Previously owned
June 30, 2012 1:25 AM   Subscribe

"I still buy books faster than I can read them. But this feels completely normal. How weird it would be to have around you only as many books as you have time to read in the rest of your life." Julian Barnes reflects on his life as a bibliophile, the disappearance of secondhand bookshops and the precarious survival of the physical book.
posted by verstegan (89 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

 
I do regular trawls of my local second hand stores, but I am increasingly saddened that many books I can get cheaper online than I can secondhand.

But I also buy them faster than I can read them, and so far I shun e-readers.

But there is a joy in the hunt, chatting with secondhand dealers (many of whom get to know your quriks) and digging into a box of Robert Jordan discards to find a copy of Jack Vance's Throy after a decade of looking.

This quote hit home too:
My father's school prizes are nowadays on my shelves, 90 years after he first won them
I have some wonderfully illustrated hardbacks from the '40s and '50 that were hand-me-downs from family members. I've read few (no real interest), but they look stunning and I am trying to preserve them.
posted by Mezentian at 2:21 AM on June 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


I like dead-tree books and the stores that carry them. I buy more books than I have time to read, and I don't buy eBooks. I assume there are lots of other people like me, and we'll keep getting the products/stores to meet that demand. If, one day, there is so little demand for these things that the dead-tree books and stores disappear, that'll be OK too. My personal preferences aren't superior to anyone else's, and to assert that dead-tree books are inherently superior to other kinds would be the most mindless traditionalism.
posted by John Cohen at 4:58 AM on June 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I will not rest until my fight to bring back the 8-track is successful.
posted by bradth27 at 5:13 AM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have a problem when I buy several books at a time. I start reading them all. This has progressed to my new Nook. I am now reading 3 books. And one on my iPhone.
posted by Splunge at 5:40 AM on June 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


The "more than you can buy" problem is exacerbated with e-readers. I downloaded the entire Project Gutenberg library into mine, just because it was easy.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:48 AM on June 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


I predict that dead-tree books will become "collectors only" products if and when we get eInk eBooks that actually print the whole thing for you, including the cover, however many times you want.

Figure ten, fifteen years.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:49 AM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't have an e-reader device yet, but I am sure that within a few years it will become the main way for non-artsy books to be bought and sold. I prefer to read on paper, though -- part of how I remember where something is within the book is its physical location ("about a third of the way through," say), which is missing on an e-reader, as well as the ability to use my fingers as temporary placeholders and flip back and forth instantly.

But I'm sure there are advantages to reading on a device, too; I'm not opposed to the switch, just not yet feeling the need to change over myself.
posted by Forktine at 6:05 AM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I like dead tree books. I buy as many as I can. I have not read them all because I mainly use audiobooks but I have lots of books!
posted by bjgeiger at 6:11 AM on June 30, 2012


The article was well written and I can understand the desire to collect books, even though I don't read anywhere near as many books as I imagine he does.

But what I find strange is the implication that collecting and buying too many books is somehow noble and to be praised. Would the article be published if, say, he collected pogo sticks instead?

What this article is really doing is highlighting the joys of obsessive collecting, no matter what you collect, and is not specific to books.
posted by milkb0at at 6:17 AM on June 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


I am still a spines reader, although I have a feeling I will get an e-reader as soon as budget permits it.
But the visceral joy of holding a paper book, turning the pages, sniffing the scent, cannot be diminished for those of us with the addiction. I intend to continue supporting that addiction by buying printed books as long as they exist.

Good post about a good author.
posted by Isadorady at 6:52 AM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am smack in the middle on this issue. I have a bunch of books published in the 50s-80s which could not be replaced if they were lost, probably not even with extensive trawling of the secondhand market. These are wonderful works of fiction that are hardly being read any more. My hope is that the internet and e-publishing will mean books being published today will not meet the same fate. Also as a former classics student, I have a huge baseline collection of books I cannot get rid of, and when trying to reduce the number of books coming into the house, it is really nice to use ebooks for part of the collection. At the same time, my relationship with books has always been very physical.

I agree, actual serious book collecting is basically the same kind of activity as any other. But there is something about loss or damage to a precious physical book-- even thinking about it makes me nauseated, almost like thinking about the destruction of a painting or other work of art. This does not really make sense with a printed book, where the content is (in most cases) separate from the physical production, but emotionally I guess there i something similar about the way you relate to them. I vividly remember, as a kid, coming across a "note on the typeface" in a Knopf book and thinking how cool it was that someone picked that font for that book.
posted by BibiRose at 6:55 AM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Here's the horrible truth: I moved from the UK to America a few years back and paid a bunch of money to get my belongings shipped over, including box after box of books. The bulk of those boxes have never been opened. And if I ended up wanting to read one of them again for whatever reason you know what I'd probably do? Buy it on Kindle.
posted by Artw at 7:35 AM on June 30, 2012


(I can't just get rid of them though, oh no. I'd have to take the time to sort them, keep the best ones, see they go to good homes... Etc, etc...)
posted by Artw at 7:37 AM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love books, and love having books around me. I will probably always prefer a physical book to an e-book.

But I'm pretty happy that I can get my magazines on my iPad.
posted by hippybear at 7:37 AM on June 30, 2012


For years I thought I was addicted to books. Turns out I am addicted to reading, and my ebook reader has been a godsend.

Fetishizing dead tree books is silly.
posted by Sternmeyer at 7:39 AM on June 30, 2012 [10 favorites]


You lose something in terms of lending and reselling, on the other hand not having the obligation to keep the thing around cluttering up the place is a release.
posted by Artw at 7:41 AM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Like BibiRose, I'm in the middle on this: I have a lot of paper books that are basically unreplaceable, but I understand the portability of the ereaders.

