Review: eReaders – The New Frontier?

by Liz

From the beginning of time—or rather since my young self played around with the magical “make-your-own science certificate” computers at the atomic museum—touch screens and I have not gotten along. For some odd reason, the screens do not register my fingertips correctly, so I have never really gotten to experience the great thrill of controlling the whole world with my thumbs. I’ve never really cared for all the touch-screeny things out there (I still carry a cell phone with push-buttons and electronic ringtones straight from ye olde synthesizer), but yesterday I was in the bookstore with dear Christopher. I was in one of my usual spots on the top floor of the Barns and Nobel, sitting shoeless at the corner intersection of the antique collector guides and the “How to Knit your Own Strangely Ruffled Sweaters” manuals. I was perusing a lavishly photographed book of Victorian agate jewelry when Christopher wandered over, beaming with an otherworldly light like Moses. He explained in clippy, ecstatic syllables that he was going downstairs to buy a tablet reader. He then floated downstairs on a cloud of heavenly angels (the escalator) and out of sight.

I was excited. That’s the light way of putting it. In fact, I leapt down the escalator after him and feigned apathy while I secretly vultured his purchase all the way home. This device was the holy grail of literature, a mechanism that would allow access to thousands of works from anywhere in world with a Wi-Fi connection at any time of day. My dream of buying Jane Eyre in the middle of Whataburger at 3am on a Sunday from my private island in Maui could now come true! Instant bookworm gratification at its highest level! After fiddling with his new gadget for hours on end, Christopher was finally forced to put it down and attend a meeting. He placed it across the table from me, off-handedly remarking that he had downloaded some Lovecraft earlier. I nodded politely and saluted him farewell, demurely typing on my laptop until the door locked behind him. Then I pounced!

I turned it on, hacked the password, and tried to contain myself as the home screen came up.

What was to come of this technological leap from the world of print to the electronic prairie of pixels?

I pressed the cover picture of Lovecraft’s works and linked my way to one of his essays. Dots appeared, circling round and round in a jittery conga line. I knew the old HP computers they forced upon us at school had loading screens, but H.P. Lovecraft? Sweet sea-biscuits of Cthulhu!

After that initial shock, the page loaded and I learned three things:

1) They did not fix the problem of the title of the next chapter being at the bottom of the previous one while the first sentence of the article was forced to begin life alone. Why do they still do this? Printing a volume is no longer prohibitively expensive, so there is no need to jam as much wordage onto a page as possible. And this is an e-reader. There is no paper, no ink, no glue, no linen, no physical copy. One PDF file takes over the job of a whole industry from factory, to transit, to sales. The way an e-reader works isn’t a side-by-side format either, but a series of individual pages. Why are they still orphaning the titles?


2) E-book prices have almost no juried price guide. Since e-readers draw the knowledge of the ages from computer files on the great wide web instead of the print shop, technically the text should be much cheaper. Christopher bought his new-fangled e-reader in protest of high textbook prices (mini rant here). He hoped that by purchasing the device, his school-related costs would be dramatically reduced. Instead, he discovered that e-books vary wildly in price. Some books could be bought for the price of their used, printed counterparts or even less. One of his textbooks, however, was going to cost him about $150 if he bought the print copy. Logically, since there is little to no cost to print the book over and over and over and over, the e-book version should be cheaper. WRONG! The e-book version actually cost more than the print version! I understand that royalties must be paid, authors must make money, and the online distributers like to make a little grease off the sales as well, but this stinks to me of money-scented laundering detergent!

And lastly…

3) Great grammatical gorgons! I can read in the dark!

After all these life-changing realizations, I noticed that Lovecraft’s essays sounded nauseatingly similar to my college essays that I wrote five hours before they were due, so I unceremoniously closed the “book,” and went back to playing Angry Birds and shopping online for a print copy of A Book of Precious Stones: The Identification of Gems and Gem Minerals, and an Account of their Scientific, Commercial, Artistic, and Historical Aspects by Julius Wodsika (1909). So far, the only version I can find seems to be an online PDF….