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Mad Scientess Jane Expat

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Books and e-readers and that [20120229|10:15]
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
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[the weather today is |on holiday!]

As amusing as sentences like "What be this strange futurebox?" and "All of my colleagues have [e-readers] and most of my friends - people I previously thought of as human beings with hearts, souls and inner lives" are, I must vehemently disagree with Lucy Mangan's recent Stylist column decrying the use of e-readers.

For a start, I think it is rather obvious that Ms. Mangan does not have to make the 2-4 hour daily commute to/from her job that many Londoners must. If she did, she would be as immensely grateful as I am that I have not had to carry dead-tree editions of The Life of Samuel Johnson and Le Morte d'Arthur around with me on my journey. Excuse me, I have to go on a tangent now. Speaking of the latter, I feel like people, particularly my high school English teachers, have been keeping things from me. Why oh why did no one ever tell me that it is, in fact, hilarious? I realise this will have been obvious to people who majored in literature and humanities and the like, but for this scientist, discovering that Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail is actually not a parody but a faithful re-enactment of the stories contained in L M d'A was a revelation. If you were an Arthurian knight whose history was being retold centuries later, you really were in danger of encountering dwarves who would leap out from behind trees and whack your horse on the head. The dwarf would then force you to fight two other knights and when you defeated them, would suddenly and inexplicably experience a change of allegiance, reveal that he knew exactly where you were going and would help you on your quest. Castles populated entirely by women were a terrible peril for all good knights. Every sexual encounter seemed to beget new knights determined to kill their fathers. Also, every joust ended in a bonfire's worth of shattered shields and lances. It's a wonder there were any trees left in the forests in Arthurian England. And do not get me started on Merlin, who reveals everyone's fate in the first ninety pages, including his own, thereby completely spoiling the rest of the book. Within four pages, he manages to fall in love and gets himself sealed up in a tree by a witch, removing him from the remainder of the story just as the reader has decided his character is the most interesting one in it. This was a clever literary device in the fifteenth century? What? I mean, it's amusing, but no wonder modern storytellers are so obsessed with giving Merlin something other than a deus-ex-machina persona.

Anyway, my point is that without this wonderful Kindle invention, I would never have read a good many of the classics of English literature that have been the bulk of my intake over the past two years, mostly because (a) it would never have occurred to me to seek them out without the assistance of Project Gutenberg and (b) I would never have voluntarily carried such massive tomes around in my handbag.

Much as I love my dead-tree Folio (and paperback and hardcover) editions of my favourite books, they're not without flaws. In a country in which you pay a premium for space, owning paper copies of all your books is a luxury that many people can't afford, whether they're a single person crammed into a tiny studio apartment or a spouse in a two-bed flat with a partner and a couple of kids. If my eyes are tired, I can't resize the text to a larger font so that I can still read, or if I have a headache from looking at screens all day, I can't activate the Text-to-Speech function that will read to me. (Granted, the Kindle does this in the creepy voice of our future robot overlords, but it is an option.) Both of the aforementioned also demonstrate the increased accessibility to books that e-readers afford people with vision problems.

I admit that loaning and gifting electronic books isn't quite as fun as doing the same with paper editions - you can only unwrap an e-reader once - but owning one hasn't stopped me from giving and receiving paper copies of books with pleasure.

