Stephen King is selling his new novel, The Plant, on the Internet. You can pay him for the right to download the latest installment and sit right there in front of your computer, in the comfort of your own home, and read it. I think this is a pretty cool idea. It’s a creative use of the Internet, and a pretty interesting new business model. I wish him well in the venture, but you know what? I’ll never buy a copy. Nothing against Mr. King, it’s just that I have this little problem...
I love books. I enjoy reading, but I love books. My house is full of them; in fact, I have more bookcases than any other kind of furniture. Every flat surface has at least one book lying on it, and my nightstand usually has several.
I have books that I’ve read so many times that the bindings are cracked and the pages are falling out. I have shiny new books whose bright white pages have yet to receive their first coffee stain or fingerprint. I have books that are older than I am; owned by others long before me. They’re yellowed and parched, and the whole room smells like an old library when you open them.
I give books to people as gifts, I love to receive books as gifts, and you know, I think if my house were burning and my dogs were safely outside, I’d probably run back in for a couple of the books that I own. Despite the advice of elementary school teachers the world over, I’ve most definitely bought a book for its cover(and been both pleased and disappointed). I've just got this thing for books.
As much as I like books, I have to admit to having some oddly conflicting beliefs regarding the way they should be treated. On one hand, I think that books should be used. After all, a book without a reader is worthless. A book should be carried with you; always ready when a snippet of free time presents itself. It should be read on planes, enjoyed by a roaring campfire, moved from room to room throughout the house, taken on vacation, carried in your briefcase.
Interesting passages should be marked, and if a particular page strikes a chord with you when you read it, well then dog-ear that page so you can refer to it quickly in the future. Use the book. Live with it. And when you’re done, pass it along to someone else who might appreciate all that it has to offer.
On the other hand, a book is a kind of gift. It can bring questions, answers, stories and ideas into your life. It can take you places you've never been. It's the fruit of someones labor; often a labor of love. As such, it deserves some respect. You should treasure a book, and not abuse it.
I have several books at home that frankly, are works of art. Gorgeous leather-bound editions with fine paper pages and gilded edges. They’re beautiful to look at and a joy to hold. The leather warms to the touch as you hold it, and each satiny page turns smoothly and lies perfectly against the next. A book like this should be handled delicately and treated with care.
I guess my point is that, in either case, there’s much more to a book than just the words it holds. It is a distinctly physical thing, and it’s that physical connection that I enjoy. I’ll admit that there have been times when I’ve finished a really good book, closed the cover, and just sat there, holding it in my hands. There’s a kind of bonding that occurs when a book really affects you. I have friends who tell me that after finishing a really good book, they’ve actually hugged it. Of course there’s no way you’ll get me to admit to doing that.
I guess I just don’t see myself bonding like that to a computer. An e-book may be practical and cost effective, but it’s so much less personal; cold even. No one ever says "I think I'm going to stay home and curl up with my laptop..". It's just not the same.
I love a good webzine, and for articles and smaller pieces the computer is great, but it's a poor replacement for a book. A book invites me into its world, carries me places, and touches me. I want to do the same for it.
Thanks Mr. King, but no thanks. I like to read, but I love books.
See that job title? Check it out: "Spy". How cool is that? I know, you're probably wondering what it means to be a spy for an international organization like Intrepid Media, huh? Well I'd love to tell you, but I can't. It's all part of the spy game, baby.
ABOUT ROGER STRIFFLER
more about roger striffler
IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
michelle von euw
9.27.00 @ 11:07a
Roger I completely agree with you! The thought of downloading a book onto my palm pilot makes me shudder (even though it would be nice to have some use for the damn machine).
9.27.00 @ 12:30p
I haven't read The Plant yet, but I did download King's first online book(let), Riding the Bullet. I enjoyed the story quite a bit (I generally enjoy most of King's work), but I really missed being able to take it with me to another part of the house, or even out of the house.
For me, part of the enjoyment of reading a book is the environment in which I read it. Reading a scary book on a 15" computer screen is somewhat akin to performing Shakespeare in a fluorescent-lit school cafeteria - it really detracts from the mood that the story is trying to convey.
But, if they can perfect that E-Book dealie, I am so there.
9.28.00 @ 3:09p
Negroponte talked about this topic years ago... In his book (Being Digital), he also put focus on the interface for the newspaper: sitting on the couch, feet in slippers, cup of coffee at your side, reading the Sunday paper; getting the "human interest" stuff in addition to the stuff you care about. I used to agree with that 100%, but now I read the New York Times on the web and I have read Jael's novel online (no trees were harmed ...). The interface isn't quite there yet, but it's getting better. I've got a laptop that makes it mobile, and Acrobat which makes it suck less than HTML. I can't see reading a book on my Palm, but I certainly use Avantgo to read biz and tech articles when I travel.
9.28.00 @ 3:21p
Roger, you distinguish different types of books and different reasons for treating them in a special way. I submit that this can be extended, with some books which are suitable for online use. I have several tech books in bound and .pdf formats which I love to "use" with Acrobat. Why? Because I can use Acrobat's "search" feature more quickly than I can use the Index.
In addition to technical books, I often buy books which are my "30,000 feet" reading. I am highly unlikely to read these more than once, and these are typically bought as used paperbacks which I sell back or donate to Goodwill when I have read them. I would gladly read these in some electronic format, were my laptop's monitor just a little easier on my eyes.
On the other hand, I have several favorite authors whose books I like to keep handy so I can read them over and over again, or give a copy to a friend so they can get the same pleasure.
I love reading, and I love books... But some books are j
9.28.00 @ 3:22p
I love reading, and I love books... But some books are just candy to get me from point A to point B, and these I would read whether they fit in my back pocket, on my hard drive, or in my briefcase.
9.29.00 @ 6:02p
I imagine the monks of yesteryear had similar objections when those silly Germans from Heidelberg started mucking up the water with their automated printing process! I love books but I hate my computer (more to the point, it hates me) so my preference is obvious. Nice job, by the way… I can't wait to cuddle up with YOUR first book!
9.30.00 @ 10:31a
Ok, I agree - there are definitely things I read which are fine electronically - tech and reference books (the search mechanism is great) and news/magazine articles. I guess I'm thinking more along the lines of novels, philosphy books...things that I will relate to on a more personal level.
BTW, I'm incredibly jealous that you got to read Jael's novel, and I'd jump at a chance to read it on-line or in any format, but I'm guessing, based on her other writings, that at some point I'll want a bound copy.
10.2.00 @ 9:13a
Roger, you're so sweet. I'm still surprised Travis managed to get through Torch onscreen; I'm with Roger on the whole personal-connection-better-on-paper school of thought. I also used to send around my novels to any friend who asked to read them but have closed the lid on that Pandora's box thanks to the fine line between soft copy distribution and e-publishing proper, and I don't want my agent to open a can of whup-ass on me for passing around these things for free.
And when my books start coming out the old-fashioned way, Roger, I can autograph them for you, and everyone else. I want the satisfaction of signing that title page, and I want it bad.
10.3.00 @ 12:36p
"novels" - plural? As in you have more than one? Ooh, now I really am impressed. I thought you were just one up on me :o) I really can't wait to see any one of them in print - I think a lot of us will be almost as thrilled as you are.
10.3.00 @ 5:38p
You can really feel the love on this board! Yes, I have several novels. They live quite comfortably in my drawers. No, wait, that doesn't sound right somehow...
10.4.00 @ 9:22a
Along with the family of 'possums and that cat who keeps coming back...