The Canadian postal strike has finally ended; yesterday we rode past a postal truck filled with packages, and today received a phone call at the studio about a package delivery at our apartment. I'd gotten used to not checking the box, actually. Except for the occasional package, most of what we get is either financial, or advertising. With the prevalence and convenience of door-to-door service of other delivery companies, the post has become increasingly irrelevant.
I was thinking of that yesterday, too, as I downloaded the Nook reader for PC, and ordered my first e-book. Yes, I'm still behind the times; I don't have a Kindle or any other kind of hand-held e-book reader but I do read everything else on my laptop, so why not a book? But the real reason was that it's not always easy to get English language books here, either in stores, by mail order, or at my preferred outlet: the library. The Bibliotheque nationale is a fabulous resource, though the majority of their holdings (including the vast majority of their fiction) are in French - it is, after all, the Quebec national library. I can use interlibrary loan to order just about anything, but it takes time and a special trip to the library. I buy some books from a used book stores, and I order some, but shipping is very expensive here, and slow, especially from the U.S.
There are a lot of good reasons why I've been stubborn about printed books, one being that by evening I am tired of looking at a screen of any kind. Another, of course, is that I'm a designer, and excellent typography and page layout matter to me. We said all the same things in the early days of website design, and I'm sure that e-books will eventually have many of the design features we've become used to on the web, and the differences will become increasingly irrelevant. As a publisher, I'm also going to have to bite the e-book bullet. The main reason, though, is that I just love printed books; I like reading that way, I like holding them and turning the physical pages, and I like having them around me. A room without bookshelves seems as bare to me as a mind devoid of literature: but what a telling remark that is! I recognize that these visible symbols are a kind of claim to intellectual status as well as a comfort, and that part of my attachment to printed books has to do with identity and pride.
I don't buy the claims that e-books are a financial advantage: that's only true if you're comparing prices for recently-published books. I found a lot of discrepancies. Yesterday, for instance, I looked at the prices for "Netherland" by Joseph O'Neill from B&N. The e-book was 11.99. paperback, 12.32. Hardcover? 2.99. And both paperback and hardcover were available in the marketplace for 1.99. Is it really worth it to me to pay $9 more for instant gratification? Uh, not exactly. On the other hand, the book I did download, "Nemesis," by Jo Nesbo, was 4.99 for the e-book and 9.03 for the paperback. I have no desire to keep that particular book on my shelf, and it's a good one to read while traveling, so the e-version makes sense. Still, I know when marketing is capitalizing on human impatience and our desire for the latest technology. I don't like being manipulated; the library and used bookstore retain their appeal.
I'm curious about your own experience: do you have an e-book reader or a way to download and read books on your computer? How many books do you download in a month? Have your book purchases gone up as a result? What do you have to say about the advantages or disadvantages of reading this way?