Photo by Jamie Moncrief/Copyright

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

eating my words

One of these days I just might learn never to say never. What might finally teach me this valuable lesson? The iPad.

Like most writers, I love books. Not just the stories they contain but the books themselves. Especially hard-bound books. Especially hard-bound books with leather covers and beautiful end-papers. Opening such a book is a never-ending joy. Crisp, clean type on fine paper. The smell as you open the cover, the anticipation of the adventure to be had on those pages. If I've been lucky enough to meet the author and have him or her sign my treasure, it will get a favored forever-spot on the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in my library. Right at eye level among the most well-loved books I own. Right next to The Lord of the Rings.

Beyond being a lover of books, I'm an aspiring author. All my life I have dreamed of holding a book with my name on the cover, of seeing it in a bookstore, of autographing it for friends, of placing it in the most favored spot among those beloved books on my shelves.

For both of these reasons I have said -- vehemently, repeatedly, and publicly -- that I could never picture myself reading a book on a computer. I certainly couldn't picture myself enjoying such an experience.

And then I purchased an iPad.

Mind you, I didn't buy it to read books. I bought it so that I would have a light, portable device to carry with me on business trips for personal email and web-browsing. It's bad enough that I have to lug my weighty work computer on and off planes, schlep it from gate to gate, in and out of taxis, on and off trains, and load it in and out of my bag for security screening. I certainly didn't want to carry my personal computer as well. But an iPad is so light it adds almost nothing to the load, and it can go through screening inside my bag. Security says it isn't a computer. Posh. Is too. But who am I to argue when it saves me one more thing to juggle?

But I digress. My point is that I had plenty of good reasons to want an iPad, and reading books wasn't among them. The folks at Apple are pretty smart, though, and they pre-loaded their free iBooks app with A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh, another of my all-time favorite books. When it was right there on my iPad, how could I not look at it? Imagine my surprise to discover how beautiful that crisp black type looks on the bright white screen, how intense the colors in Ernest Shepard's endearing illustrations. I discovered the bookmark feature, which let me zoom back to where I left off with a tap of the screen. I discovered that even after my husband turned off the light and went to sleep, I could keep reading without straining my eyes or disturbing his rest. I discovered that I could set the type to whatever size my aging eyes demand, and the words re-paginate themselves so that I can read without scrolling, as if the book were custom-printed just for me.

As I discovered these wonders I became curious about what else Apple offered in its iBook store. OO, there's Eat, Pray, Love. And The Help, I've been wanting to read that. And they're only $6 apiece? What a bargain for a current New York Times best-seller. At that price I could buy more books than ever before, support the careers of more authors, try more selections without feeling cheated if I didn't love them all.

I wrestled with my conscience. I had sworn I would never go over to the dark side. But I had that four-day business trip coming up, with layovers in each direction and two two-hour flights each way. What a good test that would be...and no one but the good folks at iTunes and American Express need ever know. My fingers strayed to the "purchase" button. Again. Again. Three books, no extra weight, all for less than I normally would have paid for one.

As I read Eat, Pray, Love, I discovered passage after passage that inspired the writer in me, turns of phrase so perfect and metaphors so apt that I wanted to find them again quickly. I learned that I could bookmark as many pages as I wanted. What a great way to find those passages again. I admitted to myself that I would never have purchased that book or the others at $24.95 or more. And slowly but surely I began to realize that we writers and book-lovers may need to re-think our animosity toward the e-reader.

Here's what the iPad taught me: I'm a reader who loves books and even I don't buy as many of them as I used to. I don't have time to lounge around in bookstores and browse. Shoot, I barely have time to nip over to Amazon and order the must-haves for research on my own novels. Once I order I hate waiting for my books to arrive. I want them now, darn it. But when they do arrive, at least half of what I order I never get to read. My only downtime is when I travel, and I travel too heavy to lug a bunch of recreational reading with me.

e-books solve all of these problems. I can browse online. When I find something I want to read I can get it immediately. I can buy on impulse, which means I buy more. That's great for the authors and publishers. I'm also willing to take more chances and buy more titles because the prices are low, which translates into even more sales. And because I can take the books with me on the road without adding any weight, I'm actually reading more of what I buy. Bottom line, if my experience is even close to typical, e-books are not only good for me as a reader, but they are potentially very good for the publishing industry and its authors.

Do I still want to see my name on the cover of a real, print book? Absolutely. Will I keep buying print books? Without a doubt; I don't think an iPad would hold up very well to the sand and salt of a beach vacation, for example, and you can't get an author's signature on the title page of a virtual book. But the iPad and its iBooks app have finally opened my eyes to the possibilities of e-publishing. I now see that e-publishing offers the opportunity to get a lot more people reading -- and buying -- a lot more books. For all of us who love books, and especially for those of us who write them, it seems to me that this can only be a very good thing.

