Nostalgia City Mysteries

By Mark S. Bacon

Tag Archives: e-readers

Few dollars faded

E-books: for a few dollars more

For many readers, electronic books are convenient but not a substitute for the printed variety.  E-books are handy for reading on planes, trains and in bed, but you can’t line a bookshelf with them, you can’t scrawl notes on them with a pen and you can’t read them without electricity.

Some people, myself included, like both.  Too bad we have to choose.  But why should we?

Publishers should offer an electronic version of a book–for a few dollars more, say $3–to those who buy a hardback or trade (larger format) paperback.

When you buy software online you’re often given the option to pay a little more and receive the program on a disk, in addition to your download.   Some books, notably how-tos and computer books, come with disks.  Some nonfiction books direct you to a website to obtain additional information.   An electronic option for printed books sounds like a winner.

It’s difficult to see disadvantages in this for either publisher, bookseller or reader.  It probably would not affect separate e-book sales–except for e-book-only publishers and sellers–and it could be a boost for hardbacks and paperbacks.   Yes, it would cut down revenue for books for which individuals typically buy the printed and electronic versions.  But how often does that happen?

I’ve done it once.  I bought the 944-page Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s masterpiece about Lincoln and his cabinet, in paperback.  Then before I read it, I bought the Kindle version.  The e-book was easier to tote around and although annotating on a Kindle is not speedy, I made lots of notes.  Later I transferred many of my notes and highlighting to the print version.  (This is a book not just to read but to study and I’ve loaned it to a friend.)   I treasure my paperback version.  The pictures of Lincoln and his cabinet are easy to find and it has a prominent place on my bookshelf next to other books about that historical period.

Together, the books cost about $30.  (Prices have come down slightly since.)  This expensive double purchase three years ago demonstrates the many values in getting an electronic version and a printed book.  Not many people buy both versions of a book, but they would–if it was possible for just a few dollars more.

I did not, alas, come up with this concept.  It was one of a variety of otherwise impractical or unnecessary ideas scattered throughout an article by Kane Hsieh on Gizmodo.com.  But what an idea.

You heard it here, second.

Hyperlinks

Team of Rivals

Gizmodo article on e-books

But can your Kindle or Nook do this?

Second of two parts

A memory-filled meander through an airport bookstore last week prompted some comparisons between e-books and the real thing.  I also discovered that English provides few ways to distinguish a book that’s printed on paper versus one that’s contained in a digital file.  Are they both simply books?  More about that in a later entry.  For now, here are a few other shortcomings of reading electronically:

Buying or making bookmarks  Gift shops, bookstores, tourist attractions and other places still sell bookmarks.  They’re not nearly as efficient as their automated counterparts that let you stop reading an e-book in your e-reader and pick it up in the same spot, days later, on your computer or tablet.   But then electronic bookmarks are not tangible.

My small collection of bookmarks includes one with a reproduction of Ecstasy (a painting by American artist Maxfield Parrish), another containing a brief history of San Francisco’s Ferry Building and one courtesy of my alma mater, UNLV.  Ribbons are good bookmarks, but my favorites are ones I’ve made by laminating cartoon strips.   They’re just the right size for paperbacks or larger books, and they make me smile.

(One of my favorite cartoon bookmarks is from the Wizard of Id.  The wizard complains to his wife that as he gets older he keeps repeating himself.  His wife tells him not to worry because no one listens to old people anyway.)

Airline boarding passes, before they became electronic, made dandy bookmarks and I have often simply used bookstore cash register receipts to save my place in a book.   Recently I read a book I’d purchased some years before.  Inside, I found the receipt–dated 2002.  Obviously that book had been sitting on my shelf longer than I realized.

Sometimes to make a bookmark I will reach for whatever’s handy, a torn strip from a magazine, a corner of a newspaper page, a pencil or even a sheet of toilet paper.

A final form of bookmark, popular in years past–now often associated only with scripture or with fancy leather editions of classics–is the bound-in ribbon.  I recently bought a faux leather-bound collection of mystery short stories (to be reviewed in an upcoming blog entry) with a long, slender ribbon attached.  Handy.

Dog-ears  In addition to the often-heard prohibition regarding writing in a book, dog-earing a page is another bibliographic sin.  And perhaps it should be.  Pages in books printed on inexpensive paper or in ancient paperbacks may break off if they’re folded.  Better quality paper can withstand folding and straightening.

