Thursday, July 29, 2010


Well, I did it: I bought an e-reader. This may not seem like a big deal—but I’m a lifelong technophobe who has scorned most new gadgets. (I even pooh-poohed the first electronic typewriter until I saw how a correcting key would change my life.) And I don’t understand how this stuff works. I’ve always sympathized with James Thurber’s grandmother, who imagined that “electricity was dripping invisibly all over the house.”* So I’m surprised that I succumbed to this new toy.

The truth is, from the moment I saw someone reading an e-book on a plane, I wanted one, then felt guilty. Buying an e-reader seemed like a betrayal of my dear friends who run fabulous Indie bookstores—not to mention that writers are paid poorly for e-rights. Besides, I love actual books. I love the feel of the paper, the smell of a brand new book no one has opened, the way print looks on the page. Books are my friends. According to an article in the NY Times this spring, an e-reader is not green. And it would be sacrilege to read a picture book to a grandchild in that format.

And yet—imagine boarding a plane with a light carry-on. And how nice to read a friend’s 200 page manuscript without printing it out. My e-reader even lets me borrow books from my library at no cost. I open it up and Kurt Vonnegut grins at me. I can replace my tattered copy of Slaughterhouse Five without cluttering my groaning bookshelves. It’s the wave of the future—and I’m having fun so far. That is, until my husband grabs it for a game of Sudoku…

*James Thurber, The Thurber Carnival, p. 186.


  1. Thanks for sharing, Liza. I'm always interested to hear these baby step stories, especially from diehard fans of the printed page. I don't own an e-reader for some of the reasons you mention, but also because I'm never quite at ease around screens; I always feel like they're trying to sell me something or wheedle information out of me (which they often are). Related to this, I also find that I don't pay attention to text as well when I read it on a screen. I think this partly comes from the visual clutter of the web; we constantly have to scan pages for information and actively filter out all the intruding ads to keep our sanity.

    But, a part of me also knows that devices with screens aren't inherently evil. Much of the experience is in the execution, and they certainly aren't going away. So, for all the e-reader-havers out there, does the reading experience feel different? I don't mean in the purely physical sense—there obviously aren't pages to turn and all that—but can you "settle in" to the experience in the same way? Can you curl up with them? Do they feel friendly? And also, do the words stick when you read them?

  2. I have no deep thoughts about my Kindle other than that I like it. Can't say it will ever replace "regular" books for me, but in some ways it's easier to manipulate than they are, i.e. more comfortable to read in bed than a big ole honkin' hardcover. And, being on the ADD side, I actually have better focus with a streamlined screen of text than I do with a mass of pages, always tempting me to peek ahead.

  3. Which e Reader did you get? Kindle? Nook? iPad? Just wondering

  4. My husband has a Nook and he loves it. He is a slow reader but he reads much faster on the Nook--probably because he can magnify the text and read without his glasses.

    I tried reading on it and didn't like it. I like the question you posed, Peter: "Do they feel friendly?" I think that might be why I didn't like it. For me, it felt like I was reading a screen and not a book. Not sure what the difference is, really, but I guess it just didn't feel as "friendly."

    I do, however, love to use the Nook for Sudoku.

  5. Enjoy Enjoy!
    I tell myself picture this: there you are on the ground listening to your favorite storyteller. In bursts a page, "A machine that prints!" He breathes heavily, having run X kilometers to bring this news. The storyteller pauses. "I will be useless." He searches for the word he doesn't yet know -- dinosaur. "No! No! " shouts the crowd. One young woman sits with the tablet she's been scratching letters on. The word, printed, she ponders. "What the hell, why not!" she says to no one in particular. And then she yells to the storyteller, "Speak on!"

  6. Is it a Nook? I'm leaning hard in that direction for exactly the same reasons. I want open source and library downloads and the convenience of a plane read -- I took four books on this last trip and my shoulder is feeling it... xoxo