3 Reasons Why Physical Books Just Won’t Die

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A slice of my SciFi bookshelf.

Hugh Howey posted an intriguing exploration of a possible – perhaps even likely – near-future in which our very concept of e-readers and e-reading has shifted. We’ll own physical book-like objects that are technically blank but will fill with words via native or bionic technology. This way we get the traditional feel of a book if we want that, but maintain the swap-out, thousands-in-your-pocket convenience we’ve come to know through current e-readers and e-reader apps. Or we can let all the physicality go entirely and allow our GoogleGlass accessories or GoogleLens contacts to let us read on walls and ceilings or whatever else might be in sight. We’ll even get to do all of this while we ride from place to place in our self-driving cars, which means even more time for reading. Yay!

I could see any or all of that happening. Even things we haven’t yet imagined. And I’m excited about it! But I don’t think physical books will stop being relevant to readers or end up wholly phased out of the market. Not because of heft/feel/smell/etc. alone, as some folks might suggest, but for three other reasons. 

1) They won’t disappear yet because there’s still a frankly nonexistent (or at least profoundly constrained) model of interpersonal loans for ebooks. So while physical book purchases may eventually decrease significantly, without a more ebook-owner-friendly method of legal sharing, folks who love handing a friend a book when they visit or giving away a book one has already read and don’t need anymore will still want physical books. It’s still one of my biggest frustrations, honestly, because “you can read it when I’m done” is currently impossible unless I let someone else use my e-reader or share an e-reader account with them, which I’m not going to do. Someone on the supplier side could fix this problem if they wanted to, but I’m pretty sure they don’t.

I’m not in any way resistant to new technology. I love new tech and would love to see – and probably use – the faux-book multi-faceted e-reader Howey talks about or glasses that let me read on the ceiling in bed (*please soon*). Currently, I primarily use audio books and pick up ebooks sometimes if there’s no audio option, but if I really enjoy something or find it useful, I get a hardcopy to have around for rereading, sharing, and gifting. See what I did there, though? I bought both! We can’t think of these markets as simply cannibalistic, ebooks eating the physical book market for lunch. They can serve unique as well as overlapping functions.

2) Physical books will also matter for collectors (which I think most of the “but I like the smell” type folks probably are). Collectors aren’t typically about pure utility so much as aesthetics and a certain experience of use and ownership. For some sorts of readers, the faux-book e-reader may be just enough like an old-fashioned book to satisfy them, but to many collectors? Even if it’s an excellent facsimile and/or very handy, they’re still going to want to handle their battered copy of Little House on the Prairie, sigh happily at the line of coordinated color on their shelf that corresponds with their favorite scifi series, and stack intriguing mini-collections on and around coffee tables as a gesture of intellectual openness toward visitors. For these folks, a faux-book that’s both static and dynamic in the way Howey describes would be like a meal at a major chain restaurant would be for most foodies – adequate, maybe even good, but never offering the unique experience they appreciate from gourmet supper clubs, high-end food artists, exotic foreign street vendors, and kitschy Mom & Pop hole-in-the-walls with a specialty to die for.

I could foresee a trend toward personal collections of what one might consider heirloom books, for example, books bought or otherwise gathered with the intention of passing them down. I love that I have my brother’s copy of Ender’s Game, my mother’s copy of The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, and a friend’s once personal copy of her best-selling book. I don’t want just any copy of those books. I want the copies with histories that matter to me. There’s still a visceral difference for me between the content itself, even its base packaging (look/feel/smell), and the unique ineffable quality a book takes on when I read it with my neice and then say she can take it home with her. It’s not just a story or even just a book then. It’s a treasure.

3) Considering the take-backsies problem some e-reader users have experienced, especially if some legal dispute occurs or even just as standard practice for dealing with electronic versions of certain periodicals, it’s not hard to feel like “ownership” in a wholly electronic environment is far more tenuous than in the physical world. Yes, my physical books can be stolen or waterlogged by flood or set on fire, but barring extreme circumstances or my active desire to part with them, I’m sure they’ll be accessible to anyone in my home or office thirty years from now. I’m not sure my e-copy of Analog scifi magazine will still be accessible even 30 days from now.

There’s a certain sense of permanence and domain that comes with physical books that ebooks – by their nature and amplified by the policies surrounding them – just don’t have. Perhaps that sense is an illusion or irrelevant to some readers (or with regard to some books), but I think it’s not something we can wholly discount.

So, while it may become a semi-niche market, like scrapbooking or art collecting, I strongly suspect that distinct physical books will likely stick around a good long while.

~A.

Building Utopia?: Fiction on Perfection (#MondayBlogs)

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“This world of ours … must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.” – Dwight D Eisenhower

One of the stories in my queue of “maybe-novels” is my exploration of a utopian ideal put forth by a particular philosopher, infused with radical modern sensibilities taken to their logical ends. As someone who largely reads more dystopian texts, however, I always have to ask: “Utopia how and for whom?”

