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.

Monday, February 9, 2015

You Will Never Be My Friend (Request)

I get a lot of random Friend Requests on Goodreads. I'm a Librarian, and I have a few lightning rod reviews, so people find me. Generally I'll accept because I love reading reviews from new perspectives, or of niches of prose that I'm not exposed to. I've got friends who gobble classics, manga, memoir, and Epic Fantasy, helping point me to what I might have missed, or challenge my own prejudices.

Sometimes, though, I cross someone like the guy who friended me last week. His name is withheld because he's got enough anger in his life.
Right around when I accepted, he posted a tirade review against Stephen King's The Stand. I love The Stand; it's a landmark achievement in Epic Urban Fantasy. "M-O-O-N" is a reference I keep going back to, and the uncut edition's epilogue is intensely unnerving. This fellow hated the pacing, the unbelievable plot elements, and mostly, the act of being alive while reading it. It was unfortunate in its bile and lacking the perspective-challenging insight that I need out of a negative review. Still, not a sin.
Then he posted a review ripping apart Andy Weir's The Martian. I'd just read that, too, and was curious for his dissent, but more than half his review was quoting people who'd liked it and questioning how they could have read the same book. His argument that "funny isn't a personality" deeply bothered me, as I found the narrator's humor incredibly refreshing (I've slightly misquoted so he can't be google-stalked).
Yesterday he posted a 1-star review of Hamlet
Now look: Hamlet is the only Shakespeare I unequivocally enjoy. I dislike plenty of popular and important works. You can't be a writer without having taste clash.

But to have hated The Stand, The Martian, and Hamlet all in such a short period of time was alarming. That's a wide range of promising fiction to hate.
When I checked his profile, I found he hadn't given any books more than two stars so far this year. My knee-jerk response was to worry he had some psychological problems.

Then I saw he'd self-published two books of his own. He was an author on Goodreads there, at least in part, to promote his own work.
Sometimes, unfriending is the kindest recourse.
Counter est. March 2, 2008