Monday, October 4, 2010

An Editor's First E-book*

* I think e-book is the nerdiest spelling since e-mail but I do whatever Merriam Webster tells me. ...generally.

Olsen Twins, chopped and screwed.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I read my first e-book this weekend.

My interest in e-books is well-documented. I love to talk peoples' ears off about the endless possibilities of digital publishing, but I was starting to feel like I was all talk. What if reading an e-book was just totally lame? How could I make such sweeping statements about the future of the publishing industry without actually experiencing an e-book firsthand?

My homegirl Serenity Gerbman recommended a book called Room (hardback here and Kindle version here) on her Facebook wall a few weeks ago. She called it her fiction pick of the year so far, which is very high praise from a well-read lady like Serenity.

I stopped by a bookstore to check it out. It's pretty new, so it's not out in paperback yet. Having approximately .5 inches of available space left in one's tiny shoebox apartment does not make a person want to stock up on hardcover novels. And anyway, it cost $25, which is just more than I can spend on a book right now. I put the book back on its stand and walked away with a sigh.

Nick got a sweet iPad for his studies at MIT, and we're both in love with it. On Saturday morning, curled up in bed in my pjs, I had a brilliant idea. I grabbed Nick's iPad, opened the Kindle app, and moments later, I was reading Room.

The premise is simple and intriguing: Jack and his mother have been locked in a room for all of Jack's life. Just like any good episode of Law and Order: SVU, the story is RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES, very clearly inspired by the abduction and rescue of Jaycee Lee Dugard. I have a little obsession with stories about feral children and children in captivity. Have you read this incredible article about Dani, a little girl in Florida who was neglected and confined to a room for most of her life?

I could not put this book down. I read it in two days in just a few sittings. It's narrated from Jack's perspective, and his gaze is unflinching. I cannot recommend it enough.

I hardly noticed that I wasn't reading a regular book. Nick has an iPad case with a cover that flips open just like a book, so it felt like a book in my hands. So much so that I kept reaching with my thumb and forefinger to turn the page. No eyestrain. Delightful.

The iPad Kindle app allows you to touch any word in the text and get a dictionary definition. Can you imagine what a learning tool that must be for younger readers? This feature helps me understand how interactive e-books could be. Classicists, imagine a dynamic Perseus-style text for reading. Social networkers, imagine discussing an interesting book with people from all over the world from inside the text itself. Kids, imagine reading texts above your reading level with effortless aplomb.

This is all well and good, but there's one test every reading platform must pass: can I read it in the bathtub?

The answer is a resounding YES. Nick, I'm sorry I took your fancy new toy in the bathtub.

...actually, I'm not.

Discussion Question [two-parter]:
A: Have you embraced e-books? Do you think the experience is comparable to reading a traditional book?
B: What is the funniest part of the "Gimme Pizza" video above? Please cite specific moments.


  1. I've used my roomie's iPad and I have to admit the page-turning feature and light weight is pretty swell. But I still don't see taking it to bed with me (that's my test).

    Re: the Classics application, the dictionary is cool but if I have to make notes in the margins, I don't care how much touch-screen functionality they add, I want to put pencil to paper pages and draw my little smiley faces etc.
    But I'm old-school that way.

    Unfortunately, I have an allergic reaction to the Olsen twins, so I found the video a bit more disturbing than funny.

  2. Oh yes, that's why I'll never get rid of my book collection--marginalia. That's what this post is all about:

    But surely they'll develop an app soon that allows you to write in your e-books with a stylus!

  3. I think my love of e-books and all things Kindle has been well documented. I recently read a real paper book and ughughUGHUGHHHHH it was 700 pages long and weighed eight thousand pounds per page and I kept falling asleep and losing my place. I also love the convenience of being able to do stuff liek buy books from the dentist's office or while on the train. Stores? I don't need no stinkin' stores!

    Oh and the best part is clearly WHIP CREAM POURING LIKE A WATERFALL

  4. Tanie, have you read anything great lately that I can't miss?

    And I agree that the flaccid stream of whipped cream is a highlight of that video. I like the crazyface at about 3:06.

  5. Recently I've just been rereading all the Harry Potter books, and I've read some terrible junk as well, but a couple good ones:
    Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
    Remainder, Tom McCarthy
    How Did You Get This Number, Sloane Crosley
    House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski
    I finish them so quickly sometimes it's hard to remember if I liked them, haha.

  6. Sloane Crosley's writing really irritates me, for some reason. I think it just hits too close to home.

    Ugh why doesn't blogger have comment threads?

  7. Wordpress has comment threads. I'M JUST SAYIN.

  8. While I was waiting for my ship to come in (with all of my books on it) I couldn't really afford to buy any books because they are absurdly expensive in Australia. Well, I could have bought them, but the prices really offend my sensibilities. Really? 19.99 for a paperback???

    ANYWAY, enough hating on Australia.

    I began reading books on a "classics" app I downloaded some time ago onto my iPod touch. I got really into it. No, it didn't have the nice weight and smell of a real book, but I certainly enjoyed "The Jungle Book", "Alice in Wonderland", "Through the Looking Glass", "Hounds of Baskervilles", among many others. Even on a tiny iPod where you have to turn the page every 3 sentences. Also I always had a book with me. Train delayed on tracks? Read my iPod. Stuck in the ridiculously long grocery store again? Read my iPod.

    Hmmm...I wonder if there is a flashcard app for the iPod...could really use it to bone up on German vocab.

  9. I'm sure there is!! It's encouraging to know that even a dyed-in-the-wool bibliophile such as yourself is into digitial media.