The Nation's Pulse

E-Books? No Sale

Sometimes the latest technology comes with too many strings attached.

By 10.13.11

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In normal situations embracing the latest technology is a no-brainer. The telephone was an obvious step up from smoke signals and African drums. The personal computer left the typewriter eating dust. But when it comes to the switch from paper books to e-books, I'm far from sold.

Last week I sat down to draw up the requisite list of pros and cons of purchasing an e-book reader. On the pro side was convenience. I can download books instantaneously. For once I can actually purchase a Stephen King book quicker than he can write one.

With a Kindle or a Nook I can download public domain books for free. Want to read John Locke's Of the Conduct of the Understanding? No? Okay. But it's free. Still no?

There is nothing like an e-book for ease and comfort of reading. A few days ago, I cracked open a 900-page hardcover edition of The Gulag Archipelago. The cover was loose. It was difficult to hold. The damn thing was so heavy my forearms kept going numb. Reading that book was like wrestling with a fat woman.

Another thing. I tend to change living quarters about as often as a family of gypsies. All that boxing and lugging around my library is a pain in the sciatica. The thought of simplifying my life by having all my books digitized on one little gizmo the size of birthday card has a definite appeal.

Finally, when the black helicopter guys come to burn my Friedrich Hayek and William F. Buckley e-books, they will have a much harder time of it. Ever try tossing tiny zeros and ones onto a bonfire?

CURIOUSLY, CONVENIENCE ALSO TOPPED my con list.

You see, I am an irresponsible, compulsive book buyer. Sometimes I see a book on Amazon and I think I've just got to have it. It doesn't even matter what the book is. It's just so easy to buy books. In fact, it's too easy. There should be a waiting period for book purchases, sort of like when you want to buy an M-16 from your local gun shop.

Of course, no sooner have I purchased a book than buyer's remorse sets in. What was I thinking when I bought Amanda Knox, My Story? But it's too late. The book is already in the mail. Or in the ether, as the case may be.

With e-books you lose the benefits of a physical home library. If you are like me, you tend to judge people by the books on their book shelves. The advent of e-books means we'll actually have to talk to people before we decide if we really want to talk to them.

Last, but not least, good old-fashioned paper books don't shut down in the middle of a paragraph when you forget to recharge them.

Then, early last week, Amazon made me an offer I couldn't refuse. The company came out with a $79 Kindle. I was sold. Or so I thought.

The first thing I did was check out Amazon's e-book prices. Let's say I wanted to purchase David Brooks' latest bestseller The Social Animal. The Kindle price is $13.99. But what's this? A used hardcover in great condition, plus Amazon's absurdly high shipping is only $12.42. Hmm. Or say I wanted to read Phillip Caputo's A Rumor of War. I could buy a good used paperback, plus shipping, for $4. The Kindle version? $9.99. Even better, I could stroll down to my local hipster used book emporium and head shop and buy a copy for $2.

I could be wrong, but I thought the whole point of e-books was that everyone would save on paper, printing, and mailing costs. To make matters worse, you don't really own your e-books, at least not in the traditional sense that you would own a paper book. If you try to trade, resell, or even give away an e-book, a black helicopter will land on your roof.

As for me, I think I'll stroll down to my local hipster used book emporium and head shop and see if there is anything good on the shelves.

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About the Author
Christopher Orlet writes from St. Louis.