Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Something Physical Books Can't Do

Debate can be such a wonderful waste of passion.
A couple months ago I discovered something physical books can't do. Yangsze Choo tweeted out that her debut novel, The Ghost Bride, was on sale for two bucks on the Kindle. Immediately I mentally scrolled through every conversation I'd had about the book, and through every person who'd seemed interested in its premise of a posthumous marriage being realized in Fantasy. Then, I started gifting copies to people. Two bucks per copy of a great novel, delivered instantly over thousands of miles, to people I held dear. It was something physical books have never offered.
Books Vs. eBooks is a wretched argument that won't actually sway consumer practices. People who grew up with physical books and enjoy the feel of pages and smell of paper won't find a substitute in e-readers. Meanwhile, kids growing up with tablets won't have the same attachment. Tablets and phones take less space, are more convenient for traveling, and have more functions than my doorstop copy of the Riverside Chaucer. Both forms have appeals, and the appeals differ between readers. Fighting between loyalists of the two forms is worse than futile, a miserable distraction from the love of reading, and of each other.
The afternoon of instantly gifting Ghost Bride was revelatory. I even signed up for a Barnes & Noble account just to gift a price-matched copy to a friend with a Nook. This was a beautiful new function I'd previously only experienced with digital videogames. Why? Because if a copy of State of Decay was 50% off on Steam, yes I'd want it, but I wouldn't buy it for myself. Meanwhile if a friend was going through a bad break-up and loved zombies? Yes, I'd be very likely to gift the game to him. That's the kind of impulse buyer I am. I don't grab the candy bar through the checkout line for myself, and I'm not alone.
It cemented itself into my heart when one friend IM'd me that she'd torn through the book. She was struggling with clinical depression and hadn't read any book to completion in a year. It was a loss for humanity, because until her problems, she was the absolute best kind of reader, enthusiastic to consume, discuss and share, with broad tastes and minimal cynicism. Health took that from her, and she was thousands of miles away, so I could never be there for her the way you'd want to be for a good friend.
And then, after finishing my two-dollar gift, she was sifting through the digital storefront for more things to read. Screw it, pun intended: her love of reading was reKindled.
I'll still browse bookstores. Yet eBooks appeal partially because my friends are global, and the neighborhood we chat in is the internet. Now I could tweet about my Ghost Bride buying kick, only to have Choo herself give me a personal message to relay my friend whose work she'd loved.
This is more exciting than Amazon's Paper White, or new screen tech that will mimic the texture of low grain paper as you swipe. This is a sharable future that appeals to me as not just a customer, nor as a reader, but as a friend. Cynically, it's a great way to get more money out of people like me. And I'll thank you for the privilege.


  1. I do love how easy gifting a book can be. No mailing address. No waiting. Click and it's delivered.

  2. Not only is it easy to gift an eBook, but it's much cheaper than mailing a print book.

  3. Well, exactly. Count me as someone who wants *all* the formats (except for hardcover. Those make my arms go numb.). I love the beauty of a well-designed paper book, I love the thrill of the find in a bookshop... and I love having a couple of novels on the go on my phone. The rest is just details.

  4. Oh, that's sweet. I really liked that book, too. And I missed the two dollar sale.


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