I live surrounded by probably 3-4 thousand deadtree books, and like any other hardcore book addict, I adore the scent and feel of a physical book, and oh yes indeedy: that definately is part of the reading experience. Heck, it's so much a part of the experience that sometimes I have a hard time reading a different physical copy of a book than one that is an old friend --- it's almost as if, merely because it's a different fistful of pages, the contents are somehow different, too. Hardbound, paperback, new or used, I can't imagine living without that lovely 'book' scent surrounding me.

On the other hand: I've had a Kindle for almost three years now; the main benefit to me is that carrying around that one little doohickey is far, far more convienent than hauling around the multiple pounds of paper needed to get my daily fix of the written word. I tend to grab a 'real' book when I'm at home, but out in the wide, wide world, my Kindle goes wherever I do.
posted by easily confused at 7:43 AM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Now, comics...
posted by Artw at 7:46 AM on June 30, 2012


Damn! I wanted to buy that book you just purchased but not might read for a really really long time. Now it's on your shelf and I don't think you've even opened it for years and I just wanted to read it real quick. Oh well. You go ahead and get your fetish on with the book, I guess I'll just torrent the PDF. Happy hoarding.
posted by fuq at 7:52 AM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Comics are one of the main reasons I got an iPad.
posted by signal at 7:52 AM on June 30, 2012


My stash of comics will probably be the last batch of physical media that I liquidate, tougher even than books. CDs and DVDs on the other hand I think I'd get rid of without much of a blink.
posted by Artw at 7:59 AM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


> I will not rest until my fight to bring back the 8-track is successful.

Thing is that 8-track is an inherently shitty medium - the sound quality is bad, there's no random access, but worse is that you often have a track change in the middle of a song!

But a paper book is a perfect medium. You can carry it everywhere. You can drop it in the bath and in the worst case you've lost that book (but probably you can dry it out). You can make notes in the margins or underline passages. You can give it to a friend without a computer and they can instantly start reading it. The cover really is a cover.

Someone showed up to one of my openLoop sessions with a vial of acid. "I just gave a vial of this to Gibby Haynes last night - would you like some hits?"

I tore out a blank page from the back of a Robert Anton Wilson book and got three drops gratis - gave one away to a friend, but still had a really good time a week or two later.

Try that with your Kindle!

(By the way, the Kindle was one of the worst user experiences I ever had with a technological product. I believe that my unit was defective - it crashed literally hundreds of times and I only read perhaps 10 books on it - but Amazon's customer service refused to interact with me other than sending me pre-packaged responses that made it clear that they hadn't actually read what I wrote.

(But there were many other things that sucked about it - the ultra-slowness of searches; the fact that you can't scroll halfway down a page so you see half of one page and half of the next (which is SO damned useful for manuals!); the difficulty in jumping to a specific page; and the fact that, at least when I had it, every time you went down a page it would flash black and then recreate the page, really lazy programming guys!)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:03 AM on June 30, 2012 [8 favorites]


I am a little paranoid and I worry about content being tampered with in ebooks. Don't get me wrong; I understand that content can be easily tampered with in print. But it just seems more secure.

My paper books never run out of batteries.
If I drop them in the tub, they're still good.
The place-finding comment above applies as well.
My paper books will still be good in 50 years.
The ease of borrowing and giving away- plus you can bookcross with books.
You can store things like notes and money and treasure maps inside of them.
There's no glare.
You have more control- you can read 3 different pages at once, make visible notes or even edit the text, paperclip pages together, and move the book around so that the text on the page is at a comfortable level for you, among other things.

All the bibliophile attributes of smell, feel, comfort also apply.

I like ebooks and I use them regularly, mostly for convenience's sake. But I love real books. Somehow, I just can't love an electronic device.
posted by windykites at 8:03 AM on June 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


the ultra-slowness of searches

Still faster than searching a paper book.
posted by blue t-shirt at 8:13 AM on June 30, 2012


I don't know what it is about this topic that gets me so incensed. Maybe it's the way that people get so sanctimonious about their preferences and try to frame it as if it's an issue of black and white, right (write?) and wrong. As if each option doesn't have distinct advantages and shortcomings.

I appreciate that the increasing popularity of e-readers make book stores more scarce, but I don't think that justifies the snobbiness of Team Dead Tree's most vociferous boosters. (According to a thread from last week, apparently my Kindle makes me undateable?)
posted by blue t-shirt at 8:29 AM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


> I predict that dead-tree books will become "collectors only" products if and when we get eInk eBooks that actually print the whole thing for you, including the cover, however many times you want.

I doubt that. Medium and availability are very strong influences on demand and popularity. Rather than trying to duplicate, imperfectly, the experience of physical books, e-book vendors should find it much easier to adjust their product selection to match the advantages that e-readers provide.

To wit, consider audiobooks. Books on tape or disc are a very different medium in comparison to books on paper. They are adapted for prolonged listening, viz. on long drives and commutes. One of their advantages is a richness of dramatic expression. Thus, they work best with dramatic narrative. On the other hand, it's difficult to reproduce the experience of footnotes or illustrations in audiobooks. And, clearly, there is no reason or pressure for publishers to try adapting that kind of book to this medium. As a natural consequence, most potboilers get an automatic audiobook edition, but you find much less nonfiction and so on. (These two aspects are just a tiny part of the overall difference between the two media. For example, audiobooks help people with poor eyesight, are less troublesome to store, require less physical effort to handle, depend on appropriate playback devices, etc.)

I see no reason to expect a different scenario to play out with e-readers. As far as I can see at this point, e-readers and e-books commodify text. You can see that with self-published, print on demand, and small-press books on Amazon. E-readers make it feasible and profitable to sell readers a stream of raw text. Readers whose tastes can accommodate consuming a stream of raw text will become (or have already become) the primary consumers.

