Friday, 24 May 2013

Love in the Time of Digitalia

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It's Friday night and I've had a couple of beers.  My friends have went on to party somewhere else so I'm meandering alone on Ste-Catherine, Montreal's downtown shopping street.  I'm not sure how but I end up at Chapters, the biggest English bookstore in town, but  before long, I'm waiting in line at the cash with 4 books in my arms.  Alcohol and literature are a dangerous mix.
Worst thing is, this is a common occurrence.  Not the drinking, silly, the buying of books!  I'm bored?  Let's buy a book!  I' happy, sad, angry?  Have you thought about buying more books?  Rings a bell?
If you haven't guessed yet, what I'm trying to say is that I love books.  Yes, yes, many of us do, I know,  but when I say I love books I mean more than just "I love reading";  I mean I love books as objects.  The purchase of a new book is a sensory experience.  I caress the spine and weigh the volume. Will I be able to hold it open with one hand only?  I breathe in the scent of ink and paper like a wine connoisseur. 

Ah yes, Penguin, I'd say 2005, excellent year.

My love of books is so strong that although I have a library card, I seldom use it.  I'm a greedy lover.  I want books to be mine.  I want to write in them, get them dirty and dog-ear pages.  I want to be able to pick them up when I feel like it and abandon them for as long as I want. You could say I want nothing less than an abusive relationship. Like little trophies of my well read-mind, I want to line them on the shelves of my cheap Swedish furniture — I may be poor but my intellect is far from it, admire the extent of my culture!  Have I read all those ? Well, of course. Like the stuffed heads of hunters' kills, my books are on display to impress. 

Ok, we get it, I can hear you say.  What about it?
The thing is that in the midst of the digital revolution, this passion seems a little backward. Many of my fellow writers now choose to publish exclusively online; getting involved in the whole distribution process is daunting, not to mention expensive.  Vanity presses are also costly.  So ebooks it is!  The digital format not only offers the writers more independence and flexibility, but it also allows reader to have an easier and quicker access to thousands of books that would never have reached them the traditional way.  It's a win-win, situation, you might say.

Where is the problem then?  Just buy and ereader, you tell me.

Well the problem is that I don't enjoy reading electronic books.  It has nothing to do with the content; it's about the format. I'm aware that trees die for my literary pleasure, yet the thought of reading off something made of the byproduct of fossilized dinosaurs depresses me.  Ebooks are, to me, the equivalent of complete meals in pill form; the content is filling but an important part of the experience is lost.  As a consequence, I find it harder to encourage my writer friends and I lose access to a growing chunk of the emerging literature which will most likely shape the future of the publishing industry.

But there is more... (dun, dun, duuuun!)

As a writer I will eventually face that choice from the other side.  Will I go the traditional way, hoping for an editor to discover me in his slush pile?  Or will I go the e-way? 

In both cases, it's clear that I will have to make a compromise.  To be quite honest, I have already started to read off my tablet.  Just a little bit! This love of books will never change but it's a question of embracing the digital revolution or missing the train.

What about you?  I'd love to hear hear from authors who published the traditional way, the e-way or both.  Did you have to face the same dilemma?  Readers, have you made the switch to ebooks already?  Or are you, like me, stuck in the printed words world?  What kind of compromise have you reached?


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