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.