Daily Archives: June 2, 2010

When Hell Freezes Over: An Ebook Diary

Kirk L. Shaw is senior editor for Covenant Communications. He has also done work for Boston publisher David R. Godine and Northwestern University Press. During his career, he has produced and edited fiction (in many genres), memoirs, historical, art, gardening, gift, technical, poetry, and plays. He enjoys writing short stories and especially relishes reading speculative fiction, historical novels, New England poetry, young adult, gumshoe detective, post-apocalyptic, and dystopia novels (long before they became trendy, mind you). He enjoys classic rock and music in general, and enjoys singing opera and rock (and the occasional rock opera), and playing piano, guitar, and trumpet.

And a word from Carol–Kirk and I have known each other a couple of years, but I feel like I have known him forever. He’s a terrific editor, smart, and loves good books. If you ever have the chance to work with Kirk, take it. He’s a great guy-and as our friend Ms. O’Connor has said, ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find.’ Plus–he’s going to see Paul McCartney in July AND speaking at Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers in June!

So when ebooks made their trendy appearance with the Kindle in 2007, I was dubious to say the least. I thought, “Who would want to read a book on a screen; don’t we do enough of our work on a computer screen all day?”

Besides, I’m one of those book collectors who loves his tactile books. I like to see the beautiful covers on my home library bookshelves—surrounding me in my recliner like a host of centurions. And yes, I’m the type who can read a book a dozen times, and the book still looks like it has just been picked up off a Barnes & Noble shelf. Books are my treasure.

Adamant to build a phalanx against the oncoming horde of ebooks, I stood my ground, swearing that pigs would fly, hell would freeze over, the commies would rise again before I surrendered to ebooks.

Then a few of my good friends made the switch to Kindle and showed me everything they could do with it. It piqued my interest, even though I still wasn’t sold on the package. For the next year and a half I tried to find reasons not to look at ebooks. But it was increasingly difficult to deny that there were some real merits to the idea. Finally I realized that I didn’t have to give up print books entirely if I got involved with ebooks.

Barnes & Noble announced their Nook, and I probably spent hours looking into the features of Nook, the pros and cons compared to Kindle, Sony Reader, etc. Finally I decided to pass on the Nook, mostly because I was miffed they weren’t offering the B&N membership discount on ebooks; kind of disloyal, if you ask me. But I knew I wanted to do ebooks at this point, still not buying the packages they were coming in.

I had resigned myself to continuing my status quo with book purchases when Steve Jobs announced the iPad. I was intrigued. It was exactly the kind of device I had imagined myself enjoying ebooks with. I read everything I could about it—all the negative and positive—trying to convince myself that it was worth making the plunge. My wife surprised me with an iPad for our anniversary (she’s the most thoughtful person I know), and I am pleased as punch with it and with ebooks.

In fact, I never in a million years thought I’d say this: I enjoy reading a book on my iPad more than in print. There. I’ve said it.
For those like me who have dabbled with the idea of ebooks but are reticent, here are a few pros and cons to consider about the iPad (let’s start with the cons, since they seem to always get a bad rap):

CONS:

It’s hard to lend ebooks (although a family can share the same account and read the same books).
They’re not a “presence” in the home, like in a library or office.
The ownership/digital-rights-management is still up in the air, in my opinion.
Sometimes the publisher skimps and gives you a lame filler cover instead of the print cover.
It’s entirely too easy to buy books (restraint is needed).

PROS:

You can read a book with one hand or none at all (you don’t have to hold a book open with both hands).
You can adjust the font, font size, lighting (also background, like Sepia with the Kindle app).
With iPad you can download and read ebooks from any distributor (B&N, Kindle, and iBooks).
You have your whole searchable library on you at all times.
You can bookmark, highlight, underline, annotate your books; it’s easy to get back to places you want to share with people or write about.
For those whose bookshelves are stacked to the max, this solves some storage issues.
No more shipping fees and cheaper book prices.
You can download samples to read at your leisure.
“Bookshelf-style” library, with full-color book covers.
In some ways it’s more advanced than anything Jean-Luc Picard ever used. Eat that, Picard!

As an editor and book lover, I’ve reached a sort of Nirvana where ebooks and print books can coexist in my life, without exclusivity or border skirmishes. I’d recommend ebooks for any bookworm.

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