TT: E-book or Paper?

JANE: I just realized that this makes our 250th Tangent.  Can you believe it?

Kindle with PDF Tables

Kindle with PDF Graphs

ALAN: Really? My goodness me, don’t the words pile up when you’re having so much fun with them?

JANE: What’s great for me is that I still enjoy these chats so much.  Now, where were we?

ALAN: A couple of tangents ago you mentioned some early Walter Jon Williams novels that I was unfamiliar with, and you said that they had long been out of print, but that they were now available as e-books. I did a few clickety-click things, paid some money and now I own the e-books.

I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. Indeed, the only “proper” books I’ve bought in the last few years have been your Artemis novels. Apart from those, all my recent reading has been electronic.

JANE: That’s interesting.  You’re not the only person I know who has become a serious e-book adopter.  My friend Yvonne is much the same way.

ALAN: I’ve also made a habit of reading newspapers electronically as well. In non-electronic days, I never subscribed to any paper papers (so to speak…) and I only purchased them intermittently. These days my habits have changed – I regularly read several electronic newspapers.

But the thing I really love about e-books is the ultimate one-upmanship that you can get away with. Take your fully loaded e-book reader to a meeting. Make sure to arrive slightly early, then sit there and read. When the person you are meeting turns up, all you have to say is, “I wasn’t sure if you’d be late, so I brought 5,000 books with me…”

JANE: That’s amusing!  Of course, it would be more impressive if you could do that by dragging a wagon lined with bookshelves behind you.  Or if you could grow enough heads to read all those books at once.

There isn’t a room in our house (other than the bathrooms, which are too small) that doesn’t have bookshelves in it.  We have a freestanding shed that serves as a library – something that is quite doable here because of New Mexico’s dry climate.  So, I suppose, we’d have much more floor space if we only bought e-books, but I don’t see that happening.

ALAN: I downsized my library dramatically when we moved house last year. The new house simply doesn’t have enough room for the 12,000 or so books that I had on my shelves. I kept a thousand or so important books, first editions and the like, and donated the rest to Rotary for their next book sale. They said they would have a special science fiction section in their sale next year…

JANE: Lucky them!  You should alert any local SF/F clubs of the opportunity.

ALAN: But that issue of the portability of e-books really is a major attraction. Before I retired, I spent a lot of time away from home. For at least six months of every year I was in this, that or the other part of the country. I don’t know what you do when you’re alone in a big city, but I go to the pub and read a book. Once I started taking e-books with me instead of paper books, my luggage got significantly lighter…

JANE: I don’t go to a pub, but I certainly do read a lot when travelling.

The thing is, I really don’t like reading books on a screen.

ALAN: If you are talking about a computer screen, then I’d agree with you. Ergonomically it’s all wrong. You have to sit in an awkward position and using the mouse or keyboard to turn the pages is uncomfortable at best. Even with modern touch screen computers, the action of reaching out to the computer screen just plain feels wrong.

But dedicated e-book-readers and tablets are ideal. You can hold them just like you hold a real book and you turn the page using almost the same hand and wrist action that you use on a real book. The only disadvantage is that you can’t (or at least you shouldn’t) read them in the bath.

So I don’t take baths any more…

JANE: Yuck!

ALAN: …I take showers instead.

JANE: We have a dedicated e-reader.  We decided we really did need one for purposes of work.  So many of the archeological reports Jim needs are published only in electronic format – often as pdfs.  At the time we bought ours, Kindle offered a slightly larger one (screen size 8” by 5.5”; overall size, with cover 10.5” by 7.5” ).

Steve (S.M.) Stirling let Jim play with his and Jim loved it.  He especially liked the larger size because he needs to look at charts and such, and reformatting, especially of a pdf, often didn’t work well.

Jim read several novels on it as well, including reviewing electronic versions of a couple of my novels for me.

ALAN: The pdf format is probably the very worst one for reading on a screen. None of the e-book readers reproduce it very well. And Jim is quite right – you certainly need a larger than usual screen for pdf documents. Have you used the device?

JANE: Yes, I have.  I’ve used it for reviewing electronic versions of my books Wanderings on Writing and Curiosities.  This was necessary, because the different formatting errors show up in print vs electronic versions.

I managed, but I wasn’t crazy about the e-reader.  However, I also felt it wasn’t a fair test of the device, since I wasn’t just reading, so I did read a novel.  Frankly, I wasn’t thrilled with the experience.  I read fast enough that clicking the e-reader page turning was a constant annoyance.  After all, you only get one page at a time, rather than the two in a print copy.

Also, If I wanted to go back and look for something (I think I was reading a mystery and wanted to check whether someone had just perjured himself), the search was a nuisance.

ALAN: Oh! I love the ability to search in an e-book. I use it all the time. It’s so much easier than flipping back through paper pages in the vague hope of catching sight of what you are looking for. It’s particularly useful when spear-carriers suddenly turn out to be important, so I need to remind myself when they first appeared.

JANE: I’m amazingly good at finding things quickly in a print text.  I find a search much slower.

Basically, I consider an e-reader a good tool, but I prefer paper.  If someone asks me to blurb a book, I insist on a paper copy or manuscript because I don’t want my annoyance with the interface to color my reaction to the text.

