Jonathan Franzen, author and vaunted protector of the written word, has taken the side of paper in the paper-LCD wars. Fearing that no book will remain pristine when an author (or, god forbid, some authoritarian entity) can go back to edit it, and admiring traditional text-on-paper technology, he fears the e-future and the fading of traditional books.

This is similar to the crowing of people who feared that talkies would ruin movies, or that color film was going to destroy the aesthetics of filmmaking altogether. Books aren’t going anywhere, and I have some (admittedly evolving) opinions about electronic books that speak to their superiority in certain areas.

There are, of course, people who write words and words only. Authors who are brilliant with narrative, poets who weave a trail of emotions capable of elevating or breaking our hearts with a pen stroke. (And here I must note that pens are outdated technology too; I doubt that Franzen writes with a quill and inkwell on parchment.)

Me? I love reading as an act, and the books that leave me quivering with wonder are akin to sorcery, be it high scholarship and history, or a flight of fantastical lore from a time that never existed. Either way, my experience is the same: engaged.

But there are also books that suffer the constraints of words alone; books which, for whatever reason, seem to break the bonds of language and struggle for a larger telling; authors who have chosen to throw out conventional storytelling and reach for something different.

The first electronic books were for children–and to date, they remain the most inventive. It comes as no surprise that Alice in Wonderland was made into an ebook commercial because it speaks to the wonder of merging narrative with imagery: playful, surreal, joyful, slightly mysterious, dark, and edgy. It has all the elements that can make any book—electronic or paper—magical.

 

 

But is this the only kind of book that can rise in dimension with the advent of new technology?

Al Gore’s ebook Our Choice is, for example, held up as a bellwether of possibility: it shows what the ebook could be. But since it is, at its root, an educational tool, it flees from fantasy. It may have the whiz-bang of three-dimensional gizmos and embedded video streams playing out the tragedy of a superheated planet, but it relies on fact, not art, to relay the message.

 

 

But there are other books that I imagine could play out quite naturally in this new medium, including Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, illustrated lavishly and insanely by Ralph Steadman. If Thompson could have Steadman’s illustrations modified to give an even deeper sense of his deranged trip to Vegas, would he? After all, Thompson and Depp became fast friends during the filming of Terry Gilliam’s adaptation; he certainly didn’t shun the thought that the book could be made into a film. Who’s to say if he would’ve embraced the idea that Steadman could make the novel more dimensional still by adding animated visual elements to his dark and twisted tale?

 

 

Mira Bartok, a children’s author and illustrator, was shortchanged in her memoir, The Memory Palace. What should have been a full-color masterpiece is instead a book that has her breathtaking full color paintings playing second-fiddle in pared-down grayscale. I flipped through it recently in a brick-and-mortar store, looking for inspiration for my own memoir, but what I found instead was the publisher’s lack of courage or funding. And sadly, Bartok’s ebook suffered the same fate: what could have broken open the idea of “book” was instead a virtual facsimile of the paper version, a great failure of imagination.  We are able to read in words the story of the Bartok’s life both with and without her mentally ill mother, but we miss the opportunity to experience it in full concert with her art.

 

 

The Griffin and Sabine series is another logical choice for the electronic medium; Franzen would be a fool to think that Nick Bantok wouldn’t want to change it for a new audience, because the technology may offer even greater access to his original vision than his already-inventive paper version.

 

 

And my favorite paperback is a richly illustrated, ornately designed collection called The Bedside Book of Birds, edited by Graeme Gibson, a.k.a. Mr. Margaret Atwood. With full-color images on every page, and toothy paper that feels lovely under my fingers, it’s a paperback that costs $35. Do I think it’s worth $35? Yes. Do I think most people will spend $35 on a paperback book about birds, even with masterful design and full-color illustrations? Nope.

 

 

But could Graeme Gibson revise it for an electronic audience? The answer is, again, a resounding yes. It would be a great electronic offering on an aesthetic level, and it could reach a new audience that missed it the first time around, in its paper release. What stingy guardian of our culture and the written word wouldn’t want that for his fellow authors?

The answer would appear to be Franzen, who fears, among other things, endless revision in the electronic era. But this is like fearing the common cold: pointless. No less than the Bible has been subject to countless revisions over thousands of years.  And every time a book is translated from one language to another it undergoes revision. Aldous Huxley updated Brave New World for its 25th Anniversary by critiquing what was right and what was wrong in his classic dystopian tale.

