I am a man of impulses and impulsive habits. So when I looked at my bank balance for the fortnight and discovered it was substantially more than I was expecting, I decided to do what I had been thinking of doing for a couple of months prior and purchase what is being loosely termed an e-reader.
If you are even only half of my present age, chances are that you grew up with and spent the lion’s share of your schooling reading books that were printed on paper and bound with covers of cardboard covered with cloth, heavy paper, or even occasionally leather. You have probably read books with covers of thick paper or paperboard covers. Until about two days ago, that was how I read them too.
But the thing is, my eyesight is failing me to an ever-increasing degree. Although that in itself is not distressing me as yet, I can no longer ignore the fact that when I attempt to read most books, something in my head simply makes it a matter of time before I have to put the thing down because my focus is waning. And this is speaking as someone whose visual problem is a loss of long-distance focus, not short. You see, the makers of printed paper books have also been resorting to increasingly detrimental means to keep their printing costs down, even as the prices of mass-market paperbacks is rising in a lot of markets. In Australia for example, the paperback edition of the new Sookie Stackhouse novel, Deadlocked, is 24.99 dollars. Given that the same amount of money can buy me at least one compact disc of music or even two Blu-ray Discs if I go to the bargain bin (I have found some awesome things there before), this pricing is only likely to make me think twice. Or rather about fifty times, because as much as I enjoyed Dead Until Dark, there is something about reading the words “you are scared your [whatever] has autism” coming out of Sookie Stackhouse’s mouth that just makes me shudder all over. Are you hearing me, Charlaine?
Now, just between you and I, I heard from multiple sources that electronic books can be downloaded from the web for free and transferred to these devices. From an author’s perspective, of course, this is a nightmare. But since Queensland is not interested in admitting me into its society as anything other than a struggling disability pensioner who frequently has to beg or borrow to get anything that is not “essential”, that means I have to think like a reader until such time as the publishing industry ever deigns to let me have a go at getting my work into print. And that means getting as much material as I can as cheaply or freely as I can. There is another element to this that I will cover in due course.
Now, I have heaped shit on the local branch of the retailer known as JB Hi-Fi a few times in the past, based on my experiences with some of the sales staff. But as with all things of this ilk, it is a matter of who you get and whether they are having their best day. So after dealing with one of the good salesfolk at JB Hi-Fi and making a slight haggle, I managed to walk away with a Sony PRS-T1. Now, as with any new toy, I am still coming to grips with the basics and learning how to make the best use of the thing, but I also did a lot of queries concerning where to obtain books for the device, how much to expect to pay, and any other things I needed to know. But the other element I mentioned a little while ago is that when I looked for titles that I had a certain interest in, the Deadlocked novel being the best example, I found something truly horrifying. Namely, the price of the “e” version of the book is exactly the same as the paper and ink version. Now, in order to understand why that horrifies me, it is important to note that e-readers presently only display in monochrome. So any funky cover art or in-book illustrations basically look like something someone vomited out on a dot matrix printer when rendered on an e-reader. Whilst I was disinclined to pay twenty-five bucks for a novel I was only half-sure I wanted to read anyway, I sure as hell was not going to pay out the same amount for a monochromatic text-file-like version. So putting aside my curiosity to read another chapter in the life of Sookie Stackhouse aside for the time being, I instead went and searched for pages containing free e-books. And the main motivator I had for purchasing an e-book came up in short order.
I have only read one other H.G. Wells novel in my lifetime, that being The War Of The Worlds. Anyone who knows me from Adam, however, knows that I am a major, major fan of such authors and screenwriters as Robert Anson Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, and Edward Neumeier. And one man who can be credited with heavily influencing the writings of their respective generations is none other than H.G. Wells. If my work ever were to make it into print and I received the chance to meet Neumeier, I expect it would be to me something like Heinlein felt when he got to meet Wells. But I digress. In the electronic representation of H.G. Wells‘ The Time Machine that I downloaded, the page count was 64. It is a short novel, one can be translated into a two-hour feature film with space to spare, but it was not until I read it on this e-reader that I realised just how detrimental ink and paper had become to my attempts or desires to read.
