Tuesday 11 December 2012

Quoth the Scotsman | James Smythe on Physical vs. Digital

Since the dawn of The Speculative Scotsman, e-books have gone from the margins to the mainstream.

I remember seeing video of a prototype of Sony's first e-book reader at CES years and years ago, and thinking this could change everything. I wanted one then and there... but when the time came that I could actually buy one, I held my horses.

I told myself was waiting for the next iteration. Then when the next iteration became available, I told myself... something else.

Eventually, however, be damned my doubts: I had my heart's desire. Not a Kindle, oh no! Ever the contrarian, I bought myself an Asus Transformer tablet, which - though it's beginning to look a little long in the tooth - I still use to this day. Primarily to read comics on, and e-books when needs must.

I'm just not a lover of electronic literature, by and large. I mean, I'll make do with an e-book - and these days, I often find myself with e-ARCs instead of physical proofs - but it simply isn't the same.

Before the tech savvy tell me what my problem is, I actually don't find the resolution of the text my tablet renders to be a problem. But I do mind the sluggishness of my micro-library. And I do wish Amazon would come the hell on and incorporate some of the software-side features of the Paperwhite line into the Kindle app.

But here I am having trouble articulating why I find e-reading such a sterile experience, when this whole post  is supposed to showcase a quote that captures my feelings exactly. It's from The Explorer by James Smythe, who's been rereading Stephen King for The Guardian recently, and it's short, but sweet:
"I always said that the thing I was saddest about, when they had pretty much stopped printing paper books, was that I couldn't tell how long was left until the end. I could find out, but that feel, that sensation of always knowing was gone. I used to love the way that the cluster of pages grew thinner in my hand, how I could squeeze it and guess the time it would take until it ended. I loved endings, when they were done well: I loved knowing that it was finished, because that was how it was meant to be. An ending is a completion: it's a satisfaction all in itself." (p.251)
Well said, James Smythe! I agree completely.

But who's with us, I wonder?

Ironically, the e-book of The Explorer is out on December 20th in both the UK and the US, but Harper Voyager aren't distributing the paperback till January 2013.

The far-flung future, in other words. :P

Never mind my trumpeting about time: I'll be reviewing The Explorer on tor.com shortly, and - spoiler alert - it's incredible. But resist the temptation, readers: wait for the physical edition!


  1. I'm completely in agreement with you that paper books provide a far more pleasurable reading experience... and yet, these days, I'm with very few exceptions only buying e-books.
    For one thing, once you have 10,000 books of various sizes cluttering up your living space you're just grateful for every new book that does not occupy any more of your increasingly rare space.
    For another, once you reach a certain age you start to notice that a large majority of the books printed today use an atrociously tiny font that you're having a really time hard time deciphering and in consequence really, really appreciate that e-books have adjustable font sizes that enable you to read without your eyes hurting after ten minutes.
    For yet another, if you see all your decades-old paperbacks that have not been in print for ages crumble away, you surely wish they'd had e-books back then so that you could re-read your books without them dissolving into dust in your hands (okay, slight exaggeration, but you get my drift).
    It's also nice to not have to carry a whole suitcase of books if you need to spend some weeks in hospital, not to have to worry about running out stuff to read when you're on holiday, or stuck on the train or anywhere else where you don't have access to your physical library.
    In short, paper books are more esthetically pleasing, but e-books are a hell of a lot more convenient.

  2. I'm with you, Niall (and James). I love browsing in bookshops without necessarily intending to buy. I love pulling a book off the shelf at home just to leaf through it, spend an idle half-hour with it, put it back again. I like the smell of new books, with their promise of a story to come; I like the smell of old books, an olfactory "Remember me?". And a house without books visible doesn't seem like home to me. The prospect of the contents of my shelves being held within a small metal and plastic rectangle is somehow...alien. And wrong.

    And of course there is the practical side - with money scarce, I tend to 'try before I buy', courtesy of the local library - they don't do e-books. I guess that really I don't fit Kindle's demographic. I don't mind that e-books are occupying a larger share of the market as long as they don't wholly displace printed books. A choice of one is no choice at all.