It happens.

And Jonathan Franzen, amateur ornithologist, is opposed, chirping his opinion from a very privileged perch in the literary tree.  (To use the current parlance:  he’s a 1-percenter.)  Having already enjoyed the kinds of plaudits and financial rewards that few writers, even excellent writers, ever have the good fortune to attain, he now bashes the ebook as a threat to our cultural survival.  Whether he knows it or not, his statements demean a great many people.  (The 99 percent?)  Fact is, most writers have to scramble into any hole and corner to find some kind of readership—and this includes the de trop ebook publication.

Franzen is, in the end, being a snob.

Clearly he doesn’t like ebooks.  That’s fine.  To each his own. If he hates them so much, he can refuse to have his titles published in electronic format.  He can remain in his perch and continue to naysay the rest of us as the mindless destroyers of his precious culture.  He can restrict himself and his holy words to the printed page alone.

But I’m guessing he’ll cash the check either way.

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QUENBY MOONE used to be a graphic designer who wrote once in a while. After her father came down with a touch of Stage IV prostate cancer, she became a writer who did graphic design once in a while.

She's written a book called Living in Twilight (no relation to vampires - unless dying of cancer is a part of Edward's story) in which her design skills came in handy, and includes some of her stories featured on The Nervous Breakdown.

40 responses to “Franzen Battles the Electronic Future”

  1. Irene Zion says:

    Quenby,
    Great piece. I’m on my fifth (!) kindle now, so I was already convinced, but seeing Alice in Wonderland on the iPad really makes me want one!

    • Jeffro says:

      Isn’t the Kindle wonderful? My wife got me the Kindle Touch for Christmas. I had to admit, when the e-reader first came out I was not sold; actually I scoffed. I was an I-love-the-printed-word/give-me-my-paperback type person. My personal feelings have changed. If you love books, you’ll love the Kindle. I read faster. I read longer. The ability to bump up the font size has seriously reduced my eye strain.

      My only qualm and one that will remain (probably for at least the next 10 years) is the pricing. E-books, most of them, are overpriced. Way overpriced. We, the consumer, are paying prices ($9.99 – $12.99 for most new books) as if they are going to a printing press to be fixed with a 4/4 80# gloss cover and 300 pages of 35# groundwood. Publishers need to ease the price a few bucks and they’ll sell more. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve passed on because I simply refuse to shell out that much for an e-book, which is why, right now, I’m reading a nice free book from the public domain: Mark Twain’s steamboat memoir Life on the Mississippi — a fantastic read.

      • Irene Zion says:

        Hey, Pillow,
        when I travelled in the pre-kindle days, I would take a designated collapsable suitcase with only books in it. Then as I read them, I’d shed them in hotels and airports, etc. At the end I’d just smoosh the suitcase up and pack it in my clothes suitcase. Now I just bring my kindle and I have all the books I’ll ever need on a trip. If I need more, I just download one. I’ve downloaded books all over the world, where you would never expect it were possible. I still read paper books, but mostly I read on kindle.

        • Jeffro says:

          It’s so nice. I’m the same way. Although I’ll probably bring a paperback or two with me to the beach this year (don’t want to get sand and grit on the screen), it’s wonderful, on casual trips, to just plop the streamlined Kindle into my bag and lessen the weight. I read David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest last year on a trip, and man oh man, did that bad boy take up some room. It’s a good 1100 pages and about as big as a pair of women’s clogs — not that I wear women’s clogs. Really. I don’t.

          By the way, long time, no talk. I hope you’re doing well.

      • J.E. Fishman says:

        Shameless plug alert! You can by my ebook for a limited time for just 99 cents, Jeff.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      Wow! FIVE! I’m reluctant to embrace the electronic book for myself, because I just have a hard time holding the bulkiness of the iPad as I read. It needs to be slightly smaller–the size of a paperback! and then I’m sold. Not in toto, but in part.

      Franzen is out of his freaking mind. As to the aesthetics of ebooks, it offers so much to weirdos who don’t quite fit into the two dimensions of print. As a designer who loves the aesthetics of ephemera and agedness, you’d think I would be opposed to the ebook r/evolution, but the truth is, much of what I’ve designed can look as (or more) impressive on a screen than to hold it in your hand. I love both. I touch paper as a dimension of a work, like the illustrations or the words, which is why I love the Bedside Book of Birds so much: the publishers and designers even chose spectacular paper. But it can live on in an electronic device. It can, and be beautiful. Maybe not the same–but nothing is. Television adaptations of films, books into movies, paintings as illustrations in books.

