Saturday, January 12, 2013

B-book or E-book?

So what do you think . . . are e-books "real" books?

This question jumped out at me a few days ago as I was reading aloud to my son, an avid Rick Riordan fan (thanks to me, an equally avid fan), from his latest Percy Jackson novel, The Mark of Athena. I'd already read the entire book the day after it was released last October, but now my son and I are going through it together a few chapters each week. We've already read seven Percy Jackson books this way.

(Side note: Parents, read to your children, even when they are old enough to read for themselves. If nothing else, it will give you something nonthreatening to talk about at the dinner table.)

Reading through the novel a second time, much more slowly and constantly interrupted by my son's questions, I find myself appreciating the finer nuances of Riordan's storytelling. In chapter XXVII two of the heroes encounter a minor Greek god, Achelous, who expresses indignance when they show him their guidebook. Here's the excerpt:

    "You hate . . . books?" Piper asked.
    "Bah!" Achelous's face flushed, turning his blue skin eggplant purple. "That's not a book."
    He pawed the water. A scroll shot from the river like a miniature rocket and landed in front of him. He nudged it open with his hooves. The weathered yellow parchment unfurled, covered with faded Latin script and elaborate hand-drawn pictures.
    "This is a book!" Achelous said. "Oh, the smell of sheepskin! The elegant feel of the scroll unrolling beneath my hooves. You simply can't duplicate it in something like that." He nodded indignantly at the guidebook in Jason's hand. "You young folks today and your newfangled gadgets. Bound pages. Little compact squares of text that are not hoof-friendly. That's a bound book, a b-book, if you must. But it's not a traditional book. It'll never replace the good old-fashioned scroll!"

The first time I read this, I confess, I just raced through it to get on with the plot. But this time I got Riordan's message and began to laugh. Naturally enough, my son asked what was so funny. "Riordan's not really complaining about books," I explained to him. "He's making fun of people who say e-books aren't real books."

We were reading from a b-book, and the twenty or so bookshelves in my home are loaded up with b-books. But last year I purchased a Kindle for every member of the family in the hope that my sons would read more if they were holding an electronic device. So we could just as easily have been reading this particular story in e-book format.

Why weren't we? Why did I shell out $20 for a b-book? Am I just as prejudiced as Achelous?

My own novels came out first in e-book format because I listened to some people who convinced me that this was going to be the new paradigm for publishing. Also, it is very inexpensive to produce and sell an e-book. I can give away free copies without losing anything except opportunity cost. People I know, however, want something with turnable pages. They want to feel the book in their hands. Until I put The Carpenter into a paperback format, I hadn't really written a book. Or had I?

So what do you think . . . are e-books "real" books? Or will they soon go the way of the 8-track and Betamax?

1 comment:

  1. Up until recently, I would have said that e-books are not books. Although I still love the feel and look of paper pages, and enjoy the ability to flip through the pages and locate a spot I've previously colorfully underlined, I find myself primarily reading on my Kindle.

    I actually owned my Kindle for many months, and even downloaded books to it, without reading from it. But once I took the leap and actually read on my Kindle, I was hooked! I find that I read much more using the Kindle than I've read in years!

    The object of a book is to read, therefore, I would definitely say e-books are books! I can see a future where there will be few, if any, bound books, unfortunately. The idea does not make me happy, but I can see how enticing electronics can be. It is so much easier to carry 1 e-reader with many books in it than carrying even 2 bound books. As the e-reader technology improves, I fear it means the end of our old ways of reading.