Monday night brought excitement as I received news about the new (and much anticipated) software update for Barnes & Noble’s NOOK, my e-reader of choice. Coming at the end of an otherwise complicated and hectic beginning of my week, this was a bright spot in my day.

Although, truth be told, I’ve been having some problems in the ebook world lately.

I say that not as a writer, but as a reader. I can’t wait to self-publish my manuscript in ebook format (assuming said manuscript ever reaches completion…and, believe me, that’s a long way in the future yet), and I’m heavily attracted to the advantages that ebooks offer. I enjoy being able to download a book instantly and begin reading it, and carrying all of my current books with me. What I’ve found myself missing over the last few months, however, is seeing the cover art of the book in my hands. I didn’t think that this would be a big deal, but it sort of is. I’ve found myself missing the act of shelving the book when I’m finished reading it. What’s odd is that I didn’t anticipate missing any of these things at all.

As ebook selection isn’t nearly what it should be as of yet, I’m currently existing in both worlds, finding only about 40-50% of the books I want to read available as ebooks from any seller. So, I’ve had a chance to remember what I’ve been missing. This week, Karen ordered several books from Amazon. I’ve found myself looking forward to their arrival, to finding them at the door, to unboxing them. There’s something about the waiting that’s superior to¬†instant gratification. There’s something about the anticipation.

I listened to a discussion recently about how the act of purchasing music has changed in the era of iTunes and digital downloads. I’ve mentioned here before that I made the transition from CD’s to iPod very easily. I haven’t missed purchasing physical CD’s. I don’t miss holding the album art, because it appears beautifully on my iPod’s screen. I love having my entire music collection with me everywhere. Music holds just as dear a place in my life as books do, but I don’t miss holding CD’s at all. So why do I miss holding books? After all, I’m still reading the book. I listen to audiobooks without missing the physical book itself. What’s different here?

The discussion I listened to this week hinted at a cheapening of the music buying process…a lack of discussion with people who are as passionate about it as you are. The panelist discussed the loss of connection with other music lovers that occurred when we had to drive to an indie record store to purchase music. Now, when we click and download, there’s consumerism without connection. The panelist likened it to pornography.

What’s interesting to me is that this parallels some recent thoughts I’ve had about another long-time love: comic books. Digital comics are just beginning to come into their own on tablet devices. They look gorgeous on my iPad. Yet, almost 100% of the titles I collect are unavailable in that format. So, two or three times a month, I stop by my local comic book shop. During my last visit, I became involved in a conversation with the guy behind the counter about some mutual favorite titles, and he recommended the new Black Widow to me. I didn’t even know they had re-vamped the Black Widow! He gained a sale, and I gained a new title to collect. That’s the sort of interaction…the recommendation of friends…that connect us with new music and new books that are the most important. No algorithm generating a “you may also like” selection after your purchase on a website can duplicate that.

Perhaps this is yet another case of technology being permitted to rise above the status of the tool it is meant to be, beginning to manipulate us into serving it instead of it serving us. Perhaps this is one step further toward what science fiction authors have warned us about for some time.

And, if so, how ironic that I read so much science fiction in electronic format?

Eventually, I’ll reconcile this dilemma that I can’t explain, and decide one way or another how I want to read. I’ll either cultivate a sense of waiting, or succumb to more instant gratification. Or, perhaps I’ll recognize that there’s one area of my life in which I struggle to release “the way things used to be,” after all. Until then, I’ll keep dividing my reading time between my NOOK and physical books.

Honestly, though, I wonder how long that will last.

Photo Attribution: bfhoyt 


  1. You are very right. Most of the time those algorithms on websites are wrong. I have never bought something through a computer’s recommendation; I have bought things through people’s recommendation. Do you think the difference between ipod purchasing and book purchasing is enhanced because we don’t tactile-y experience music? In other words, music is not something we touch or smell, we experience it through listening, which is almost the same whether it be through CD or ipod, very little time is spent looking at the album artwork. A book is touched as well as seen, making up for a larger part of the experience. Just a thought…

  2. That’s an excellent point, Katherine. Perhaps that also explains the bypassing of a sense of “something missing” when I’m “reading” by listening to an audiobook. I think what I’m missing with books that I don’t miss with music (or even movies) is that sense of…almost accomplishment…by having something sit on my shelf. That goes along with your tactile hypothesis, I think. Perhaps we are all a bit kinesthetic when it comes to books!

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