The Joy of Books

There’s a video going around about books:

This is a beautiful video. It uses vibrant colors and the physicality of books to interact with the music (which sounds remarkably like the magical Harry Potter soundtrack), and it’s even cooler because it uses real books in a real bookstore. But to me, this is not a video about the joy of books, but the beauty of physical books.

Look at the comments on the video, and you will quickly see one of the reasons it was made. It is a reaction to ebooks, an artistic argument in support of the physical book. That idea taps into a growing movement of resistance against ebooks. I read an article recently (that now I can’t find) saying that for the first time in years, more than 50% of the people polled said they will not buy ebooks in the next year. As the Kindle and Nook grow more popular, the die-hard physical book protectors are standing up and saying no. Continue reading

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Kindle-The Great Equalizer

After getting my Kindle for Christmas, I have been reading as much as I can on it. It’s great for all the reasons everyone has spouted – it’s lightweight, it’s easy to read, it holds a lot of books, it’s easy to buy new books, etc. However, what I think is great about it is that it acts as an equalizer so that all books are created equal, except for the actual writing.

First of all, there is the cover issue. As discussed in my last post, we really do judge books by their covers, even if we don’t mean to. On the Kindle, covers don’t really exist. Sure, when you’re surfing Amazon.com for a book, you see the cover, and you can opt to look at the cover on the Kindle once you’ve bought it, but books are displayed by their titles, not their covers, and if you simply click to read it, you skip right over the cover. In fact, I recently saw for the first time the cover of a book I had read on my Kindle, and I thought, “I would never want to read that!”

Second, there is the length issue. Kindle only recently rolled out the option to see page numbers, but overall you don’t really know how long your books are on the Kindle. You can see how far you are in percent, but you can’t see whether it’s a hundred pages or a thousand pages, and you can see a general line that is supposed to represent length, but it is a very inaccurate estimate. This can sometimes be a hindrance, such as when I got the books for my Dickens class and I didn’t realize how long they would take me to read because  all that showed me how long they were was a line. But at the same time, it can be a blessing. Some books take forever to read because you can feel those 900 pages left for you to read in your hand. On the Kindle, a book is a book and you just read.

Third, there’s the actual text itself. Some people judge a book by how large the text is, and on a Kindle there is no need to do that since you can change the size. But more important to me is the style of the text. Different print books use different fonts, and each font can affect the way you read a book. On a Kindle, there is only one font. Every book looks exactly the same as the next book, even if they are completely different genres. As You Like It looks the same as David Copperfield which looks the same as The Bean Tree. No longer can the font shape your reading experience.

All these factors add up to one effect: on the Kindle, a book is a book and you can only judge it by its writing. I download unpublished manuscripts onto my Kindle and read them between Dickens assignments, and they look exactly the same. The only way I can tell them apart is that Dickens’s plots are better planned out. The Kindle, and other e-readers of course, lets me judge based on merit alone.

Point of View

This quarter I’m taking a class on Dickens, and the first book we are reading is David Copperfield. I’d heard of this book, of course, and had some vague idea that it was about a little boy and how he grew up. I also knew there was a magician called David Copperfield, but I was pretty sure that wasn’t related. All the other Dickens books I’ve read have been in third person, so when I opened* David Copperfield, I was almost shocked to see it in first person.

A quick Wikipedia search tells me this isn’t Dickens’ only book to do this, but I still found it a wonderfully pleasant surprise. Instead of getting the somewhat removed, observant narrator who always has a comment up his sleeve, I got a narrator who is so much in the moment that it’s hard to know whether his version is really what happened. It sucked me right into the book.

The reason I mention this is that oftentimes writers struggle with choosing whether to write in first or third person (most people don’t consider second person). Not many modern writers assume the type of third person I’m accustomed to from Dickens, but first person can still offer more of a connection with, and more of an insight to, a character than third person, especially if that character is the focus of the story (as in, the title character) or has a particularly interesting viewpoint (as in, a child’s).

*I say opened somewhat metaphorically because I am reading my Dickens books on my new Kindle, which is wonderful, and I recommend it to everyone. It’s especially nice carrying to class instead of a thick hardcopy of David Copperfield.