Books

Feeling like a salmon

I have an iPad now, inherited my wife’s #1 when she got a #2. I like some things about it, especially reading my favorite newspapers and magazines in the morning. It’s also handy for checking email when not around the computer. I put some books on it, books I wanted to read anyway and thought it would’t hurt them too much in a digital version. I have started three of the four books I downloaded to it, and the farthest I’ve gotten with any of them is … well, some percentage, I suppose, since I can’t figure out the page numbers. Maybe 25%. One of them is good, so I ordered a real copy in order to finish it. One is okay, and maybe when it’s convenient I’ll get a real copy. One is pretty bad.

I’m just too old. I can’t read a book that is electronic data on a screen.

But this makes me feel like that salmon. As a reader, I am willing to swim upstream and against the rapids to read a good book, but I’m beginning to feel like the digital bear is just patiently waiting with its mouth open to gobble up readers like me, and eventually there won’t be salmon, just one big fat bear.

But if it’s bad for old-timey readers, imagine old-timey publishers!

Amazon is that bear, traditional publishers are the salmon. Once Amazon decided to cut out both agents and publishers in a one-stop-shop-do-it-all, the bell has tolled for them.

I am no longer willing to judge whether this will turn out to be a good thing or a bad thing for intellectual and creative life (although I have my suspicions, and they aren’t pretty things to hear), but good or bad, Amazon is going to gobble up all the salmon, even the big fat ones (like Random House) and single-handedly control (which means decide) what there is to read, and you can bet it will be either guaranteed money-makers or crap that nobody else would ever put in print. It was bad enough when mergers produced a publishing behemoth like Random House (with its kazillion imprints), but what will happen when a kazillion is one, a really, really big one … that fat old bear with its mouth wide open.

As for me … I am old, I am satisfied to finish my animated days this way —

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5 replies »

  1. I find the picture kind of mesmerizing. I posted it, though, to emphasize the point that sitting in a chair and simply reading a real book is what old people do. Kids read Twats or odd strings of letters on screens the size of a playing card while driving their Mom’s car, riding a bicycle, screwing … .

  2. Real books are actual physical objects that do not require a battery to operate and can be left on a café table when you go to pee and somebody most likely won’t steal it, and can be left on a shelf for years, for decades, untouched, and then get picked up and read again as if it were just looked at an hour ago. A real book might be burned in a fire or crumbled in a flood, but is still infinitely more substantial than trillions of stored electronic Xs and Os that can disappear entirely by pulling a plug or getting zapped by sunspots. You ever been watching TV or a DVD and have the picture go pixelated? It freezes or wiggles and does its pixel dance and maybe the picture comes back or maybe not? Electronic books are just digital pixels; electronic Xs and Os that are stored in one place and shot out to some device somewhere else, and are only as substantial as the dependability of the source.

    That’s what I mean by real.

  3. I don’t like to argue, so let’s avoid that at all costs.

    But put your e-Reader on a shelf for ten years then go back to it. Even after you replace the battery, chances are good that the format will have changed a couple of times by then and there won’t be anything on it.

    Like a while back when I wanted to watch a movie I had on VCR tape. It was blurry and mostly in green and disappeared entirely a few minutes into it.

    Can you retrieve data from a floppy disk? Not without sending it to a professional service. Assuming there is anything readable left on it.

    You may choose not to take your books with you or keep them around, but you could, and they would be unchanged and available for the rest of your life, and the lives of generations to follow. That defines real to me.

    But you want to read something really scary? http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/29/business/barnes-noble-taking-on-amazon-in-the-fight-of-its-life.html?_r=1&ref=books