Here is my concern. Depending on big publishers' ultimate commercial success with e-readers, readers with other reading profiles will tend to become more marginalized. The current generation of e-readers have advantages, but also certain very distinct disadvantages in comparison with print books, much like audiobooks do. Books with complicated formatting or typesetting don't do well on e-readers. Books with detailed illustrations don't do well. Books with mathematical notation or schematics don't do well. Books in other languages with non-Latin scripts have issues.

All of these issues can be overcome, but at a cost. After all, we have more or less perfected the book; it's not as though it's inherently infeasible to put a math formula or an adequate replica of the Mona Lisa on a reading surface. The challenges are at least two-fold: technical and commercial. They are connected. Current basic e-readers will need a substantial overhaul to simulate the advantages of the printed page even closer: true color, sophisticated page design and typesetting, all with good clarity, outdoor light performance, and low power consumption are a pretty high bar. We can do it, but at substantial cost. At the moment, devices with this profile would be expensive. To reiterate, it clearly can be done.

But is that worth it, commercially, to device vendors and publishers?

We laud the "long tail" of books that were not viable on paper, but become viable as plain text on an e-reader: the above-mentioned self-published and POD stuff. But what about the other direction: books that could be profitably produced on paper, but that won't turn a profit with current technology? What if it's just not worth the manufacturer's time to produce a device that is affordable and ubiquitous, but also capable of high-quality reproduction of this kind of content?

So let's imagine a future where the majority of bestsellers that are purchased and read are in e-reader formats and are no longer published on paper in any substantial quantity. Let's give that process 10-15 years. Printers (which are distinct from publishers) find it increasingly difficult to turn a profit. Many go out of business. Doesn't it make sense to suspect that in this impoverished environment, it will also become more difficult and more expensive to produce the kind of book that cheap e-readers struggle with?

Simply put, I fear that in trying to escape from the tyranny of publishers (it remains to be seen whether readers do end up escaping that one), we are subjugating ourselves to the tyranny of device manufacturers. In this transition, we are at risk of losing our existing printing capabilities, that are at least making it easier to produce complex printed content that is difficult to display on e-readers. I suspect that after the transition passes, we will end up with a more polarized "book market" where raw text with minimal editing and formatting is the primary product on e-readers, and other, more complex kinds of content are increasingly cloistered and marginalized due to growing costs and production difficulties.
posted by Nomyte at 8:32 AM on June 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


But what I find strange is the implication that collecting and buying too many books is somehow noble and to be praised. Would the article be published if, say, he collected pogo sticks instead?

Would blue still be blue if it was red?
posted by MartinWisse at 8:40 AM on June 30, 2012


A few years ago I ruthlessly pruned my book collection--if I honestly wasn't likely to read the book again, it was out. I've never regretted it. Nowadays I'm all about the library. NYPL will deliver any book they have to your local branch! It's awesome! And free!
posted by Mavri at 8:41 AM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


There are certain books I love having in dead-tree form, but unless you're collecting them to show off at your home library to impress people who come over, why do you *have* books? To read, right? I read like a mofo. I read while I'm eating. I read on the train and the airplane and on boats (sadly not in the car because I get sick). I read while I'm walking, which sometimes gets me in trouble. I read on the beach and in the park. I used to get in trouble for reading in bed under the covers with a flashlight. That obsession has nothing to do with the physicality of the medium, it's that I freaking love to read.

And at this point in my life I read so fast and I travel so much that when I bought my Kindle, I realized the 10-20 pounds of books I'd been throwing into my bags for 2-week work trips was replaced with a few ounces of an e-reader... that's a godsend. And given that I'll be moving continents every few years for the foreseeable future, only moving the 25 or 30 dead-tree books I genuinely love and care about, instead of the hundreds of novels I've picked up over the years, makes things a lot easier. Yes, there is something to the feel and the smell of a book, and that's why I keep hard copies of my favorites. But someone's book that I hear about on the Daily Show, or yet another historical fiction novel I want to take on vacation, or a copy of that young adult book I used to love and lost my copy of... e-books are perfect for that.

And seeing the number of books on my Kindle, and the number currently filed under "Unread"... that's a thrill. So much to read! And if, god forbid, I finish them while I'm on vacation? Poof! Here's some more, within a few seconds! If you want the impressiveness of a massive library, sure, buy your dead-tree books. But if all you want to do is consume the delicious, delicious words... e-readers scratch that itch like nobody's business.

Now if you'll excuse me my Kindle and I have a 12 hour flight to get on.
posted by olinerd at 9:07 AM on June 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


My husband has become a dedicated reader on his iPad. I cannot quite make the same leap. During the summer in Quebec, many small towns have massive used book sales so the table to the right of my home office desk continues to positively groan with all the books I pick up during the summer and anytime I am in a beautiful small town bookstore (Vermont is littered with them). I read about 7-9 books a month and I still haven't made much of a dent in my backlog.

I am sure one day I will have to switch to the iPad for reading or some such. I understand how helpful it is when one travels a lot and one doesn't want to haul books around. But until it gets down to the wire, I'm on Team Julian Barnes.
posted by Kitteh at 9:12 AM on June 30, 2012


Why have books? Because they are beautiful. For the same reason I have art on my walls, I have books on my shelves. I have books because they can be so much more than mass produced containers for the text within. Books used to be made, and made well. Now they are churned out by an industry focused on profit, and the quality had declined significantly since the Napoleonic Wars. Your books today are not bound, they are glued together. They will not last the ages with their wood pulp paper and corrosive ink.

But I have modern books anyway, for the same reason I like pretty images. Not to show off when inviting someone into my home; because when I sit back at the end of a long, hot summer day, I can look up and see those titles on the spines. The soft gleam of the gold in the leather and cloth, and remember when I read them and enjoyed them. Remember when I first found these books somewhere I haven't been in years.

I have books for the same reason I have tattoos: because they are mileposts in my life, reminding me of where I have been, and who I am.
posted by clockbound at 9:21 AM on June 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I have been struggling against book creep for some time now. I move often enough that keeping too many books is a serious problem, especially books that I am unlikely to read more than once. Part of this is exacerbated by living in Providence, where the used book market is really bad for me -- the owners are not interested in buying or selling what I want to sell or buy.