What do you think?

Having difficulty posting comments? Just choose the Name/URL option, enter your name (first name is sufficient), hit "continue" and then hit "post comment" and your comment will appear. Or make posting even easier by joining the blog as a follower (in the column to the right of this post). I'm glad you're here. Please stand up and be counted!


  1. Hmmm. Good points. Then there's the added functionality of the iPad, which I blogged about here (

    Oh, and BTW, my book is available as an e-book at and Amazon.

  2. Cool, Jacqueline. I want to read "The Reinvention of Edison Thomas" so much. It sounds like such a creative and different story, and it's getting great recognition. Do you know, does either namelos or Amazon work on the iPad? If so, it'll be on my virtual bookshelf tonight!

  3. Bernadette
    I too am an ipad user and what I like is we can get all of the apps for the other bookstores such as Amazon's Kindle, Barnes and Nobles Nook and even the Borders Kobo. So you can shop around beyond the ibook store that sometime I find lacking in the titles I am looking for. Personally I like the ipad and the kindle best but that is just me, because I like that I can read in sepia background or lighten or darkent he page considering where I am reading and how tired my eyes are. The Nook you can set the background to nay color you want in the rainbow and the font and color of font. Though I will admit that I was a Kindle user first but with the ipad I can access all my purchases on my ipad so I lose nothing.

    But like you I bought it for more than just a reader, I was in the market for a MacPro laptop but when i looked at this with all it can do and much less in price i figured my old MAC was good enough for my word processing and all else I could on the ipad plus I had would then have access to all the other readers on my ipad. But I have all my music and my pictures at a snap on the ipad. Plus checking email and doing websearches and i got the 3g model so I can search when I don't have wifi and the cost is reasonable.

    The only thing i wish I could do is word process, though I can use the notpad for notes I would like a way to do word processing when I am on the go so I wouldn't have to take my laptop.

    Like you I still buy book but I love the note taking feature that is found ont he kindle ( which I access on my ipad) so that I can take notes on the nonfiction I read for research. And I don't have to lugging those books around the house to do research I just grab my ipad.

    I am sold on the ipad and am happy to come out of the light to the dark side like you.

  4. Wow, Jody, what great information. I had no idea the iPad could handle all those formats. Sounds like I need to go app shopping, and then I can pick up the Kindle version of Jacqurline's book. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge with me and with everyone who will visit this post. I'm also glad to hear you like your iPad so much. I haven't had mine long, but I'm amazed how quickly and profoundly it has changed my everyday activities.

  5. Oh, and if you want to do word processing on your iPad, download Pages app, which is the Apple word processing software. It can also read and edit Microsoft Word files, and anything you create in it can be read and edited by Word users. It is $9.99 in the apps store. Pair it with a wireless keyboard and you're really in business!

  6. Great blog Bernie! I cannot imagine reading a book without turning the pages.....but you have me thinking about it!

  7. As a condo dweller, I'm learning space is a premium commodity and my reams of books are in danger of creating faux-canyons in my home. And now that Dorchester, my publisher, is going to an ebook first business model, I've been thinking more and more about moving to a reader (which I've heard will be under $100 by Christmas)

    Publishing is standing on the precipice of a paradigm shift. I guess the whole point isn't the medium, it's the stories that are important.

  8. I made the switch to ebooks (Kindle) several years ago, and I love it. It hasn't changed my passion for books, but it does help conserve space and it's so much easier to travel with an ereader than a stack of books.

    An iPad is on my list of things to buy. Next month, I think.

  9. Bernie: I have been an avid Kindle user since late last year for one simple reason -- the e-reader makes reading more convenient. I love being able to carry a mini-library around with me on trips, to be able to browse and shop at the book store, all on the Kindle. And yes, the sizeable fonts are wonderful late at night when these old eyes are tired and no longer able to abide the ridiculously small type faces packed onto the pages of some of these paperbacks. I also still have my favorites library, which includes leather-bound copies of Lord of the Rings, a signed first edition of O-Zone by Paul Theroux and a first edition of the complete works of e.e. cummings. But I digress. I have not yet experienced a book in which photographs are part of the story and I don't really know how that will turn out. But for now, my only real complaint with the e-reader relates to takeoff and landing, when the flight attendant announces that it is turn off all electrical devices!

  10. A first edition e.e. cummings? Oo, that is a treasure, Jim. I'm pea-green with envy. :-)

  11. Emily, I *love* your blog. i'm adding it to my favorite blogs list. Thanks so much for popping in or I might never have found it.

  12. Like you, I thought I would NEVER want an e-reader and, like you, I am eating those words. I would love an iPad, but they're still a bit pricey for me. Since I work from home, there's no way I can justify buying one. Still, I do want an e-reader and hope for a Kindle for my birthday the middle of next month.