Even without devolving a utopic world into the elite vs dregs situation of many dystopian texts (e.g. Harrison Bergeron, Hunger Games), is it possible to imagine a utopia that seems logical and sustainable, that takes human imperfections and understandable conflict into account? As writers, can we strip humanity down to the bare essentials of assent and dissent, personal independence and societal order, and still have enough to make a story move forward?

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Writer on the Ledge: Identifying with “Risky” Writing

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WRITER OR WRITING?

I’ve been inside for a long time and I have no wings and no safety harness, but life’s presented me with a window, just big enough for me to fit through, and I’ve decided to step out. Even if there is nothing to hold me up but the ledge, I know that I’ll see and experience things that playing it safe will never give me. I’d like to say it’s not the first time, but if I’m honest, it really is. I’ve poked my head out, here and there, to look around the place and I’ve stuck my hands out, once or twice, to feel new things, even while still bunkered inside my walled up home base. Yet, I have never taken any real – public – risks, never gone beyond the cozy and largely safe spaces of my own heart and mind, a tribe of close friends and colleagues, and the pseudo-anonymity of niche communities where no one asks you to exit your bunker. Hence, I have never really tried to be a writer.

No, that’s not exactly true by traditional definitions. I’ve written countless things, shared many of them, published some, and dealt with both praise and criticism, though I’d certainly like to do more and better with all of these things. In that sense, I’ve more than tried to be a writer, I am one. For me, though, that’s all about process, not identity. I write, therefore I am? Maybe. What I haven’t tried is being a writer, walking in the world as a writer, saying the word out loud to someone else as a way of referencing who I am and what I do – being, as it were, “out” as a writer. As someone who has never been “straight,” it’s a situation I know entirely too well and don’t like for many good reasons, but unlike the dance I did for years over what to say or not and to whom when the question of relationships came up, I didn’t realize that I was so closeted about my writing until two weeks ago.

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The Undeterred Male: Sexy or Sexist?

Super interesting discussion going on over at Kira Lyn Blue’s blog. It’s especially relevant to romance writers, but since relationships are a part of pretty much everyone’s fiction (and many folks’ lives), it’s the kind of topic that may be intriguing to many different sorts of readers. Pop over and check it out! I wrote an epic comment. 🙂

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My fabulous critique partner Hope Cook, linked an article recently that has me… uneasy:  Rape Culture in Popular Culture. I’m feeling uncomfortable as a reader, a writer, and a woman by the point the author brings up, so, of course, I have to write about it.

The article boils down to this point: The undeterred male in romance is an example of rape culture.

Wait… what?

The use of the phrase has my hackles up. Anytime anyone drops such a charged expression, I find myself immediately jumping into Devil’s Advocate mode and wanting to argue against it. The words sensationalism, hyperbole, and hypersensitivity whirl through my mind in an angry tempest. Especially in this case, since I tend to enjoy a good romance book with an undeterred male love interest.

So, what’s wrong with an undeterred male? The article states that:

“When a man is…

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Writing Journey: What Inspired Me

Writing Journey: What Inspired Me

May 8th Prompt from WritersWrite1: “Write about the first book you read that made you want to become a writer.”

It is, perhaps, strange that there is no distinct turning point in my memory, but there isn’t one. I have always enjoyed writing, though I’ve been more and less serious about it or more or less drawn to different forms or genres of it at different times in my life. I don’t honestly recall ever thinking of myself as something other than a writer. Sure, I didn’t think – or wasn’t certain – that I was going to do it professionally, necessarily, but I wasn’t ruling it out. I loved reading and I loved words.

If I can address the question a bit more broadly, to discuss the books that stick in my mind as especially inspiring with respect to my path as a writer, there are, however, a few.

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Ender’s Game & Speaker for the Dead (an introspective review)

Among the many classics of science fiction literature, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game has maintained a place far above even others that have been remembered for decades. When I was only a child in a family where scifi books were well-loved, Ender’s Game was the scifi book. I am unsure if it was my first introduction to the world of science fiction – I think not, there was an ancient paperback collection of short stories, as much pulp fiction as scifi, that I can recall thumbing through in various reading nooks – but it was one of my first exposures to the genre and it was one that stayed with me all my life. Having now re-read it, and having finished its sequel as well (with intentions to read the rest of the series), I can say that my memory of Ender’s Game had been both true and almost … mythologized over the years, faded in places, yes, but more than that. I had come to think about the book itself as somehow carrying, harboring, embodying not only all of the talk that scifi fans I knew had surrounded it with, but also all the talk and thought that I had come to craft for myself with reference to it. It is, I realize now, both the book I thought it was and, at the same time, perhaps no greater than many other works of science fiction. I say this not to diminish the wonder of Ender’s Game, because it is still among the shortstack of books I would hand to someone exploring scifi for the first time, but I say it because I now see the book as Card himself meant it to be: it is the prelude to the truly great work – Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead.

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