Anyway, I try to limit my paper purchases to what I am reasonably sure that I am going to read more than once. One-shot pleasure reads work fine on e-readers, are more portable, and my inability to sell them doesn't really matter. The one area where I really don't like e-books is non-fiction; I find myself needing to refer to earlier sections, and, while you can usually place bookmarks, I don't know I need to place a book mark when I read the section for the first time, so that really doesn't help.

Of course, my book collection keeps growing because people keep giving me books for various holidays. I love the gesture, but I read much less fast than I used to, and each new book feels like an obligation. Sigh. Maybe I will stop typing this and try to progress on my reading.....
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:40 AM on June 30, 2012


I love my books, but in our tiny ranch house pretty much every possible book space is taken up by books. Now I equally love my Nook, using it for most of my new reading/buying. I still buy regular books, but usually only photo heavy how to ones.

I'd still shop used bookstores, but I still haven't read 75% of what I bought last time I worked in one.
posted by drezdn at 9:41 AM on June 30, 2012


Almost all the books I buy are used -- but I never go to an actual used bookstore. I buy them all on sites like AbeBooks. Sometimes they arrive from the UK, sometimes from across the country, sometimes from the next town over. It's like having access to the biggest used bookstore in the world, only clicks away. So while I can imagine more and more used bookstores shutting their storefronts, I don't foresee any decline in the availability of used books. Access is far easier and better than it used to be, even though there are fewer stores.
posted by Forktine at 10:13 AM on June 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I agree with Forktine. My grandparents ran a used bookstore in Gloucester, MA after my grandpa retired. When they decided to close up shop, they maintained a lucrative online presence, mostly through AbeBooks and some other online book places. My grandfather unfortunately passed away a few years ago, but my grandma still has shelves and shelves of books in the basement waiting to be sent off to Australia or Maine or Japan or the grandkids' bookcases.
posted by ChuraChura at 10:19 AM on June 30, 2012


People who fight about this are weird.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:30 AM on June 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Further proof that Julian Barnes is actually French.
posted by lucia__is__dada at 10:31 AM on June 30, 2012


I'm 100% pro e-book, but yeah, there is a certain experience of paper books that just can't be replicated. I know it's completely sentimental, but so what? You can't say that eating food on a paper plate at a picnic table in a national park is the same as eating the same food on a china plate in a restaurant.

Of course, eventually those of us who grew up reading paper books will die off and be replaced by generations of people who never had this experience, and that's fine -- that's progress. I just hope I'll continue to have access to paperbacks and hardcovers in my lifetime, is all.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 11:12 AM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I used to be very much a paper book person until I spent the last 5 years moving every six months and discovering that I actually can get rid of the damn things, they cost a lot to ship, and they are heavy and painful to move. And my jobs have required frequent travel and lugging enormous volumes back and forth was painful.

Then I got a Kindle and there was no going back, though I do make exceptions. Like I need $3 to get free shipping on Amazon and one of the books on my wishlist is $3. Or when we're talking about an obscure nonfiction book that just plain isn't available on eReaders and no one has bothered to pirate it because it's that obscure. Or I'm at the used bookstore and can get a used paper copy cheaper than the Kindle version. But otherwise, it's all electronic for me.

I do have some extremely militant friends who treat me like I'm, I don't know, smoking beside their table in a nonsmoking restaurant by reading ebooks, but none of them have been able to articulate how reading something from a screen doesn't count when reading the exact same content from paper does. And I always offer to keep/buy more books if they want to carry them when I move or pay to ship them, but strangely, they never do.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:16 AM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


"People who fight about this are weird."

Yes. It may be my bias, but it seems that many e-reader fans are very defensive and rude about their preference. Be happy with your e-reader and read good books. I’m just not interested and I don’t know why it should upset you that I prefer real books. Every buying decision, mobile phones to TV’s, is not a personal statement that needs to be defended like your honor.

This reminds me of all the all the internet rants about how Mac users are so snotty and looking down on others. No, they’re not. You’re imagining it. Rule of thumb; any time you think someone is looking down on you you’re going to be wrong 96.3% of the time. If this happens to you a lot you need to do some self examination. People are far too busy thinking about themselves to be judging you.
posted by bongo_x at 11:19 AM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Great article. Now I have to read one of his books.
posted by bongo_x at 11:20 AM on June 30, 2012


Great article. Now I have to read one of his books.

I recommend The History Of The World In 10½ Chapters.
posted by hippybear at 11:23 AM on June 30, 2012


Lock the books away, take them out of circulation, shackle their knowledge and beauty in chains of dust. Those books on your shelf, they are dead! As usual, when one of these book hoarding threads come up I will be giving away the majority of the books I have. How dare I keep these excellent books from people.
posted by fuq at 11:25 AM on June 30, 2012


As usual, when one of these book hoarding threads come up I will be giving away the majority of the books I have.

Services such as bookmooch exist for people like you. Mr. hippybear has used it to set something like 400 books free into the wild.
posted by hippybear at 11:28 AM on June 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


NYPL will deliver any book they have to your local branch! It's awesome! And free!

Theoretically they will do this. In reality, it's not uncommon for the NYPL to "own" the book I want but not be able to find it. (I'm looking at you Mid-Manhattan Branch literature collection.)

There's also a cost in my time of going to the library to get the books and return them. Not infrequently, it's cheaper for me to buy it used on Amazon then to borrow it from the (Queens Library or NYPL) library once time and travel are taken into account. Plus, I get to resell it when I'm done and/or keep it for as long as I want with no late fees.

