So, when I first started to hear about eBooks, I didn’t really understand what they were or how they worked, and I’m still pretty foggy on the details; I don’t know the difference between a Kobo, a Kindle, a Tablet, an eReader, whatever, I don’t know how a book gets transferred to one of these devices, how to download a book, how much all this stuff costs, how much money goes to the writer (well, I know how much goes to this writer), where to find free downloads, etc. I have complicated feelings and fears.
My partner mostly reads downloaded books, which is how I started to learn a little more about them. When we read together, I’m able to see what a book looks like on a screen, and he shows me how to do things like turn the pages, highlight a sentence, change the size and font of the words, and so on. Although I still feel conflicted as to whether or not I’d ever wanna own a technological device to read my books on, he’s helped demystify some aspects of the whole thing for me. I was seriously afraid that an eBook would have a standard font, and other ugly, uncustomizeable things, and all the beauty of a paper book would be gone.
I’m writing about this because my new novel, Ragdoll House, is now available as an eBook, which you can purchase from AuthorHouse, Chapters/Indigo, and Barnes & Noble. The closest I’ve gotten to a non-paper-book-reading device is looking at decorative covers and cases for them, and seeing my partner read them. I have a Kindle app on my phone, but I’ve never used it, nor have I used dozens of other fancy things my phone does that I haven’t bothered to figure out yet.
When I was a teenager, I felt like the last person in my town to get a CD player. We grew up in poverty and, being twins, my sister and I were often given the same gifts, in matching or coordinating colours; we lived in a single-income household where our mom was obligated to buy two of everything. I grew up bitter & jealous of all the fancy things other kids had that we could not, and I still feel disconnected from even my closest friends when they tell me stories from their childhood that I simply cannot relate to. I’ve never even owned a DVD player. I don’t know what it’s like to live at or above the poverty line, to have the financial support of more than one parent, to have the opportunity to go to school, to have access to quality mental health care, or even to be able to buy a new pair of pants when the old ones have fallen apart and no longer fit.
My attempts to talk to anyone about those feelings have generally been met with absurd defensiveness on the part of folks who grew up with more money than me, so I don’t try to talk about it anymore.
I’ve always felt so far behind everyone else when it comes to trinkets and technology; despite feeling somehow ‘old’ when I discuss things like my inability to understand a lot of technological things, I know that my lack of access has more to do with class and gender than age.
I do have fantasies of getting rid of all my stuff, especially because I’ve been moving so often. It would be nice to clear out my bookshelves and keep all those words inside a tiny little screen instead. But, I’ve dealt with broken computers, and I have all kinds of floppy disks and CD’s filled with years’ worth of files of my short stories, my photos, etc., that I can no longer access due to changing technology that has rendered them useless. So, I have a fear of getting rid of all my books, downloading them instead, and then losing them when some other new gadget I can’t afford comes along. It’s a valid fear; it’s already happened so many times.
Also, I have chronic pain, and fiddling around with computers and cell phones and that kinda stuff fucking hurts. Writing hurts, sending a simple text hurts. My hand is numb as I type this, I have tingling pains in my fingers, and my back is sore. When I got the Netbook I’m currently writing on, I was hoping the touchpad would hurt me less than the mouse I was using with my old PC, which had self-destructed after eight years of use, but it was not to be. I’m afraid that turning the thousands & thousands of pages of all those eBooks I could be reading, will only increase this pain.
Being a zinester and a writer, I obviously have a tendency to prefer, and sometimes romanticize, things like paper, pens, books, snail mail, tangibility, etc., and those experiences and ideas have influenced my feelings about eBooks just as much as growing up in poverty has, or living in a society that tells me that the physical possessions I own give me value & worth has. I’ve been struggling with these things. For one, handwriting letters causes me extreme pain, but so does typing. Between September 2012 and September 2013, I will have moved at least six times, and lugging all those books around with me isn’t much fun. I travel a lot, and, while I have no need to actually have three-hundred books with me, my backpacks exacerbate my physical pain, and carrying one little device with a few books to choose from would be really nice (but it would also make one of the best parts of traveling – exploring bookstores in new-to-me cities and bringing home souveniers – pointless and unfun). I would miss the folded corners of pages, notes in the margins, and yes, getting my books signed by writers I love, and even signing my own books, which is something I’ve done more times than you’d think, and does bring me joy (and yeah, I know I just lost some punk cred saying that – I don’t care).
Of course, I’ve also been thinking about Chapters, a big chain bookstore that now carries my work. I used to spend a lot of time at Chapters, especially when I was a teenager and we didn’t have much access to a decent selection of books in our small hometown. The idea of somebody stumbling into my novel, either online as an eBook, or in-store on the shelves, delights me. Also, I want to make a living writing (just lost a little more punk cred again), and I do, in fact, get paid when somebody buys my book at Chapters – not as much as when you buy it directly from my publisher, or directly from me, but a little tiny bit nonetheless. There is also that part of me that wants all those assholes from my past (Hello, Lindsay!) to know that this weirdo high school dropout has their book in-stock at Chapters. However, I’m also not the biggest fan of chain stores (but not the biggest anarchist either – I am in an awkward in-between state, and that’s another story). When I think of Chapters, I think of bored, broke employees, and I think of all those stories of what they do with books that don’t sell within a certain timeframe: they rip off the covers and throw them in the dumpsters. That could be my book! Maybe it’ll be dumpstered by some cute punk, but, more likely, it’ll simply be destroyed.
I don’t know what my novel looks like on a screen, but maybe I will find out soon. I love holding my book in my hands, of course, but I also want it to be as accessible as possible.
Do you read eBooks? Paper books? Both? What are the benefits for you, personally, and what are the drawbacks? How do you feel about all this stuff?
P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!