Random Thoughts about E-Books


(1) Several months ago, I shared the hope that I would become more consistent about reading the Bible. Since then, I’ve found the answer. It involves reading the Bible on an iPad. My problem with a printed version of the Bible is that I have never wanted to mark the pages. Annotations seemed counterproductive, because I knew the same passage might strike me differently when I came upon it again during a future reading. This reluctance limited my engagement with the text. But with an electronic version—which seems more ephemeral—I don’t have the same reluctance. I touch the text, sculpt it, and use my typing fingers to append my own reflections. The Bible has become not only a nearer experience to me, but a more tactile one.

(2) Bible-study apps are great reference tools, but they are practically useless if all you really want to do is read the Bible. The features of the app (maps, commentary, concordance, etc.) all just wait there irritably while I read, indignant over the fact that I have no use for these features while I am just slowly absorbing the text. After buying two such apps, I downloaded an unadorned copy of the Bible for little or no cost, and this is what I read.

(3) A whole lot of e-books are available for little or no cost, include great books. Compare that to a physical bookstore. Obtaining a public-domain work of great literature from a physical store actually imposes various costs, because it takes time and gasoline to get to the store, and even a second-hand copy of the book will cost a few dollars. But with an e-reader, literature is often free. The greatest works of the Western canon tend to be available at no cost as instantaneous downloads. Tonight—I dare you—take advantage of this. Download a classic book you’ve always wondered about and devote an hour or two of your evening to seeing whether what you have always believed about this book is true.

(4) A lot of my reading is in the early morning before dawn—my favorite part of the day. Books I read during this time must be printed. An e-reader won’t do, for multiple reasons: (A) I am afraid of spilling coffee on it, and (B) with the iPad, I am always aware of the declining battery life, of electrons spilling away. I imagine this loss as a faint hum, and in the quietest hour of the day, I imagine I can hear it.

(5) Here is the wonder of e-books: The reading experience changes, because all of our information resources are right there within the screen. If I question one of the book’s assertions or if I want to follow one of the book’s asides, I can highlight the relevant text and springboard off of the words into Google or Wikipedia. The book lives within a sea of connections, and I, the reader, freely swim that sea.

(6) Here is the horror of e-books: The reading experience is challenged, perhaps fatally so. All of our distractions are right there in the screen, including email, social media, video, and the rest. A worthwhile book is a like chin-up for the mind; it is a chance to win a victory and an elevated perspective at the price of a focused exertion. But given all the distractions within the reading device itself, how many will still make this exertion? How many will still see the effort through, in the face of so many enticing reasons not to?

(7) At my local Barnes & Noble, there was a giant banner announcing the latest version of the company’s “Nook” reader. And the scene on this banner—which, again, was hanging in a bookstore—showed the Nook being used to watch a movie.

(8) Blogs and e-books go together. Blogs demand concise expression. The majority of blog posts (including this one?) are too long. However, the pressure on the blogger to at least try to be concise helps focus the idea. This focusing is excellent preparation for an e-book, which offers the freedom to be brief. Print books do not afford the same freedom, because justifying the cost of printing and binding calls for a certain minimum quantity of pages. This is just one important way in which printed books and e-books differ in more ways than just how the text is served.

(9) My first book was written to be printed. Its e-book version came later. With the book I’m working on now, I feel myself visualizing it as an e-book. That is, I feel myself constructing it with the possibility of radical brevity in mind. I still expect that the book will be printed, but its printed version will be an odd and slender volume created mostly with a nod to those who read in quiet hours with coffee.

E-Book Now Available (And Some Thoughts about E-Book Pricing)


My book, The Ten Commandments, is now available as an e-book for Kindle or iPad. Buy it on Amazon or from the iBooks store.

When I was preparing to bring out this version of the book, I had to think about pricing. While I do not control the price that an outlet such as Amazon charges, I do establish the ballpark of this price through the initial pricing that I set.

You might have noticed that big publishers tend to set their e-book pricing at roughly the same level as the price of the book’s printed version. This is an interesting choice. They do this even though they know that we know that the e-book cost them a lot less to produce and distribute.

The choice is interesting because, if that pricing model holds up over time, it means that we book buyers view the physicality of a book to be just as much of an advantage as a disadvantage. The equivalent pricing, if the market continues to accept it, means that the benefits and burdens of ink-on-paper are so evenly matched that book consumers as a whole don’t look for the book’s tangibility to have an effect on price.

For my own e-book, I chose differently. I am using the e-book as my equivalent of the discount mass-market paperback. That is, the e-book is a much less expensive version of the book, introduced in the hope that it will tip someone who has been waiting to make a purchase over the edge into buying a copy.

(Is that you? Now is your moment.)

Peace


Bloggers Amy Peterson and Suzannah Paul got me thinking about peace. In a guest post Amy wrote for Suzannah’s blog, she described peace as “not the absence of conflict but its resolution.” Think about that.

Paul the apostle (presumably no relation to Suzannah) sought after peace in each of his letters. “Grace to you and peace,” he said at the start of the letter to the Galatians, and he wrote roughly the same hope into the opening of every other letter we have from him.

What was this “peace” he hoped his audience would have?

We don’t have it with strangers. Begin there. With strangers, we have only a polite absence of quarrel, but again, peace is not found in the mere absence. In the Hebrew that Paul studied, peace is shalom—meaning things as they should be, including relationships fully realized.

And in the Greek in which Paul wrote his letters, peace was eirene. The word suggests restoration and flourishing between people, even prosperity.

Peace such as this is so precious, we want to imagine we have more of it than we do.

This partly explains the grip of information media. These outlets absorb our attention by providing the illusion of peace. Exchanged texts or tweets seem a bit like shalom, and the emotion of a TV show can feel fleetingly like eirene. Throughout history, people have always been able to evade human relationship, but our time is very different because, with our technology, we also have the ability to sedate our very desire for relationship. We can replace the direct experience of people with surrogate experiences that are way more tidy.

Commenting on this phenomenon, Ms. Peterson cited the Old Testament’s book of Ezekiel, in which God condemns the false prophets who say “Peace!” when there is no peace. Are we those same false prophets?

Given all of what Paul meant by “peace,” his formulation—grace to you and peace—can be seen to describe a natural sequence. Grace comes first. Grace includes God’s lavish forgiveness and the freedom arising from this, the freedom to reclaim one’s authentic self.

Then, in a world that is filled and defined by people, real peace with people provides the opportunity for that self to flourish. Trusting cooperation with others gives wings to our efforts and allows those efforts to be valuable.

Grace is what we need. After that, real peace—as elusive as it is and as difficult as it is to obtain—is what we really want.