Lately a number of those used books that have come in the mail have been ex-NYPL copies.
posted by ThisIsNotMe at 11:29 AM on June 30, 2012


This reminds me of all the all the internet rants about how Mac users are so snotty and looking down on others. No, they’re not. You’re imagining it.

Not true. I've had people walk up to me and berate me for using a Kindle while I was sitting there reading. I've had militant friends, as I said, tell me I was like a child using one of those record and book setups just for mentioning I own one and lecture me about how it doesn't count if you read the words from a screen. They've also called me lazy because I don't want to hold a book and turn pages. Or something. It didn't make a lot of sense to me, but they've definitely done it.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:32 AM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Not true. I've had people walk up to me and berate me for using a Kindle while I was sitting there reading."

That’s pretty amazingly rude, unless it was a friendly ribbing (which I would certainly do). You have to remember though that those people are not the people on MetaFilter saying "I like physical books". Don’t take it out on them. Get better friends.
posted by bongo_x at 11:38 AM on June 30, 2012


"I recommend The History Of The World In 10½ Chapters."

Thanks. It’s hard to know where to start with a new author. What if you pick the one book of theirs that you would absolutely hate?
posted by bongo_x at 11:40 AM on June 30, 2012


Yet another reason to stick to paper books:

Paper books aren't collecting private data about your reading habits and sending them back to retailers and publishers.
posted by Justinian at 12:40 PM on June 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


Here's the horrible truth: I moved from the UK to America a few years back

Boy, that is horrible.
posted by Rykey at 12:54 PM on June 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


NYPL will deliver any book they have to your local branch! It's awesome! And free!

I love a good library and own relatively few books (oh, just a few hundred) because I have ready access to a large research library. But very few people do. There is only one NYPL, and even that is hardly immune to cutbacks. In 2008, for example, the NYPL eliminated its Slavic/Baltic and Middle Eastern divisions, demolishing huge swaths of stacks. For those whose reading is specialized, but who are not working academics, those kinds of losses can be catastrophic. A collection like that usually can't be replaced.
posted by Nomyte at 12:57 PM on June 30, 2012


I have a Kindle, and it's convenient and all, but I still like paper books. I don't like having to charge it, however infrequently. I *do* like the additional privacy it affords of not letting everyone see the cover of what I'm reading, for strangers who are too timid to ask if the cover's not visible. Still, even if I can't put my finger on it, something is lost about physical books that I miss.
posted by IndigoRain at 2:23 PM on June 30, 2012


I admit, the main problem with e-books is that I often end up with too many and I don't remember exactly why I decided to keep them in the first place. With reg. book I can browse the back and summary inside but with my e-books I just have to hope I remember the basic plot when I received it weeks ago.

I still prefer physical books, because I feel more of a focus to read them sooner than later since I see them sitting around my desk or floor. Unlike my e-reader, which stays closed unless I'm on a long trip.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 3:01 PM on June 30, 2012


Here's the horrible truth: I moved from the UK to America a few years back

Boy, that is horrible.


I did it for love.
posted by Artw at 3:07 PM on June 30, 2012


Reminds me of Unpacking My Library sans ebook issue..

also [previously] this is one way to elide book collecting and decoration
posted by snaparapans at 4:41 PM on June 30, 2012


[previously] A beautiful Adobe book project by Chris Cobb... Last I heard he did not come back to replace the books in their proper order..
posted by snaparapans at 4:43 PM on June 30, 2012


Isadorady: "I am still a spines reader, although I have a feeling I will get an e-reader as soon as budget permits it.
But the visceral joy of holding a paper book, turning the pages, sniffing the scent, cannot be diminished for those of us with the addiction. I intend to continue supporting that addiction by buying printed books as long as they exist.

Good post about a good author.
"

For me there's more than what you described. Many of my books have marks made by me or people that I've lent my books to. And finding those marks unleashes a burst of nostalgic memory that I will never get from an e-book.

Examples:

One book that I have, Tuf Voyaging has marks at various places where an ex-girlfriend used eye-liner pencils as bookmarks. We loved the book because the protagonist was a vegetarian. And so were we at the time.

Chrome, has a note from an ex-lover in it. It was a receipt from the salon that he worked at. It says simply, "Love it!"

The second volume of the Illuminatus Trilogy has a roach (the weed type, not the bug type) as a place marker. It was left there by a young prostitute that I lent the book to. Her name was Rose. At the time I was working as a ticket taker at strip club/brothel over the Howard Johnson restaurant on 45th st and Broadway. I spent Christmas Eve with her at a nearby bar called Bernard's. I had nowhere to go at the time and her "boyfriend" never came to get her. I wanted some way to get her to think about here life and maybe make some changes. What better way, I thought at the time.

She took the book. Later I saw her reading it at various parts of the day. She got about half way through and gave it back to me. She sort of smiled and said that it was to much work to think that much.

My copy of Gravity's Rainbow has a phone number and a name on the front inside cover. The name is in flowing cursive. Almost calligraphy. It's the name and number of a waitress that I'd been trying desperately to get a date with. It turned out to be one of the most emotional and intense relationships I have ever been in.

And a copy of City Come A-Walkin has a long lonely screed about the dissolution of that relationship in the margins. Written drunk on the F train on the way home at 4 or 5 AM.

I love my dead trees.
posted by Splunge at 6:33 PM on June 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


there is a certain experience of paper books that just can't be replicated.

I don't think this is true. I think "that just haven't been replicated" is certainly true, but it may just be a matter of time before a traditional paper book has active-ink pages. Probably as a novelty/retro/executive thing, largely irrelevant to most.
posted by -harlequin- at 8:16 PM on June 30, 2012


it seems that many e-reader fans are very defensive and rude about their preference.

No, I think it's like digital vs film cameras ten years ago - both camps are highly aware of the other and that in the current climate their choice is questionable - many people are choosing the opposite. People don't want to be judged as worse than others, and so often end up defensive about having their house cluttered with books, or their house appearing empty of books, or whatever decision/consequences they've made.

