Monday, April 18, 2011

On Bossypants and iPad books

"Hello. This is Tina Fey. You are experiencing an eBook. I don't know what that is, but welcome to the eBook." --Tina Fey, Bossypants

I purchased Tina Fey's Bossypants as an "Enhanced eBook" for my iPad. In case you are wondering what an "Enhanced eBook" is, a 30 second audio clip is provided of Fey explaining the concept, which is simply and audio chapter as well as extra pictures (along with an extra dollar!). I have always loved Tina Fey and knew I would purchase her book as soon as soon as I heard of its release. She is smart, her wit is quick and off kilter, and she helped get Obama elected, so what is not to love?
Purchasing Bossypants on an iPad is not something I expected to do, however. As much as I love my iPad, as well as my Oprah-given Kindle, I like books. I like holding them, I like smelling them. If anything, I like their presence. I am the kind of person who can spend hours at a dinner party staring at someone's bookshelf, looking for a connection. With an eBook, that presences is simply not there. I will often hold a book long after I have finished it simply to retain the experience. That is not something I get holding my Kindle, no matter how much it reminds me of who gave it to me. A Kindle turns off. An iPad dies after several hours. The words in a book stay on the page, even if there is no one to read them.
And yet I have had many pleasurable experiences on both of my e-readers. Tom Rachman's The Imperfectionists was a perfect introduction to my iPad. Rachman's novel is a loving ode to a dying art (the newspaper), and reading it I felt that connection I get with my favorite books. I read for those moments when you aren't even aware that you are staring at words on a page, those moments when all else falls away and you are not even aware of you completely consumed, engaged, connected. Reading Rachman's novel on the iPad, I got to that place more than once and realized why E-readers have such an appeal. But you cannot stack an eBook on a shelf, or lend it too a friend, or even photocopy it. You can't smell an eBook or feel its binding. Once the device turned off, the book all but vanishes from your life.
I did not realize how I really felt about this topic until I started not finishing books I had downloaded. I am one of those people who will finish a book against all better judgment. I made it through each murder in 2666. I even read all of Clinton's My Life. But I have turned off at least 4 books on my Kindle/iPad. The reason is simple: the books on these devices are not physically present in my life, cannot sit on the shelf and remind me of my failure, their promise, and therefore they are easier to forget. I would never have made it through page 45 of 2666 on my iPad, but holding that behemoth of a novel, I was forced to finish it, less it taunt me with what I might have missed. Stumbling over it each day kept me going, seeing my progress in something other than a percentage. And when I finished it, I knew that what I read was worth my time, even if I did not enjoy it at the time. My sense of the novel was more than just accomplishment. It was rewarding for as much of what it was as what it wasn't. I would not have reached this stage on my Kindle, that blank mind space I hold so dear. I would have turned it off, out of sight, out of mind...
Which brings me to Tina Fey. She is perfect on my iPad. She is brief, witty, and has as easy going sense about her, which is not to say her writing is weak or light or that her book is a throwaway. In fact, it is anything but. However, it is something I can enjoy without having that presence I hold so dear. She can easily deal with tough subjects like sexism without becoming a treatise, and I can laugh off her list and scripts without needing a highlighter to carry on. In short, she feels right at home on my device.
I will continue to read on my Kindle/iPad, but only those things I am uncertain of, those things I don't feel I will need around (or even need to finish). From day one I have said the iPad is for readers, and that is something I stand by. I could not type this blog on my iPad, nor would I want to do so. But when the new Jennifer Egan comes out, or the latest Zadie Smith is released, don't look for me to be plugged in to read it.

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