      I hope your fifth Kindle lasts you as long as you need it before you get the very sexy iPad. Thanks, Irene!

      • Irene Zion says:

        Quenby, I won’t be reading regular books on an iPad. It’s too big for carrying around. The kindle touch (that Pillow talked about already,) is teeney tiny and really light and has a battery which keeps a charge for a month with the wifi off, which is how it usually is. It’s a rare purse that can’t hold it easily and, as Pillow mentioned already, you can change the font easily for when your eyes get tired but you still want to read. I rarely even get on a line where I don’t pull it out and read while waiting so I don’t get annoyed at slowpokes at the subway or the bank anymore.

  2. Jeffro says:

    While it is perfectly fine to rail against certain technology, Franzen’s comments (ebooks are ‘not for serious readers . . . damaging to society’) are just plain ignorant. As I mentioned above in my reply to Irene, my wife bought me a Kindle Touch for Christmas. I’ve read two full-length books since that time (Krakauer’s Into Thin Air and Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains), as well as a # of essays in the public domain (Thoreau, Paine, etc.), and a few children’s books to my infant daughter. A few nights ago, I started on Twain’s memoir Life on the Mississippi and I am rolling through it.

    Therefore, I object to being thrown into this generalized basket of “not serious readers” by Franzen who apparently does not know his head from his ass. I use the Kindle entirely for reading. There is no surfing the web or checking my e-mail or this or that. It’s 100% reading. Franzen’s comments are irresponsible considering his stature in the writing world. It’s a slap in the face to some in his readership; and while I did plan to read one of his novels, I will no longer be.

    If Franzen were such a purist, he would write all of his novels on a scroll or a large stone slab, by hand – not on his precious typewriter, an abominable piece of modern technology (to someone) at some point in the history of man and the written word.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Pillow, I think Franzen is just steeped in his purist world and doesn’t know any regular people. I love his books, and he has a perfect right to his opinion. Back when I got my first kindle, years ago, I got a lot of grief from people for selling out the veritable paper book and not caring about bookstores and authors enough. It’s akin to all the adults who couldn’t stand the heat of reading harry potter in front of anyone and had to wrap their books up in paper sack covers so no one could tell what they were reading.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      He’s not just being ignorant, but profoundly arrogant. It makes me seethe.

      It’s like he’s in some self-made citadel where he can dictate what is–and isn’t–right with our culture. I can’t stomach it. What a yahoo.

      It’s a full-on political move: claiming he understands the little people while remaining blessedly separate from them. A couple of cover stories and two well-received books and he’s a freaking cult of personality. I just hope this sort of brash arrogance makes his next offering a little more tarnished. And that he chooses to release it in print only.

  3. James D. Irwin says:

    I’m gradually warming to technology, for someone who often wishes it was still the 1950s…

    I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s all a matter of preference, and e-books aren’t stupid and gimmicky and a waste of time. I prefer paper books. I probably always will. I like the bulk and the texture and the fact that— especially with second hand books— every copy is different and has some sort of history that just makes it more interesting.

    But something like 1 in 6 British people got a Kindle for Christmas this year. If that means at least 1 in 6 people are actually reading then it has got to be good for those of us who are writers. And the only effects the Kindle has on writers is a positive one. If people are reading what I write then I don’t mind how they do it.

    i.e. the words are still words. That hasn’t changed… it hasn’t been dumbed down, and the electronic ink or whatever it is looks pretty cool.

    The only thing that does bother me is when technology is used to make writing gimmicky and sort of technology for the sake of technology. I basically realised that I love the content more than the form.

    And you’re right, Fear and Loathing would be brilliant with animated illustrations…

    • Quenby Moone says:

      Technology, like everything, is a tool: you can use it or abuse it. However one chooses to engage with it is up to them, and if you’re comfortable with not engaging it for much of anything, that’s great. And you’re right: it’s not the method of delivery, it’s the words and work itself that’s important. A badly written book will remain shoddy in an electronic offering, while I can guarantee I will still weep like a baby reading classic powerhouses like War and Peace.