You'll notice it most from the other camp, but step back a little and you'll see it coming from all directions.
posted by -harlequin- at 8:28 PM on June 30, 2012


Hey don't get me wrong I love my Nook. And I still love my paper books. Can't we just get along?
posted by Splunge at 9:19 PM on June 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Hear that? Them's death throes.
posted by mistersquid at 10:15 PM on June 30, 2012


I can see a good claim for both sides. Personally, I love books as I do records. Sure they can be impractical at times but they are a physical medium. One with nostalgia, one with art, one with more possibilities than a file with 0's and 1's.

Yet after moving, and downsizing my collection, I will consider getting a kindle. I still love used books, and if I can save a bit of money, thats great. One thing that appeals to me with the kindle is that I can load up pdfs on to it. I read many articles for my masters, and reading a computer screen for hours sucks as does printing 50 pages. Privacy is a concern with these devices, and a book never needs to be plugged in. Also writing in the margjns is a thing I will do at times.

I am more selective with buying books. I keep the ones I love, the ones I may return to. I pass on to friends, donate, or sell the others. I think it can be the best of both worlds.
posted by handbanana at 10:19 PM on June 30, 2012


Paper books aren't collecting private data about your reading habits and sending them back to retailers and publishers.

Sure, the paper books themselves may not be phoning home. The e-books themselves aren't the culprit, either, though. I'd assume my Kindle is reporting usage statistics back to the mothership, but if you think the chain bookstore isn't doing this, what with their frequent buyer club and all, then you're sorely mistaken.
posted by blue t-shirt at 10:33 PM on June 30, 2012


but if you think the chain bookstore isn't doing this, what with their frequent buyer club and all, then you're sorely mistaken

There is a massive difference between bookstores reporting sales and such and what is possible (and done) with an e-reader. Things like how often you read, how much you read in a sitting, which books you finish, which books you don't finish, which parts of books you re-read, how quickly you read, and so on.
posted by Justinian at 11:11 PM on June 30, 2012


I'm not convinced it's a "massive difference", merely a matter of degree.

Moreover, surely it's possible to for the conscientious/paranoid reader to find a digital platform that doesn't do that. Virtually guaranteed that the bargain e-reader models released under not-quite-brand names don't do this. It's seriously misleading to tar all digital reading devices (and e-reading in general) with the same brush.
posted by blue t-shirt at 11:30 PM on June 30, 2012


I have and use an e-reader. (It was a gift! I swear! But just between you and me, I really kinda like it a lot.)

I still buy too many physical books. Just graphic novels now though.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:51 PM on June 30, 2012


I am still a spines reader, although I have a feeling I will get an e-reader as soon as budget permits it.

If you already have a smart phone, you don't really need a separate e-reader: just install the kindle software (other brands of book software are available) and start reading. For fiction reading that's more than enough, though obviously reading technical manuals on a phone screen is not ideal.

But it works quite well if you have a spare few minutes waiting in line at the supermarket and nobody need know that you're reading David Weber.

For sitting around at home though a proper book is still best; don't need more excuses to sit behind a computer screen and I don't want to spend anywhere from a 100 to 400 euros buying an e-reader or tablet just to read books. If I was having long commutes or moved house often the advantages (no metric tons of books to move around) it might be different.

I do wonder about people who don't have that emotional band with physical books though, that they can so easily trade in their physical books for bits and bytes on a computer, but than again I did the same with my music collection, so...

On the gripping hand, there's still the issue with not being able to buy secondhand e-books and the fact that most books are not yet available that way. I buy a lot secondhand (science fiction, detectives, cheap history books and such) and if I went e-book I couldn't do so anymore.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:31 AM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Re: the collection of data: used book purchases don't really have this problem.
Only new book purchases and ebook.

On the other hand, I've never met an e-retailer of anything that was actually very good at making recommendations based on my habits. I think that's because they can track your use, but not your reasons. Of course, the technology will probably get more sophisticated, but for now I'm not worried.

(Except that I think sometimes my opinion is influenced a bit by what they think it will be).

Re: there being certain aspects of physical books that can't be replicated: I won't get into all of the reasons necause they've already been deyailed quite thoroughly in the thread. But if you think that everything people love about paper books can be replicated with an ereader, you haven't been paying attention.

Re: death throes: naw. People didn't stop liking horses when cars came around, nor stop liking trains when airplanes came around, nor stop liking black and white when colour came around, nor stop liking theatres when tv came around. Books and the people who love them may diminish in numbers, but probably wont die completely.
posted by windykites at 5:48 AM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


From Nomyte's excellent comment above:

Books with complicated formatting or typesetting don't do well on e-readers. Books with detailed illustrations don't do well. Books with mathematical notation or schematics don't do well.

Yeah, funny how none of the ONE EBOOK TO RULE THEM ALL folks ever seem to talk about illustrated/art books, or technical manuals, or any of the other kinds of books publishers aren't currently very much interested in ebook-izing.

So let's imagine a future where the majority of bestsellers that are purchased and read are in e-reader formats and are no longer published on paper in any substantial quantity. Let's give that process 10-15 years. Printers (which are distinct from publishers) find it increasingly difficult to turn a profit. Many go out of business. Doesn't it make sense to suspect that in this impoverished environment, it will also become more difficult and more expensive to produce the kind of book that cheap e-readers struggle with?

I was talking with a publisher's rep earlier this week who told me the biggest hit they're seeing from ebooks is in romance novels: a 15-20% decline in physical sales. Disposable fiction (not intended as an insult, btw) is going to continue to drive ebook sales in the near future, and that leaves lots of room open for book books (unless Nomyte's 'out of business' scenario becomes real, that is). Yesterday I sold a friendly gentleman a bunch of obscure advanced engineering books, mostly from the 50s and 60s. He told me he was working to create a solid library before books became too scarce, since he knew there wasn't much chance the books he was buying would ever be released as ebooks anytime soon.

