’ll occasionally forget to return to it.

    There’s also the matter of formatting, to some extent. While I personally find the Kindle easy [if frustrating] to code for, it seems to perplex everyone from new writers to established publishers. Ultimately, KindleBooks are written in the best hypertext of about 1994, lacking every advance in desktop publishing since the eighties. There’s potentially the KF8 format, currently exclusive to the KindleFire, which should address the problem with CSS; but, on the average Kindle, there’s about as much control over the layout as I’ve currently got in this textfield: I can italicise and justify, but I’m desperately limited with fonts and inlaid images and every other cool option I’d started abusing between Word and PDF over the last twenty-five years. The best [most well formatted, anyway] KindleBook ends up looking like one of those masspulp newsprint penny dreadfuls from the sixties; I half expect a given page to be stamped in at five or ten degrees off from the rest.

    Still: I tend to prefer EBooks [I’ve been waiting for them since the eighties, and trying to work with them since the nineties], just for the benefits outweighing the detriments. With the Kindle specifically, it’s a simple, intuitive matter to bookmark and unbookmark a given spot in a book [though most books automatically open to the last page read, on any device]; you can search for a given word or sentence in an instant, instead of paging through and trying to find it; you can even highlight a word or sentence or paragraph spanning pages, later unhighlighting it after it’s served its purpose. And, while the KindleFire is probably the worst Kindle made to date, *as* a Kindle, it still weighs less than the average novel and its battery lasts for at least six or eight hours; the other Kindles have batteries lasting for weeks or months, and weigh almost nothing.

    About books going out of print: there’s no longer a reason for it. I don’t have to care what a publisher thinks of the current numbers [I own the company now], and it’s actually more work to unpublish a novel than it is to leave it alone while I wait for sales to pick up again. A book no one’s cared about for a decade can spontaneously fall back into style, its content [formerly stockpiled inventory] having lurked harmlessly at on a drive [and, likely, some failover tape backup thing] without taking up any measurable space.

    Plus there’s that cool part where I can set a book at $2.99, rewinding MSRP to 1981 for the consumer, while personally making a fortune at about $2.10 per copy. I really don’t hate that element.

    • Imho, mainstream publishing has by and large completely missed the boat on eBooks. Just as an example— 20 or 30 years ago I read and greatly enjoyed Nora Ephron’s novel Heartburn. I bought it in mass market paperback and I think the cover price was $1.95 or $2.95. I have long since lost my copy of this novel, which has long been out of print. The publisher is offering an eBook version for $9.99. Huge FAIL I believe. They could make decent money offering out of print back list for a couple of bucks a title. But imho you’d have to be a pure D fool to pay ten bucks for an eBook version of an old novel.

  7. I spend a lot of the day at the computer, and am not much on the move, so Ebooks are not immediately very attractive to me, except of course that there is always a problem of having enough space for books. But I do enjoy the physical part of reading books and have only just been able to force myself to resign from The Folio Society which, for nearly 30 years has been a constant source of delight with its fine bindings, typeface and paper. And then of course I love the smell of new books…

  8. ebooks – great, but problematic. People give away your work as a “favor” to friends. Hard to make a living publishing when this is all-too-easy. I still have respect for the printed, paper versions, like you.

  9. I have a Kindle, a Kindle Fire and I also have an iPad2. Trust me, I love my iPad2 and even my Kindles, but I still love my old fashioned books. Maybe if I had grown up without old fashioned books I might have a different opinion, but I didn’t. For me there is just a special warmth that comes from picking up a book, flipping through the pages and enjoying the aroma of the print.

  10. It seems like such a long time ago since I have actually read a physical book. I miss them in a nostalgic sort of way but would never trade away the kindle to have those times back. I love my kindle and being able to have so many books all in one place is simply a book lovers best scenario.

  11. I am not a fan of e-books …. Nothing comes close to lying down on bed or sofa couch chair by the garden pool BOOK in HAND !!! Printed versions especially the old ones and that smell of old aged paper — aah Bliss

    Very interesting cool article posted and for that another big thanks Alan !!!

  12. I must admit that while I am a major proponent of ebooks and electronic reading devices, I don’t like them for myself. I prefer the feel and experience of reading an actual paper book. While the words are the same, the experience is very different. At the same time, I spend so many hours on the computer, that getting away with a good book in my hands is like a mini-vacation. I will always prefer paper to electrons for reading myself, although I know that is not the case for everyone.

    • I am finding that I like reading ebooks on my tablet just fine. (I did NOT like reading ebooks on my laptop before I got the tablet) It does seem to me a matter of personal preference, rather than anything right or wrong.

  13. Alan … confession time….. I am terrible book defacer. If I can’t scribble in and write in the margins with my … pencil… yes .. pencil…. it cramps a very old reading style.
    I am always referring to books and finding old ideas and thoughts through reading these little notes to myself. Can I do that with a Kindle? Add little thoughts and notes as I read?

    • I have just never been much of a book defacer. I can certainly understand why you might want to make notes, underline, etc. but that just has never been my method. It sounds to me as though you might be better served keeping on with paper and not investing in a kindle or a tablet at this point.

  14. I like paper book. One reason is that someone could delete your ebook forever – that happened with Amazon. I don’t care the reason, I bought what I keep. With paper version, sometimes I could keep a version of ‘wrongly’ published book for collection value, while I could not do with Amazon.

  15. Ebooks free up space in my home and are easy to travel with. I do prefer the actual book and especially if its one that I am going to highlight and mark up.

    I have mastered on my nook using the electronic highlighting etc, but there is nothing like marking up a notating a book for me.

  16. This is frustrating, I wrote a comment, hit “post comment” and got some confusion between my gravatar and WordPress logins. Result I lost the comment.

    I enjoy the convenience of being able to carry hundreds of books around on my ereader in case of delays like a recent 12 hour wait between tests at the hospital when I read a good chunk of Anna Karenina.

    However, like many who have already commented, I enjoy the feel, smell and sight of a “real” book and value the abiity to make margin notes, highlight and flip back a few pages that is not possible with an ereader.

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