Please welcome guest blogger Fran Fuller, one of the awesome booksellers at the Seattle Mystery Bookshop.
Fran is a former teacher who taught high school students English, drama, communications and various other literature-type studies. At a fork in her career path she decided to indulge her passion for books and went to work as a bookseller. She is an eclectic mystery reader and enjoys everything from cozies to humorous to historical to science fiction. She also enjoys discovering new authors.
People ask us all the time what we think of the Kindle. "Aren't you afraid," they ask, "that it'll put you out of business?"
Really, we don't. Other factors may threaten us as a small independent specialty shop, but not the Kindle or the Sony e-Reader or any other electronic device. People made the same assumption when books on CD came out, shouting "It's the end of the written page!"
There's a lot that's positive about e-books, we don't deny that. If someone gave me one, I wouldn't turn it down, although I'm not inclined to buy one. They're small and portable, good for taking on trips. Books are bulky, I realize this, and they are heavy and difficult to transport. The Kindle is excellent for that.
Being able to adjust the font size would be great for these aging eyes, and not having to fight badly bound books would be a joy.
They're useful and convenient, no denying that!
And I'd love for some enterprising and intrepid person at one of the non-Kindle electronic readers to come up with a way for people to download books from our shop. It's a market-share I want us to be in on!
But there's nothing like the physical feel of a book. The pages, the covers, the ability to "accidentally" open the book to the wrong page just to be sure the hero gets through this mess. The pleasure of rifling back to find that one passage you have to read out loud to someone.
Aesthetics aside, however (and I just don't see an electronic cover being as deeply pleasing as one I can run my fingers over), there are some practical advantages to an actual paper book.
One of the touted "advantages" of an e-book is no more use of paper, thereby reducing our need for cutting down trees, which is sweet but not factual. Books can be recycled, and much of the recycled paper becomes, well, paper. For books. It's cannibalism at its finest. Books are, in their own way, organic.
There are some components in a Kindle that can never be recycled. When the new version comes out, the latest one with the most advantages, what's going to happen to the old ones? Like 8-track players, are they going to gather dust in some corner until they end up in an electronic landfill?
And while I said that e-book readers are great on trips, you don't have to recharge a book to be able to read it. Firelight will do, if necessary. And if you drop your latest Patricia Smiley paperback at the beach, you can pick it up, shake it out and keep going. What does sand do to the sensitive inner workings of a Kindle?
Speaking of dropping, if your toddler grabs your new Ridley Pearson hardback and smashes it around the house, aside from a possibly torn dust jacket and crunched edges, what's the harm? Can you say the same of your e-reader?
If you drop your Maisie Dobbs paperback in the tub, it's a mess, certainly, and you probably won't want to dry it out (although you might!). But it's easily replaceable. If you drop your Kindle in the tub? Or if someone dumps water on you -- and it -- at the beach? That's an expensive lesson.
And while having a hardback plunk down on your nose when you fall asleep while reading is startling, having your Kindle thwap you between the eyes is probably a bit more likely to bruise. Letting it slide from sleepy fingers onto a carpet probably won't hurt it much, but onto a hardwood floor or out of a loft-bed could be unpleasant.
Then too, isn't it nice to be able to loan out a book you've enjoyed? Or give it as a gift to someone? I don't know about you, but I'd be more thrilled to find a signed copy of the new Cornelia Read under my Christmas tree than a little card saying that I have a gift-card from Amazon for a Kindle download of my choice, and the new Read is a top recommendation.
Make no mistake. I love gift cards like that. But there's something personal about getting a real book.
Then too, I like autographed books. I enjoy having books inscribed to me and my partner. I smile knowing that the page I'm touching is also a page actually physically touched by a favorite author. It's special to me. I know for an absolute fact that seeing an electronic image of somebody's signature isn't going to seem as personal, as wonderful.
In recent weeks, interesting news has come up on the Kindle front, and I suspect it's got people a little concerned. When Amazon went into people's readers and deleted copies of 1984, it was scary. Almost Orwellian.
I do understand ownership rights, and I realize the books shouldn't have been sold in the first place, but the fact is, those people bought their copies of Orwell's novel in good faith. What else has been purchased in good faith through a reputable dealer that may be removed at whim? Book readers are always highly sensitive to censorship issues, and this raises some dark ones.
No bookseller I know is going to go to your house and take back your copies of the entire Paul Levine collection! It's safe in bound form. But if you've electronically downloaded it, even through a dealer that has the only access, you can't ever quite be sure it won't magically disappear from your "library" some day, removed by the seller, not random thieves.
And now I'm hearing that U.S. Patent Application No. 20090171750 has been filed. This is a patent to insert ads into your Kindle, tailored to your reading, so that you might find an ad along the margin of the book or popping up when you turn on your Kindle. So the next time you boot up your Kindle to dive back into that action scene that Jim Born wrote, you might have a cheerful ad touting Disney World floating alongside it.
I was so thrilled when they took the ads out of paperbacks back in the 60's. I'd hate to see them come back electronically. Granted, we're so used to electronic ads hovering around everything we read onscreen, maybe we won't even notice. Maybe.
But between the possibility that you could lose books you've purchased, the insertion of advertising, and the hovering awareness that someone is monitoring your reading, it seems to me the intimacy of books would be compromised.
That's why we at the shop aren't as concerned as people think we ought to be about the advent of electronic books. The relationship between author and reader is at its most pristine and authentic when it's just the reader and the book. There's an honesty and privacy to that relationship that just can't be matched.
But in the end, it all comes down to the feel of the book. The heft, the weight, the smell, the absolute joy that comes from holding a book in your hand, with all the expectations of entertainment and education and fun that is bound into them. That can't be beat!