My love of eBooks speaks volumes
Best selling author James Patterson recently gave $1 million to independent bookstores in the United States because he thinks the future of reading is dismal.
Mr Patterson's reasoning is that people aren't reading anymore because they are downloading books instead of going to bookstores. While I think he can do what he likes with his money, I disagree wholeheartedly with his fundamental idea. The popularity of eReaders no more spells the end of reading than the development of the CD player spelled the end of listening to music. Record shops may be gone, but music certainly is not.
It's true that the future of small bookstores are in jeopardy, but the future of reading itself is brighter than ever, although it may look a little different.
Let me lay out my credentials. I have been a passionate reader my whole life. One of the happiest days of my childhood was the day my mother said she was tired of buying me books all the time and was going to get me a library card. I'm getting all teary just thinking about it. I also have a Master's degree in creative writing.
In the last two or three years my life has become inundated with devices, iPods, iPads, a Kindle, and a BlackBerry. It's probably not too good for my back carrying all that around. Sometimes I have to make momentous decisions. Do I want to take my Kindle or my iPod to lunch with me? But I'm reading more than I ever did.
It's true my reading life doesn't look exactly the same as it did when I was 12 and trying to surreptitiously read my granny's clunky, dog-eared romance novels under the desk while everyone else played the recorder in music class.
Now, I read paperbacks; I borrow from the library; I download eBooks; I listen to audio books and I also download podcasts that talk about books, authors and the book industry. I belong to websites and social networking sites that let me talk (and argue) about whether J K Rowling really made a mistake when she married off Hermione to Ron. (It was the only thing of genius she did.) I also subscribe to physical magazines that tell me what new books are coming up.
First of all independent bookstores have been in trouble for some time. When I lived in Boston, several years before anyone had heard of an eReader, independent bookstores were closing left, right and centre and it was largely because they were being turfed out by the megabook stores.
Is the future all that grim for the independent bookstores that are still standing? A recent poll of over 2,000 readers on the Facebook site Bookriot found that 69.39 percent of its followers did their reading through bookstores rather than eBooks. Wow. Granted these aren't the people who read one book a year laying on the beach. These are book nerds who read on average 75 books a year. Bookstores have some advantages. First of all, if you are like me and buy books for stress relief the way some women buy shoes, then you get a rush walking out of the store with a new tome. Downloading a book doesn't have that same rush, (unless it's your first time and your father will kill you).
It's easier to browse for the new and interesting in a bookstore. A human can sometimes talk you into buying something in a way that a computer can't. My online bookstore recommendations are terrible. Let your techie husband use your account, just once, to buy one manual about firewalls, and your recommendation list is ruined forever. No, I am not interested in a copy of ‘Firewalls and The People who Cross Them'. And I really don't trust the mega online bookstore's book rating system. Just pick whatever book you hate and look it up online. It probably has a four and half stars out of five rating. Most books on the online mega bookstore site have four and half stars. It's all very mysterious.
The advantage to the online bookstore though, is that it never closes. If you suddenly get the desire to download ‘Soy Sauce for Beginners' by Kirsten Chen (which is NOT a cookbook), at 2am, you can do it. Financially, it's a little dangerous, I admit. Another advantage is the free book samples you can download. I'm really fussy about the style and quality of a book, so the free chapters allow me to take a book for a test run before I plunk down money.
Initially, when eReaders first came out I thought I needed the physical page. Since going over to the dark side I've learned that while I like physical books, I don't really need words printed on pieces of a dead tree to be happy. Fundamentally, what I love is a good story, and whether I read the story on paper, or on an electronic device, it doesn't matter. I even love listening to audio books, even if it does feel like cheating. I'm listening to ‘The Hobbit' on the way to work every morning. I like the way other drivers don't scream and honk when I turn the pages. So, by all means, lament the potential demise of bookstores. Even better, show support for your local library and bookstore by giving them $1 million, or at least by being regular patrons, but please don't talk about technology killing literature. That theory is about as valid as a book with a five star rating on a certain online mega book site.