Where have the ereader fetishists gone?
I mean, they’re out there, usually drooling over the latest model updates (guilty). But where are the resulting think-pieces about the continuously changing nature of reading as we know it? If Barnes & Noble updates its Nook, the resulting press amounts to, “It’s waterproof now, if you care about that sort of thing.” The device represents so much more than its new features, going on to channel the next dozen/hundred/thousand items its owner will read across electronic dots rendered in custom fonts. For anyone using that Nook Glowlight Plus, that’s their reading life absorbed through a six-inch screen — which, just like the screens on the Kindle Voyage and Kobo Aura, is flush with the bezel, meaning no dusty corners.
(While there are ereader apps for phones and tablets, this article is strictly concerned with black and white e-ink ereaders, which will only blind or keep their users up all night if the book being read on it is good.)
The novelty and technolust for enjoying ereading seems to be dying down just as, say, online checkout through a library is less painful than ever, making public-funded ereading relatively smooth compared to when library ebooks were shiny and new (also, please return those ebooks when you’re done with them). Publishers like Boss Fight Books have been offering their catalogs at a significant discount in ebook form, meaning my own ereader is host to many reading experiences I don’t expect to ever recreate across the flipping of pages. I have read almost all of BFB’s books while riding or near airplanes, and as such will always associate them with their respective trips.
“That’s not so unique. People read articles and stories online all the time that they won’t read in print,” some will scoff. Let them! Know what’s not happening to ereader users while they tap/swipe/press through their favorite digital reads? They’re not getting buzzes and screen-margin updates from a plethora of apps, nor are they two clicks away from videos and social media. All of the ereader’s focus is delivered through the entire screen at once, and so is the reader’s attention. It is a dedicated device performing one specific, intentional function, and that process has a transformative effect on my reading.
Is anyone feeling excited yet? Can I get a witness? I was originally one of those quasi-luddites when ereaders first hit the market, cursing the concept of betraying the print experience. Now I spread the digital gospel by leaving converts in my wake. In the event of an ereader upgrade (dependent on finding a low-cost refurbished model, in my case), I don’t resell the old ereader, I find a willing recipient to enable my new-ereader-hugging ways. Don’t you judge me for a second – if bookworms are happy smelling and hugging print books, then an ereader should get a small squeeze, too.
At least I know no one will judge my ebooks, because it’s pretty hard to casually get close enough to spy on the title and contents. Do you appreciate the social component of noticing a fellow traveler’s book cover and finding common ground in reading habits? Cool, now all you have to do is ask an ereader owner what they are reading. The social contract abides, and romance readers everywhere rejoice for control of their privacy.
There is a comedy bit from Patton Oswalt circa 2009 about how the iPod was already taken for granted as an ubiquitous, dated technology, when his past self from 1999 would have lost his mind to learn it even existed. “Every song you’ve ever heard, or will ever hear, or will ever be written, you can put on that thing … you’ll get them in gift bags.” Or as Ron Swanson might say, “This is an excellent rectangle.”
The same thing is going on with ebooks! I’m still not over that fact. Compared to streaming music and video services, electronic books don’t come with the same hassle of gatekeepers fighting over licenses to sell access. Once you have an ebook, there’s no stress to storing it forever. Between the local library, frequent sales, Project Gutenberg, free samples on demand, and straight-up transferring text documents from blogs, news, and academic sites, there is an infinite bookshelf of everlasting abundance that will always retain the size and weight of a paperback. Much like bookshelves filled with unread books, there are ereaders and online bookstore accounts out there flush with TBR archives. Sorting a digital collection and editing metadata and covers via Calibre warms my librarian heart.
(There are ereader covers that look like old books and I have one and it still feels good to open and close.)
My favorite thing of all about ebooks, though? Every time I finish one, the itch to read a digital book passes, and a whole new impulse runs through my veins, demanding a story with some heft, a scent in its pulp, sounds of pages turning, slapping, and sliding, and binding yawning open with each revisit… followed by buying an autographed copy from the author at a book signing.
Because beyond mere technolust, this all comes back to booklust. This piece is for the casual reader who wants to carry a dozen books for a trip at once, read them at the beach without worry of damage, and not sweat forgetting the charging cable because the battery life goes on for weeks. Damn right you got an ereader. We know how to “wring aesthetic joy from devices that seem specifically engineered to kill it.” Let’s compare and be happy reading real books on them.