Digitally challenged

I’ve been reading a lot lately. This is partly why I haven’t been writing much on my blog. With my limited evening free time, I’ve been choosing to read more lately than do anything else like writing or knitting.

It’s been hot and humid outside, so when I’m feeling all limp and wilted I just want to stretch out in cool air-conditioned comfort with some good reading material. And the Stieg Larsson Millennium series has been great reading material: mentally engaging, thrilling, sordid, and with a kick-ass female lead.

I had picked up the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, last summer to take on vacation with me. But I never got around to reading it and and it sat on a shelf for many months. Then a couple months ago, the reviews of my friends compelled me to pick up the book and away I went. (Until Lisbeth Salander was introduced in the second chapter, I frankly found it rather a slog. But once she appeared I was hooked.)

Book one of the series went down pretty fast and easy, and I found myself running out to the bookstore one evening (coupon in hand, at least) about an hour before they closed because I had to pick up the second book in the series, The Girl Who Played with Fire. That one went pretty quickly, too, and then I was faced with a real predicament: how to get a copy of book three as quickly as possible, without purchasing it in hardcover. Since book three, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, had only been released in May 2010 that was going to be a challenge.

Of course I checked the library first. Yeah, right. Chicago Public Library may be a very large system and it may be my first choice for books and other media, but it has to serve a population of over 3 million people, and it’s been used pretty heavily since the recession started. The catalog showed every one of the many, many copies on hold or checked out. From previous experience, I knew this meant it would take months to get my hands on the book. B lives in a close suburb, so he checked the suburban library system’s online catalog and saw the same thing.

This desire I have to not purchase books in hardcover is not just me being cheap. As a bibliophile and a collector of books that are truly special to me for one reason or another, the hardcover format is the best hands down. It’s more durable and can withstand quite a bit of knocking around. (Although the hardcover format is no match for Hannah dog’s mighty jaws and high anxiety levels. She easily destroyed a copy of Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver while I was only a few pages into it.) But hardcovers are a pain to lug around on my commute to work and during business travel.

I’ve also been trying to cut down on the amount of Stuff I bring home these days. The massive de-cluttering and purging my friend Adrienne has been doing lately is a big inspiration for me to do the same. I’m slowly but surely getting rid of a lot of the books I’ve collected over the years. I’ll still keep the ones that I like to reread again and again, as well as my knitting books. But most of the others are going to the Half Price Books store where I can recover a little bit of the massive cash outlay in books that are simply sitting in bags and boxes in my basement right now.

So, the day after I finished The Girl Who Played with Fire I packed up a box with some of these books and went off to Half Price Books hoping they may have a copy on hand, even if it would require me putting up with a clunky hard cover. But they didn’t have a copy. (Although I did walk out with $20 in cash from my small box of salable books. Woot!)

Then B came to the rescue: he sent me a copy of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest in ebook format. I don’t know where he got it from, and I don’t think I want to know. I could load this on my iPhone, he told me, and use the iBook ereader with it. Now, I had been intrigued with using my iPhone as an ereader already, and this would be the ultimate test. With such a large book and such a smallish screen, there would be much page turning involved and I wasn’t sure how I’d like that.

What happened is I liked it a lot. I never would have thought that I’d like reading from a screen, but it was comfortable for my eyes (with the great back lighting I was able to read pretty well without my new reading glasses) and the convenience made up for the little usability issues. Overall, the only complaints I had were that it was a bit of a challenge to lay in bed to read since I couldn’t prop the phone up and still see it, and that the iPhone doesn’t allow you to lock the screen in either vertical or horizontal mode, unlike the iPad. (I had to be extra careful when I read in bed at night that I didn’t accidentally engage the rotation of the screen.)

That was a small price to pay for the amazing convenience of being able to read a page here or there, anywhere and anytime. I always have my mobile phone with me and I could pull up a page while I was waiting at the chiropractor’s office, in line at a shop, or while my slow work computer booted up in the morning. I could also read while commuting and not have to add to my daily load of laptop, files, lunch, water, coffee, etc.

So now I find myself wanting to consume more books via my iPhone. Good ‘ol Chicago Public Library does have some compatible ebooks that can be checked out, but the more popular books are still wait listed even in ebook or audiobook download format. I’m sure this must have something to do with licensing, but it seems a bit odd that one has to be waitlisted to download a book from the library website.

I looked up a couple books I’d like to read to see how much they would cost in ereader format and was disappointed to see that they cost just as much as a paper back book. Why? Is it a marketing thing? Is the the cost of printing and paper and shipping books that cheap? Are the bulk of book production costs the non-tangibles like writing, editing, design and marketing? Maybe someone out there knows and can comment.

In the meantime, I’ll just have to make up my mind about whether I want to get on the library wait list or suck it up and pay the $8.99 to get the ebook.

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