By Lenore Weiss
Books outlining my walls attest to the fact that I am an inveterate reader and book collector. Heretofore, I have resisted adoption of the eBook in favor of the screen. It seems like a question of loyalty. How could I forsake a friend for the sake of novelty?
Two words come to mind: space and money.
The limitations of my physical living space led me, after so many years, to return to the public library. I could borrow books and return them without a need to covet their pages on my personal shelves. Then there was the question of money. Books like everything else have become enormously expensive. Those two factors pushed me toward accepting in this case, the iPad, an aesthetic device that made me feel better about being a traitor to the printed word. But I forgave myself. Didn’t Gutenberg turn everything upside down with the invention of printing press, making knowledge accessible to people who never had the chance?
I got over my initial hurtle, which has opened a new relationship to the book. The word has been liberated from its covers in the way that songs were released from their place inside albums and CDs, floating around and alighting on my forehead.
My first eBook read was “Distrust That Particular Flavor,” a nonfiction collection by science fiction writer, William Gibson.
While I’ve been aware of Gibson, my sci-fi reading has mostly been limited to authors like Harlan Ellison, Robert Heinlein, and Ursula Le Guin. That might change. Anyhow, Gibson’s book struck me as a good place to begin my experiment. I downloaded a copy from the electronic marketplace. Here are my initial responses.
Whoa! This is a different place. The change is absorbing me more right now than the book.
I don’t have any sense how “far” I am into Gibson since the book itself is a flat screen and I can’t physically hold any number of pages in my hand. What I hold is my iPad, a device that doubles and triples as a browser, a game center, camera, and so many other things that is only limited by the number of “apps” I have downloaded from the Internet. As Gibson would say, I had suddenly moved away from a “function specific device.”
What I hold is not a book, although I could be resting on my bed propped up by pillows. But the device itself is not a singular one. Although referenced by one brand name, an electronic reader can be a pliable platform, capable of being transformed as soon as I finish reading. In fact, I can listen to music on the same device while I read. And the difference in the physical experience doesn’t stop there.
I’m not physically aware of the place I am relative to the entire manuscript. Without a physical book, I can’t see where I place my bookmark. Of course I know when I begin the first page, but as I continue, the only marker I have is the page number displayed at the bottom of the screen. The iPad conveniently inserts its own electronic bookmark, automatically opening to the page where I left off. The electronic book eliminates the obvious beginning, middle and end or “linear” quality of books.
No longer recognizably moving along a trajectory from point A to point B until I put the book down with hopefully a satisfied exhalation, I am just always “reading.” What I am left with are individual words that have been freed from their book covers, naked as they were, to travel the Internet.
I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing. It’s just different. Maybe reading Gibson is helping me to think this way.
The truth of the current matter, as it currently reveals itself, is that e-readers are not as portable as books. Why? Not because they’re difficult to carry around. It’s mostly because people aren’t comfortable using their high price tag devices in public. There’s always a chance that someone will swipe an e-reader and not in a good way, either. Until these readers come down in price, I think they will continue be used in private, relegated to the bedroom or couch or airplane seat, places where if I lose the thing, it’s my own damn fault. On the other hand, iPads today have a means of tracking themselves so if someone pilfers my iPad while I’m reading on a bench at Oakland’s Lake Merritt, I can get a GPS location and pass that information along to the authorities, scary as it may seem. I’ve also heard that certain classrooms are now beneficiaries of grants that allow groups of kids to carry an iPad in their backpacks to and from school. But for now, I think most people, like myself, will opt for carrying their paperback to the beach and keep the e-reader of whatever kind, for more close-to-the chest encounters. I could be wrong.
On days when I’m sick or stay in bed on the weekend, I opt for the comfort food of a paperback book without the need to run interference with an ID or password.
Sometimes I crave the old-timey public kind of space.
Around Lake Merritt
I have a lifetime pass to humanity
with its necklace of lights strung
around the throat of Oakland,
the first designated wildlife refuge for birds.
To get there, I drive past storefronts—
Cut it Out Again Tammy’s Bible Book Store Rose the Tailor Happy Garden Chopsticks Express Runaway Slave Tattoo King Kong BBQ Wash Time Bail Bonds 877 You Walk Yummy Duck Divine Doors Tim’s Auto Body Juan’s Pizza
Lake Merritt where kids ask
if ducks fly and water bottles roll
from the suck of lips,
ear buds and pay pals eat time,
money is on everyone’s mind.
Honk if you think I’m full of it.
Lake with its necklace of lights
strung around the throat of Oakland
for all us strange birds.