NBCC member David Abrams answers Question #4 in our series:
When I sniff the wind blowing from the horizon, I smell plastic and wires. That long-cherished aroma of paper and glue–as nostalgia-inducing as gingerbread and sugar coming from grandmother's Christmas kitchen–is still there, but it's starting to fade.
I doubt we'll ever get to the point where we're framing Chip Kidd book covers like we do Beatles LPs these days, but the fact of the matter is, the e-book revolution is rushing toward us like an avalanche gathering snow rolling downhill. As a reviewer, I can only do what the avalanche experts advise: don't fight the current, try to swim to the top, and keep my elbow crooked in front of my face so I can breathe when everything has settled to a stop.
I also keep in mind that this is an adaptive and evolving technology. There's little doubt that in 10, 15 or 20 years we'll be looking back at Kindles, Nooks, iPads and Kobos in much the same way we do the triceratops and the Sony Walkman: it sure was cute for a brief period in history, wasn't it? Who knows how books will be delivered to us in the future. Maybe they'll be downloaded into chips on our fingertips, which we'll then insert into our nostrils to be plugged directly into our brains.
You laugh, but honestly, 15 years ago, could you have imagined holding Balzac's entire “La Comedie Humaine” in the palm of your hand (not to mention the complete canons of Dickens, Proust and Dean Koontz)? Personally, I'm coming late to the e-reader party; I only bought my first device (a Kindle) on July 5 of this year. I downloaded Justin Cronin's “The Passage” and started reading it as my wife drove us home from the store. All my resistance and skepticism to electronic books faded like gingerbread perfume as I quickly adapted to, and fell in love with, turning pages by thumbing buttons.
Within a week, I was getting my first galley from a publisher: Graywolf e-mailed me Benjamin Percy's “The Wilding” and I was reading the first few pages within minutes. No more waiting around for 11 a.m. FedEx deliveries; I could have instant ARC gratification!
Since then, I've received other advance copies, e-mailed to me by publishers. The books come to me as PDFs, and while the format is still unwieldy and unfriendly to the Kindle, I feel it's a small price to pay for the lightning-fast delivery (not to mention the reduction in printing costs and greenhouse gases).
Sure, it has a few drawbacks. Primarily the fact that most publishers are still relying on the tried and true soft-cover ARCs. I'm surprised they're not pushing the new e-format on reviewers with more insistence. Why aren't they marching in parades, carrying banners with boldly painted letters: “Take a Byte out of Books!” and “Paper is SO Yesterday!”?
Another disadvantage: while I'm able to type notes into the Kindle and highlight certain passages, I'll nonetheless miss the tactile experience of pen-scribbling in my review copies–the margins of which often resemble the backs of tatooed carnival sideshow freaks. Since I'm still so new to the game, I haven't had the experience of amplified or enhanced e-books, but I'm willing to try. I can easily see how authors can start recording something similar to DVD extras, adding other types of media designed to enhance the reading experience.
While I might initially object to the distraction of video clips in the middle of fiction narrative, I have to remind myself of how many times I've been pulled out of “Bleak House” or “Nicholas Nickleby” by the marvelous illustrations of Hablot Browne (aka “Phiz”). Perhaps video is the new engraving. Given my newfound enjoyment of e-books on the Kindle, I'm more than open to the possibility of reading e-only books. As the world (according to Thomas L. Friedman) continues to flatten, this will inevitably mean staying open to the occasional self-published book. But I'm okay with that. I'll just continue to apply the same standard I do to those “old-fashioned” books that smell like Grandma's kitchen: it's the content that matters, not the means of delivery.