Wednesday, March 30, 2011

E-Readers and E-Kitties and E-Thoughts and E-gads

At first it was a little like admitting to a crack addiction. (Not that I've ever had a crack addiction, Employer Who Might Read This Blog). I'm a writer. I love books. I love bookstores. I understand that we authors don't make anything to speak of from our work. I understand that bookstores are in trouble. But I also am a part of the 21st century, and if I do nothing else in this world well, I sit and watch with the best of 'em.

I watched the music industry decide that people would always buy music in music stores. (How's that Tower Records stock doin' for ya?) Then I watched the music industry decide that only the pre-packaged monster acts would be supported. Then I watched the people who make the music tell them where they can take their studios. At first it was expensive and nearly impossible to make your own CD. Not so anymore. At first, it was nearly impossible to distribute that CD (um, cassette) unless you were affiliated with said Studio. Not so anymore.

And so I watched the publishing industry pretend like this transition has not happened to the music industry. They don't know what to do now, so they seem to be doing a combination of nothing and trying to negotiate higher e-book prices. But amazon beat them to the table and consumers aren't going to pay what the publishers want. Welcome to free enterprise -- you know, that class you had to take in 12th grade? Well, this is how it works. Anyone download an i-tunes song for $5.99? Didn't think so. The world saunters on. E-readers abound. E-books abound. The times, they are a-changin'. 

Is this good for writers? Ultimately, I think so. Right now, it's a giant clusterf&*$(. But it'll shift away from that and people will wonder why they fought it so hard. The Authors Guild is negotiating for greater royalties for e-books. Will it happen? Don't know. But if I want to upload my new book straight to Kindle all on my own, can I do it? Yep. Is this freedom resulting in a lot of crappy e-books? Yep. But that'll shift around too. Gone to an art fair lately? There's a wide range of talent in the world. Literature is no exception.

So back to the crack addiction that I never had. 

I used to read ALL THE TIME. I had books with me everywhere. And then, this pesky thing called a job showed up in my life, and that job involved continuous reading of student work for weeks on end. Last thing I wanted to do was read. Ever. Again. And really, the last thing I wanted to do was read on a computer or screen device since I did that all day long.

Enter e-ink.

Enter devices that were designed to be like a book. A device that dissolves into the background and lets the story come to the forefront. I didn't think it was possible. Books smell good. They have pretty covers. I can walk past my bookshelves at home and say hello to all my friends. Enter Whitney Houston singing "I Will Always Love You." 

I will. Always.

But I have not been reading because my eyes are tired. I am at that over-forty place where the eyes start doing their own things. Reading glasses help, but not much. My eyes still tear up by the end of the day. Reading hurts them. It's really hard to read a book one page a day. 

So under cover of darkness, cloaked in black, I went to Best Buy to touch the Kindle. I went to Barnes and Noble to touch the Nook. And then, making sure no one saw me, I bought the Kindle. I took it home. I downloaded a book. And ...

I read it. 

Easily. No burning eyes. No tearing up. No headaches. I can make the font as big as I want. I can read it in sunlight. I can read it in bed. I can hold it at any angle and read. No glare. 

My e-reader has given me back reading. I have downloaded and finished reading more books in the last six months than the previous six years. True, they're not on my shelf. But they're in my body now, which, at least from my  perspective as a writer, is exactly where I want my books to be in my readers. I don't want them holding up knick knacks on shelves. I want my books read. 

My Kindle helps me read more. As a writer, what could be more important? I don't care how you read my work. I don't care if it's scratched out on tree branches or sent up in smoke signals. Hardcover, paperback, e-book (Sony, Nook, Kindle, Kobo, iPad), audiobook. I don't care. But I want it read.

Books come to life when a reader enters the dream of the story. It doesn't matter what the door looks like. The more accessible and the more variety of doors we can offer as the transoms to our stories, the better chance we have of dancing in the dark with our readers, the better chance we have of our characters continuing to breathe.

I didn't want to do it. But I did, and because I did, I'm dreaming with other authors. I've got other characters in my body. I've got other stories in my cells. I got reading back.

So apparently, what I Will Always Love is stories, not the physical package of a book. 

I didn't think it would be so easy to say good-bye, but it was. I didn't think it would be so easy to say good-bye to my '77 AMC Spirit that I drove in college, but it was. I didn't think it would be so easy to get rid of my land line, but it was. I didn't think it would be so easy to transition from an in-class instructor to a primarily on-line instructor, but it was.

I still feel a little disloyal, but it's passing quickly. Books want to be read too. They're only dead trees until someone opens the cover. It doesn't matter whether the cover is paper or a switch. 

Just read.



Those of us who make the stories are grateful.

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