So while I'm happy to stay old-school at home because I happen to be one of the people who can indulge in the luxury of space for my dead-tree editions, I can't agree that e-books are "eroding our humanity". They've made it possible for me to spend more, not less, time reading and increased the scope of my choice of material. I think this means they're enforcing - possibly even improving - my humanity.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: imyril
2012-02-29 13:03 (UTC)
Hear hear. My ereader is my phone, but it broadens my reading, reduces my shoulder and wrist problems, and hasn't vaguely reduced my purchasing. I love hardbacks and trade editions; I'm now irritated I don't get an ePub version bundled with them so I can enjoy one at home and read the other without physically harming myself and my fellow commuters...
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2012-03-02 15:41 (UTC)
I want that too! I also want to be able to scan in information about some of my paperback trades, convert them to ePub editions and return/recycle the paper versions.
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[User Picture]From: tyrell
2012-02-29 13:06 (UTC)
I read Les Liaisons dangereuses on kindle software on a phone, and if that isn't heresy I don't know what is.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2012-03-02 15:20 (UTC)
Did it enhance the feeling that you were doing something terribly naughty? ;D
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[User Picture]From: tyrell
2012-03-02 16:00 (UTC)
...Yes. I wish I could say that wasn't a primary motivation, but it mixed Taboo-breaking with Really Old Books and I was therefore completely unable to exercise any restraint.
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[User Picture]From: belladonna_
2012-02-29 14:26 (UTC)
After I had Miles, I read maybe two books in six months. This is a dramatic reduction for me. Not only because of the difficulty of balancing a book and a newborn, but also because of the sheer difficulty of making it to the library or bookstore with a tiny baby. The hubs gave me a Nook as an anniversary prize, and within the month I had read all three Hunger Games books and the (at the time) four A Song of Ice and Fire books. It was amazing. As wonderful as having a baby is, I really missed reading. So anyone who says e-readers lack soul can suck it.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2012-03-02 15:28 (UTC)
Yes. It's just a different way of experiencing a book - it doesn't diminish enjoyment. Reading my Kindle on the train is different from lounging in the bath with a paperback, but it's neither worse nor better, and I can be totally absorbed in it if it's good enough.
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[User Picture]From: belladonna_
2012-03-03 05:27 (UTC)
I think many people confuse content and delivery method.
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[User Picture]From: sekl
2012-02-29 19:27 (UTC)
The Kindle has allowed me to read Dickens without breaking an arm or suffering eye strain. All hail e-ink!
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2012-03-02 15:26 (UTC)
Yes, all those verbose writers that I formerly avoided because their works didn't fit in my handbag? Not a problem now! :P
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[User Picture]From: cataragon
2012-02-29 23:39 (UTC)
In 2008, I took a three month trip around the US and Canada and went home with 28 books in my luggage. And I had returned a number of the trashy paperback kind to a book exchange. It was not convenient.

Now I travel with a Kindle, and ALL OF THE BOOKS IN THE WORLD*, and it's very very easy.

I still buy books that I love, to have them. But I read a lot of things, and some of them I don't need to own in hard copy forever and ever amen.

C.

*May be a slight exaggeration
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2012-03-02 15:32 (UTC)
Yes, going away on holiday and being able to carry a gazillion books in e-format was a major part of my conversion to the e-reader. I kept skipping from book to book, simply because I could. It was brilliant.

I also would prefer to own some of the stuff I have in paperbook in e-format, but some of them just aren't available yet. I await being able to scan in an ISBN and being able to return or recycle my paper copy.
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[User Picture]From: becala
2012-03-01 02:35 (UTC)
I have gotten into numerous frustrating discussions about ereaders. But this comment has only to do with your icon: if you don't know about this laibach performance you probably should: http://thewire.co.uk/index.php?page=articles&article=8571
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2012-03-02 15:16 (UTC)
:O I bought tickets to that immediately. AWESOME. Thank you.
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[User Picture]From: nimoloth
2012-03-01 20:56 (UTC)
Good argument! I love actual books, so probably won't get one, but I can definitely see the benefit. I have a few on my iPod.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2012-03-02 15:18 (UTC)
They're invaluable to people who have long commutes on public transport, I think. It's a different way of experiencing a work - like listening to an audiobook, or reading a really fancy Folio edition with specially commissioned illustration. Not better or worse, necessarily.
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[User Picture]From: sanat
2012-03-08 02:54 (UTC)
Aaron absolutely loves his Kindle, for similar reasons. It fits into his backpack (or the bottommost pockets of his guayabera shirt, when he wears it), he usually walks to work but on rainy/running late days it's the bus, it's good for leisurely cafe reading.

And he's absolutely PLOWING through all of Shakespeare's plays (a New Years resolution of his) on it, although the footnotes of the Kindle editions are not always great, so you can see him sitting with his Android phone in his other hand looking up the footnotes oftimes. ;)

I have the Kindle app on my iPod Touch, and two books currently on it, but I think its screen size deters me, and I'd rather use it for podcasts and playing Bejeweled. In general though, technology rules!

And we still have our shelves of regular books, which I do still add to now and then, when money allows :)
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