I'm sure he was right.

For what it's worth, we get a lot of ebook lovers in our store on a regular basis, so count me among those who don't get the "pick a side" idiocy. My boss uses the Kindle regularly for news, e.g. But one thing that seems clear to me for now: the market for used books will be kept alive at least in part by the reluctance of publishers to ebook-ize anything that isn't a guaranteed solid seller - which usually means pop fiction.

So, I'm not worried. I mean, I try to remind myself I should be worried, but just can't find enough evidence to start.
posted by mediareport at 6:14 AM on July 1, 2012


Now I have to read one of his books.

Haven't read the one hippybear recommends, but I really loved Barnes' Flaubert's Parrot, a short, soulful novel about a retired doctor who finds himself interested in Flaubert's life and then also finds himself working out his own issues as he goes along. It's filled with fun stuff (like the tidbit that after Madame Bovary was published there was a fad in Paris for fucking in aimlessly wandering carriages) and opens up great questions about art, literary criticism and how strange and difficult it is to know anyone at all - a great, odd model for a new kind of biography. He said he realized at the start the mix of fact and fiction was "elastic and capacious" and I couldn't agree more.

I read it without having read any Flaubert and loved it, and then read it again years later after just having read some Flaubert and loved it even more.
posted by mediareport at 6:33 AM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


E-books are OK for new releases, but older books are often sloppily OCRed and riddled with errors. I will never pay 9 dollars for a DRMed book with errors that you could buy for 50 cents used.
posted by zebraantelope at 10:31 AM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


E-books are OK for new releases, but older books are often sloppily OCRed and riddled with errors.

Stephen R. Donaldson was so appalled by the quality of the e-book editions of his works that he negotiated a new contract with the publishers that any further new ebooks will have to be approved before shipping, and that they must replace the old crappy error-filled versions with clean versions as he gets them prepared.
posted by hippybear at 10:54 AM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


MartinWisse: "...nobody need know that you're reading David Weber."

Hey now!
posted by Splunge at 11:37 AM on July 1, 2012


Personally, I'm very uncomfortable by people sending off paper books as if they're an antiquated technology that was only in use for a few uncomfortable decades. (As is the case with 8-track, for example.)

Do you really trust technology enough to transfer the bulk of human knowledge to a finnicky, centrally-controlled, DRM-laden, unstandardized medium? I don't.

And what about books that can't be ebooked very easily? What about graphic novels and sheet music and technical books and books like House of Leaves? What happens to those publishers?

I can see how ebooks are a boon to people who read a ton. I think it's fair to say that most people don't. Me, I'd rather go with paper, despite its inconveniences.
posted by archagon at 4:55 PM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Missed the start of this, a few random comments:

Still faster than searching a paper book.

That depends. Searching an ebook depends on remembering the exact phrase (and spelling) you're looking for. There are all sorts of visual and tactile cues in a physical book.

why do you *have* books? To read, right?

I have books because I prefer them to wallpaper.

Moreover, surely it's possible to for the conscientious/paranoid reader to find a digital platform that doesn't do that.

What if it's just not worth the manufacturer's time to produce a device that is affordable and ubiquitous, but also capable of high-quality reproduction of this kind of content?

We really have to get away from the concept of devices, remember that the ebook reader you have in your hand is likely more powerful than any computer you had in your house 15-20 years ago. Stop accepting software limitations on the computers you buy to read books with and this situation will sort itself out.

Your books today are not bound, they are glued together.

Yes, mass market books are cheaply made but even then in a race against electronic distribution and storage there's no way they can compete on price. You can still buy beautifully bound books if you're willing to pay for them, those are the sort of books that won't go away. Before the mass market took hold it used to be you'd buy your book in simple paper covers and then pay a binder to make it presentable, publish on demand could easily bring us back to those days.

Disposable fiction (not intended as an insult, btw) is going to continue to drive ebook sales in the near future

I find it amusing that people think if the electronic versions, that are basically going to live forever in their Amazon or Google Books or whatever account, as 'disposable', and paper books, which can easily be lent, sold and given to charity shops, as permanent. I'm kind of the opposite, if I'm paying for a book to be available on every computer I own then it damn well better be one I liked when I read it the first time.

Of course, my book collection keeps growing because people keep giving me books for various holidays. I love the gesture, but I read much less fast than I used to, and each new book feels like an obligation.

Generally I prefer paper books, especially for holidays. I especially enjoyed my trip to California last year where, having turned off the in-flight entertainment system and forced everyone to turn off all their electronic devices we then flew in circles round the airport for 70 minutes. I just carried on reading my paper book...
posted by robertc at 6:09 PM on July 1, 2012


If you're willing to physically destroy the book, scanning paperbacks into PDFs is really very easy.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:45 PM on July 1, 2012


In France, the number of independent bookstores is growing.

One of the reasons, as stated in the article, is laws against price-fixing.
posted by vacapinta at 2:32 AM on July 2, 2012


I find it amusing that people think if the electronic versions, that are basically going to live forever in their Amazon or Google Books or whatever account, as 'disposable'

You misunderstand what I meant by "disposable" fiction; it has nothing to do with the format, but refers instead to the kind of popular fiction that is quickly and easily consumed by readers and then generally forgotten, whether in ebook or book form.
posted by mediareport at 7:09 AM on July 2, 2012


For me there's more than what you described. Many of my books have marks made by me or people that I've lent my books to. And finding those marks unleashes a burst of nostalgic memory that I will never get from an e-book.



I know exactly what you mean.

posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:35 AM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sure, the paper books themselves may not be phoning home. The e-books themselves aren't the culprit, either, though. I'd assume my Kindle is reporting usage statistics back to the mothership, but if you think the chain bookstore isn't doing this, what with their frequent buyer club and all, then you're sorely mistaken.