I was able to read at what jokers in the education system call an adult level when I was three years old. But as my reading ability grew and I grew, the education system spectacularly failed to keep pace with me. By the time I was desiring to read things like The Lord Of The Rings, all but a half-dozen of my peers were still stuck in the land of books with twelve words to a page. And the fact that I would rather shove a maths textbook up my arse one page at a time than do multiple four-number-group multiplications either went unnoticed or so wounded the egos of the teachers that they would do literally anything to countermand it. In years gone by, I had even begun to think of this uncanny ability to read about anything that was put in front of my face (so long as it was in English) was a curse. At one point, an attempt to read a novel by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (the latter of which strikes me as a monumental asshole) convinced me that I did not want to read anymore. If this reading abilty was a gift from “god”, I felt compelled to tell the born-agains next door, then can I please have an appointment with him so I can shove this gift up his arse?
But as I sat down and read a well-written, timeless classic that explores the nature of Humanity in a manner that I had only experienced from similarly brilliant authors like Heinlein, I realised something. I did not hate the gift I had to read things with such ease that the words tended to go into one ear and out of the other. No. I hated the manner in which I was being bullied about this ability. I recall one conversation I even had with my male parent about how I would attempt to read a text, only to be utterly unable to remember all but a small passage of detail within hours. This, he told me in that tone that communicates to a person that they are lower than shit and should be beaten down for being different, was just me being lazy and stupid. So I terminated the conversation with him and left, as I often did. Now I have basically terminated every conversation I will have with him forevermore and left his life to the extent that if he suddenly finds himself in need of a bone marrow transplant, he had better pray that I am not the only match that the doctors can find. But anyway, as I read The Time Machine, I was not only engrossed by the lucidity of Wells‘ musings about the inevitable results of the class system that has been dominating our society since the industrial revolution, I was also amazed at how easy I found it to read and absorb the text in spite of my multitasking propensity (even as I write this now, I am checking windows in World Of Warcraft, transferring files from my camera, following downloads in a torrent program, and several other things). And here is the biggest rub. The main reason I bought the e-reader in the first place, not because it is the hip, nooooow thing to do, but because I can change the size of the text on the screen as it pleases me. After many attempts to read books where the print has been placed on the screen too small, errors in replication have caused parts of the text to be smeared out, or even both in a lot of cases, being able to change the size of the text so that letters are about as tall as my smallest fingernail is in height makes an enormous difference in readability terms.
Is it all fun and games? Well, no. The availability of books is somewhat like ink and paper books. Trying to find any of Heinlein‘s work that I have yet to read, such as Podkayne Of Mars or Have Spacesuit, Will Travel, to name the two at the top of my present list, is like trying to find things in my pockets. I am still having trouble connecting the reader to my computer in order to transfer books wirelessly, too. I do not like the manner in which devices interpret being plugged into a computer via USB as a call to recharge, especially given the problems I have at times with getting USB connections to stay connected. If I want to charge up a device, I should be able to specifically tell it that I am plugging in because I want to recharge it. (Are you hearing me, electronics manufacturers?) Being unable to adjust the amount of time the reader sits idle before going into “sleep mode” is also a bit annoying, too, but I suspect I have just not found that option as yet. And whilst it is environmentally conscious to put the instruction manual on the reader as an e-book, it is not exactly usability conscious. But if you like to read things for leisure, feel you have accessibility problems (sight going, text too small, probably both), and are looking for a solution to those problems, an e-reader may well be the way to go. Do I recommend the model I bought, the Sony PRS-T1? Well, unless you want to go for a higher-spec (as of this writing on June 10, 2012) model with more short-term memory, storage space, capacity for more storage space, and so forth, then knock yourself out.
Is it the whole “dramatic change to everything” that the marketroids are making out? No. But if the marketroids can stop having orgasms over everything they come up with for long enough to let the engineers do their job of fixing operational shortcomings, it might well be. And if you have yourself an e-reader, and want to either use it to read the works of Wells or the pieces of shit that I wrote, then knock yourself out (although you will have to explain to me how to reformat the works I have posted in order to make them compatible with your e-reader, sadly).