ALAN: That sounds like a good position to take.

JANE: That said, e-readers have a real advantage for people with poor eyesight, because it’s possible to choose a size and font that works best for that person’s eyes.  They’re also great for people who are weakened by illness.  A family friend told me that when she was ill, she finally read several of my bigger, fatter novels because of her e-reader.  Since she later died of that same illness, I felt obscurely grateful that the device gave us a chance to connect one more way in those final days.

Also, if I knew I was going on a long trip, I’d probably consider taking an e-reader along rather than weighing myself down the sheer number of books I’d need to keep myself amused.  As readers of my Friday Fragments know, I go through a lot of books each week – and that’s without the down time of waiting around in airports.

ALAN: Of course, as soon as you mention e-books, a huge elephant comes trumpeting in to the room. Shall we talk about the elephant next time?

JANE: You bet!  I love when we talk about elephants.

7 Responses to “TT: E-book or Paper?”

  1. Peter Says:

    As somebody with both feet planted firmly in the ebook camp (for a lot of the reasons mentioned – portability, ease when travelling, limited shelf space, differently-young eyes) I await the elephantine revelation with bated breath. Well, mostly to see if you’re talking about the same elephant I’m thinking of (there are a couple of digital pachyderms wandering these particular hills, I think).

  2. chadmerkley Says:

    I purchased a Kindle Fire about two months ago. This is a tablet, rather than a dedicated e-reader, but most of what I’ve been using it for is reading books (and listening to music).

    Overall, I love it. It took a week or two to get used to it, and I had to play with the settings (white text on black background works better for me). I like being able to immediately access Wikipedia or a dictionary or a translation. I don’t like using it for nonfiction, where I tend to jump around to footnotes /endnotes/ citations, as well as maps, illustrations, etc. That’s awkward. But for most novels, it works great. Another drawback I’ve noticed is that Amazon made it really easy for them to take my money.

    Also, I’m a geek for good book design. The electronic editions lose a lot of that–font choice, unusual paragraph layout, etc. A lot of the books seem to have fairly serious typographical issues, and non-standard characters don’t always show up.

    So: Good technology, not perfect yet, and I still purchase paper books and I don’t see myself stopping. At best, the e-books are a substitute or replacement for mass market paperbacks, and a good way to get books from the library.

  3. henrietta abeyta Says:

    I may have 3 disabilities dear Jane but I’m able to read 4 or 5 chapter books as I work at Valley View Elementary twice a week for 2 hours and Davis County Library every Monday for 2 hours. And as you talk about eye sight it isn’t only my eyes opened by surprise it’s also I have to avoid high stress so I can do my best to avoid the accident of twitching eyes once in a while mentioned on the news with poor newborn children. My whole surrounding looks like it’s spinning when my eyes get twitchy because of stress. with florescent lights and happened daily in the halls at school. And as you mention E reading books I’ll tell you Jane your FIREKEEPER SAGA WILL HELP MY SPEED OF READING NOT JUST MY SKILLS, I’m only used to reading medium to large print.



  4. Scot Noel Says:

    Love the ebook discussion. My phone, a Samsung Galaxy S5, is now my primary ebook reader using Kindle software.

    I use it anytime I am out, waiting at offices, on vacation, and especially if I am curled up in bed at night. So much more convenient than a physical book.

    That said, I will always feel passionate about printed books. They become physically present friends who share their personalities and histories. They are best for enjoying in sunshine and overstuffed chairs.

    I have a very old leatherbound copy of Evangeline that was partially burned in a fire; it is one of my prized possessions and I read it about once a year.

  5. Jas. Marshall 6 Says:

    For me, eReaders are partuclarly useful for two main reasons: travel (when I was planning to spend several months in Beijing, I pre-stocked my Kindle with a huge range of reading options); and Project Gutenberg. There are so many books I want to read but I cannot afford to purchase them all. But, because they are out of copyright, PG has put them up for free and I’ve finally read them. Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, HG Wells, etc.

    The downside is that my “pile” of unread books, while less noticeable, is even larger than ever. I might NEVER get caught up on the books I now “own.” (And “own” isn’t actually the right word for ebooks, which is another negative.)

    One other note. Unfortunately, my favorite type of book format, the mass market paperback, is slowly being killed off by publishers who favor the more expensive trade paperbacks and hardcovers, and who consider the ebook as the replacement for mass market paperbacks. As a result, ebooks are becoming my new main format to read due to price and space considerations. I loved mass market paperbacks. Putting one in your back pocket, getting a book signed by the author, never afraid if you accidentally sit on the book, the joy of using bookmarks made out of trading cards or envelopes or occasionally a bookmark made especially for that book series. Ebooks are killing all of that in the name of convenience and preference over experience.

    Ah, well. So it goes.

    • chadmerkley Says:

      You make a good point about the fact that the MMPBs can go anywhere, and that there’s no real loss if a copy gets destroyed or damaged for whatever reason.

  6. Paul Says:

    Just as I have more “real” books in the house than I’ll ever read, I already have more on my electronic device than I’ll ever manage. I use an iPad with a Kindle and Nook “app,” the best of all possible worlds. But I don’t use it reading in bed. If I go to sleep and drop a book, I only lose the place temporarily. But if I drop the iPad…

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