I have never had a frequent buyer card for a chain bookstore; when you assume that everyone does, you are sorely mistaken. You do get that some people do not leap into every marketing/data collection scheme even if they hear it might save them a nickel, right?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:48 AM on July 2, 2012


We really have to get away from the concept of devices, remember that the ebook reader you have in your hand is likely more powerful than any computer you had in your house 15-20 years ago. Stop accepting software limitations on the computers you buy to read books with and this situation will sort itself out.

I don't really understand what this comment means. You can't "get away from the concept of devices" because e-books are read on devices. That's what makes them e-books.

Those devices have to be convenient enough for a large enough fraction of all book buyers in order for the publisher/vendor/device manufacturer (in Amazon's case, all three are one) to turn a good profit.

Since the majority of people read books that were described above as "disposable" (i.e., read once to pass time), the current generation of devices are perfectly adequate. You can't expect the minority of book-buyers who demand precisely typeset manuals and art books and such to drive the device market. That makes no economic sense.

So, unless I'm forgetting some very important factor, the most natural thing to expect is that new bestsellers and potboilers make the leap to e-readers. At the same time, everything else that might need any additional expense and effort to digitize — the backlist, technical books, art books, math books, and so on — make do with inadequate e-book versions and become increasingly expensive to publish on paper.
posted by Nomyte at 8:35 AM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just picked up a book about writing via my kindle. And... it's formatted really badly and has a bunch of typos, making it a basically useless waste of $17.50, which is already more money than seems justified for the sale of an ebook.

I know that the print edition of the same book wouldn't have the same problem. Plus, every time I change the size of the print, it messes with the paragraphs even worse- the layout's essentially damaged only and specifically because it's an ebook. (The typos, on the other hand, are just sloppiness. Do ebooks even get edited? For that matter, does anything get edited any more?)

Anyhow, I've already started making "notes", and can't decide whether to return it. I wish I had a paper copy.
posted by windykites at 11:32 AM on July 2, 2012


You can't "get away from the concept of devices" because e-books are read on devices.

Of course you can, the ebook, the device and the e-reader software are not the same thing. They are three separate things.

That's what makes them e-books.

The particular physical shell of the device you're using and the features of the software installed on that device have nothing to do with what makes them e-books. In the same way, when you browse the world wide web there's no requirement for you to be doing that on a Windows PC using Internet Explorer - what makes the web the web is neither of those two things. When you read an e-book, the e-book is not the device you're reading it on or the software installed on the device you're reading it with.
posted by robertc at 11:45 AM on July 2, 2012


Sorry, missed this bit:

You can't expect the minority of book-buyers who demand precisely typeset manuals and art books and such to drive the device market

Of course not, what I expect is being able to buy a device I like the physical attributes of, then buy some e-reader software for that device which deals well with technical books to replace the default software, then buy my precisely typeset manuals and art books.
posted by robertc at 11:48 AM on July 2, 2012


You conclude that such a device will be offered to consumers like you, that this device will allow you to overwrite the default software, and that someone will be able to offer you your "precisely typeset manuals" in a format that this device can read.

To keep it short, I see no reason for your optimism.
posted by Nomyte at 7:23 PM on July 2, 2012


Dude. Eventually paper books will be like Captain Kirk's glasses in that one movie. They will be cherished items that are give to people that appreciate them.

And there will be a small group of people that still print books. But the thing is, and here is the big thing, that books from our time will be antiques that are priceless. In fact, you probably wouldn't even be reading them. You'll buy a book, let's say a paperback copy of Ubik by Philip K. Dick, in a transparent aluminum box. The box will be filled with a non-reactive gas, or maybe even a pure vacuum. Along with the pulp novel you'll get a digital copy of the book. You can say that you read the book. And you have. But you will not remove the actual book from the container.

OTOH, maybe you are getting old. Like two or three hundred years. And you know that you're going to die. Or maybe become one with the computer unity. And even though this book is worth billions of futurebucks, you say screw the kids. So you buy the key that allows you to take the actual book out of the box.

And in that moment, on your futuristic bed, you hold this relic in your aged hands. And in front of your horrified children you open the book. You crack the dessicated spine for the last time. You smell the aged paper. And you READ the damn thing. Maybe you don't finish it. Probably not. But you pass on with a sincere pleasure. You die while reading a real book.

And as you die, you die happy. With the smell and the feel and the ink all in your face.

Because that's what it's all about.
posted by Splunge at 9:35 PM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow. there's a story there. Maybe I'll self publish in the cloud...
posted by Splunge at 9:39 PM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


You conclude that such a device will be offered to consumers like you, that this device will allow you to overwrite the default software, and that someone will be able to offer you your "precisely typeset manuals" in a format that this device can read.

No, I expect short runs (~1000) of devices to be built on the back of kickstarter projects at a per device cost in the region of £50-100 using off the shelf components and an off the shelf operating system in a custom plastic moulded shell. The same kickstarter project would fund a developer to extend whatever open source ereader came closest to fulfilling the requirements of the project with the extra needed features. The ebooks themselves would, of course, be available in an open format.

To keep it short, I see no reason for your optimism.

Because you're seeing it terms of being the target market of a large corporation, in which model the needs of a mere 1000 customers on a low margin device are irrelevant. I'm seeing it in terms of 1000 people out a world population of billions realising they have common requirements and the means to do something about it.

I also believe that eventually a general purpose device will win. Just like these days you don't see dedicated 'electronic word processors' but every single mobile phone on the market has a built in digital camera.
posted by robertc at 3:57 PM on July 5, 2012


Sorry to be argumentative, but you can still buy newly manufactured dedicated electronic word processors; they're just a specialty market. They're largely manufactured for schools. People also use them as a way to escape all the distractions of a computer and just write; I considered getting one myself.
posted by windykites at 12:00 PM on July 7, 2012


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