Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Jonathan Franzen Claims E-Books "May" Be Bad for Society


First, the article to which I'm linking sounds as though it almost wants Mr. Franzen to hate e-books. But after reading his comments in full I didn't walk away with that impression. His comments and opinions read more like what I hear from many people about e-books: they just aren't sure about them yet.

This is understandable. I felt the same way about e-books five years ago. Because I couldn't hold a tangible item in my hands...a physical print book...it didn't seem as relevant to me. From what I hear, this is allegedly a huge problem with book pirates in Russia. They can't hold and feel the digital books so they think nothing of pirating them to see if they want to buy the print books.

Oddly enough, Jonathan Franzen's FREEDOM was, indeed, one of the last print books I read, and might possibly ever read. I'm not joking when I say this either. The thought of going back and reading a print book, especially a huge print book like FREEDOM, makes my stomach tighten.

Here's a small excerpt from the article with Franzen:

“I think, for serious readers, a sense of permanence has always been part of the experience. Everything else in your life is fluid, but here is this text that doesn’t change."

Once again, I thought along these same line, too...at one time. But the moment I bought my first digital reader, a Kobo basic e-reader in e-ink, I was absolutely amazed at how much it felt like a book. In fact, for me it was almost an old fashioned experience. And, for the record, Kobo does not pay me to endorse them.

I now read everywhere and take my entire library with me. After having published over 84 works of fiction, I've experienced eye strain and can't see a thing without reading glasses. I'm forty and I worry about the future of my eyes. My e-reader made a world of difference. I can adjust the print to suit my needs. I don't have to strain anymore. Since I switched to digital books I've read in medical offices, hospitals, car dealerships, on public transportation, and on the beach. Before digital books, I had to set time aside to read, which always bothered me because I don't have that much time to spare.

Here's another comment by Franzen those who are unfamiliar with e-books often make:

“Maybe nobody will care about printed books 50 years from now, but I do. When I read a book, I’m handling a specific object in a specific time and place. The fact that when I take the book off the shelf it still says the same thing - that’s reassuring."

People will always care about printed books. I still do. They are just going to care in a different way. I fully understand the feeling of holding a printed book in a specific time and place. However, when I started reading my first e-book on my first basic e-reader, it shocked me at how this feeling remained the same. I didn't feel cheated. I didn't feel as if what I was reading was anything less than if it had been printed in hard copy. And the fact that I didn't have to take it off a shelf reassured me even more, especially when I grasped the magnitude of the fact that I can, without hassles or sitting in traffic, buy any book I want with just one simple click. I like this power as a reader. I like knowing I have this power. I also like knowing I don't have to suffer through the screams and yells of kids running around large brick and mortar bookstores that sell toys and stuffed animals.

Franzen added this:

“Someone worked really hard to make the language just right, just the way they wanted it. They were so sure of it that they printed it in ink, on paper. A screen always feels like we could delete that, change that, move it around. So for a literature-crazed person like me, it’s just not permanent enough.”

Once again, I "get" it. This is something I would have said, with both pride and attitude, five years ago. And at that time, I was actually writing digital books. You can imagine my own personal dilemma. Here I was writing them and getting them published and I didn't know the first thing about how people were reading them. After reading the quotes in this article by Franzen, I have to admit that I do take a small amount of satisfaction in knowing I once felt the same way he feels now. In other words, I can't blame the guy. (But this could also be due to the fact that I love his work so much he can do no wrong.)

I've read both FREEDOM and THE CORRECTIONS by Franzen. I posted about FREEDOM, here, last February...almost a year to the date I'm writing this post. I loved both books. I love the way Franzen writes. I'm not going to get into anything else because this isn't a review. But the one thing I regret is that I didn't read FREEDOM in digital. I would have enjoyed it more because I wouldn't have had to deal with a huge bulky book in my hands. I did, however, buy the digital version for my digital library at a later date. I might not read it again for a long time, but I know it's there and I can whenever I want. I now have three digital reading devices that range from e-ink to a tablet. They are all hooked up together and I now have three digital copies of FREEDOM. I can't take them down from a shelf; all I have to do is press a button.

I have no regrets about joining the digital age of publishing, as a reader or a published author who's been around for a long time. It's only improved the quality of my life. But I would have argued that point to the bitter end five years ago.

2 comments:

Barb said...

I'm nobody of societal importance, but I love e-books. Cheaper then price than print books, and best of all, they take up much less space! I can carry hundreds of books in my hand, and I don't have a house littered with books! I like to read books more than once and so always had LOTS of books siting around.

ryan field said...

I think you speak for most people nowadays, Barb. My sister is a school teacher and she tells me about how schools are all going digtal now. It's fascinating to hear all this.