Dog-earing is useful, however, to identify locations within a book, sometimes a page on which you’ve highlighted or annotated (thus compounding your sin). To save the corners of pages, I used to tear Post-it notes into strips to create crude tabs in a book, then someone invented the convenient little self-adhesive plastic tabs you can stick on.

The latest generation Kindle automatically saves your place when you turn off the reader, but also allows you to make bookmarks–or more accurately place savers–throughout an e-book simply by touching the upper right corner of the screen.   A tiny electronic symbol, looking like a book page folded over, appears in the corner.  So, in a sense, you can dog-ear a page in an e-book.

One characteristic of some books–that thankfully has not been synthesized in e-books–is the deckle edge.  More than a century ago this uneven, textured edge of pages used to be a common byproduct of papermaking.  Now it’s used to give a book literary airs.  Put a deckle edge and a thicker than normal cover on a trade paperback and voila, you have classic in the making, a $20+ pricetag and a book that’s far less accessible or useful because you can’t riffle it.

Finally, a row of e-readers is not very decorative on a bookshelf, and you can’t press flowers in a Kindle.

Three shortcomings of e-books

For dedicated readers, nothing compares to spending a quiet afternoon browsing in a bookstore.

Last week I found myself in the San Jose, Calif., airport with time on my hands.  I had my Kindle and planned to get a cup of tea and settle in to read.  Once inside security, however, I noticed a bookstore so I strolled over.  Immediately, I was enveloped in the quiet, the smell of bindings and paper, and the thousands of titles calling to me from the shelves.

This was the first time I’d been in a bookstore in a month or two.  A pilgrimage to Barnes and Noble for tea, coffee and hours of browsing used to be a weekly ritual for my wife and I.   She’d head for mysteries, I’d start with new releases.  We’d meet up somewhere in general fiction after I’d toured the history, social science and philosophy shelves–not to mention the marked downs.

In the two and a half years since I’ve had an e-reader, our visits to bookstores have become more infrequent–though nonetheless cherished.  So my visit to the airport bookstore was all the more welcome.  In fact, the visit was a time of reflection, one of those moments to recall things that are slowly fading from our lives.   The transition to e-books–advancing perforce–has been so swift, readers of all ages are likely going through some form of literary withdrawal or suffering premature pangs of nostalgia for the hours we’ve spent with books.  My time browsing in the airport bookstore got me thinking about some of the other simple pleasures of books, pleasures being lost to the digital serpent.  Two more examples:

Watching what others are reading After my relaxing time at the bookstore, it was time to board my plane.   In the days before e-books I loved to see what other people were reading and airports and airplanes were good places to do it.  I’ve struck up many conversations with strangers–at airports and elsewhere–by making a comment about the books they were reading.   Sometimes I would see a title then wonder why that person was reading that book.  Sound familiar?  Of course today the person across the aisle holding an e-reader could be reading Fifty Shades of Gray or Tom Sawyer and you’d never know.

Writing in the margins  Someone may have told you never to write in a book because it defaces the pages.  That may be true for library books, but writing in your own book can only make it more valuable to you, nonfiction books especially.  When you skim back at a book when you’re finished or even when you’re in the middle of it, your annotations, underlinings or highlighting will lead you to the things you wanted to remember.   Even the act of underlining helps you remember.

When you disagree with an author, the margin is the perfect place to scribble a rejoinder or set the record straight.  You can write questions that may help you understand what the author is driving at.  Yes, you can highlight and make notes in e-books, but the interface often makes it impossible for you to see your annotation and the passage it refers to at the same time.   And since annotations are recorded as footnotes, your comments don’t get equal billing with the text.   You can’t skim through an e-book on most readers and see your annotations in margins.

One of my grad school professors used to tell us that if you were not using at least three colors for highlighting or annotations yours was not a rigorous form of study.  Some e-reader software now permits you to highlight in colors, but it’s not the same thing.  And you can’t absently chew on the end of an e-book highlighter when you’re enraptured by a particular passage.

Next: More shortcomings- bookmarks and dog ears

Style notes

This blog conforms to the 2012 edition of the Associated Press Stylebook; however, in some previous entries I’ve incorrectly referred to electronic books and electronic readers as ebooks and ereaders, respectively.  I was in error.

The AP, not unlike some dictionary publishers, is not an early adopter of popular slang and jargon.  It takes a longer view.  For example, website only recently replaced Web site as the AP’s accepted way to refer to a location on the World Wide Web.

As this day’s post indicates, e-book and e-reader are the acceptable forms.

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