      Franzen seems to think it’s the paper and ink that makes the work holy and whole. A writer who is worth his or her salt will still bust their asses and their brain pans to bring the best words to life they possibly can–but hacks are hacks no matter where they spew their words. There’s never been any shortage of hacks, and there won’t be any fewer now–but maybe more overlooked talents can find a greater audience when offered in a wider variety of formats.

      • James D. Irwin says:

        I think even just a couple of years ago Franzen might have had a leg to stand on, but technology has come so far and is so important that it seems incredibly short sighted and naive to think an entire new medium can be dismissed. You’re right, he seems stuck in the past. I used to be there, thinking that the only true way to be a writer was to have a hard copy book with your name on it that you could beat people with if you wanted.

        But that’s changed. Almost all the writing I do appears online, complete with all the thrill of having people read it. If I wanted I could publish a book today (I’m not going to, because it’s not very good, but I could). I’d still like to have a hard copy book one day, because I’m a violent person who likes to use personalised book spines as weapons, but it may well never happen.

        I like to think though that I’d be perfectly happy only ever publishing e-books though, as long as people were reading them. I didn’t start writing because I wanted to have my face on the cover of Time magazine. Franzen seems to be confusing artistic integrity with pompous self-promotion and arrogant naivety..

    • rv branham says:

      yes, ultimately, who cares about the medium?

      serialize books in fortune cookies & on rolls of toilet paper, & on cereal boxes, who cares how, as long as print proliferates & finds its readers

  4. rv branham says:

    i don’t like ebooks, either.

    but i don’t hate them either. (i not only don’t like franzen but i am really coming to hate him.)

    & while all of the examples you cite are very good arguments.

    where i think the killer app for the ebook wld be in reference.

    imagine the oxford english dictionary, with all its appendices as an ebook.

    that wld make me start bidding on an auction site in a n.y. minute.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      That’s an interesting example. Can you imagine? It’s going to be (NOTE THAT, FRANZEN: future tense!) great! OED, done right? It would be amazing. And much more portable and accessible than the one that lives in libraries and my heart.

  5. rv branham says:

    & kindles do suck.

    but the nook & the sony reader, & the ipad, they handle well.

  6. Carol Park says:

    Loved this piece, Quenby. I’ve been on the Franzen side of the fence up until last week. I’m reading Steve Job’s bio and couldn’t possibly lug that tome with me to New Orleans. Instead, I thought I’d be bold, not take a book and read magazines instead. Reading the magazines on the flight was fine, but as soon as I got to my hotel room without a real book, I felt a panic setting in. WTF? Why didn’t I bring a book of short stories? As it turned out I partied every night in NOLA so didn’t have much time to read at night anyway, but still. After reading your essay and all the comments, I think I’m ready to take the plunge and not be such an obnoxious purist. It makes so much sense – plus the biggest advantage with ebooks is the ability to search, right? On Franzen, he’s a jerk. He has the dubious distinction to have written the only book I’ve ever, literally, thrown across the room (The Corrections) – right after the turd started talking.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      I find it remarkable that I know so many people who have NEVER FINISHED THE CORRECTIONS, myself included. I just couldn’t slog through. I felt guilty at the time because, you know, GREAT AMERICAN NOVELIST and all that. Which begs the question, who’s in the voting block for Great American Novelist if none of us can finish his books?

      As to the Kindle vs. Paper, the truth is, I sit very heavily on the fence. As a designer, how could I not want to hold something in my hand after I made it? I suspect books are going to become like “artisanal” cheeses; there are the ones which everyone consumes, like orange cheddar, and true bibliophiles will be the only ones buying books like The Bedside Book of Birds. There will be a great split between reading for words and holding a book for the quality of the book itself. It’s one I’ve long understood, but most people don’t differentiate (consciously, at least) between the supermarket murder mystery for 7.99 and the high quality texture and feel of a book like aforementioned “Birds.”

      For myself, with full color throughout the book, of course I want to see it printed on exquisite paper with quality inks. I’d be lying to saying I didn’t want the finest quality for it that I can get, which is beyond my reach in self-publishing, and might be even if it gets picked up, a la Mira Bartok. But I also know that it’s like barking at the moon: futile. Adapt or die.

  7. Greg Olear says:

    This is a great rebuttal, QB.

    My issue with JF isn’t what he said as much as how he said it. Pomposity is his default mechanism; he can’t help himself. And yet I’m told on good authority that he’s a very nice guy in real life. Is he being pompous as a defense mechanism, because he suspects — like the protagonist in Leaving the Atocha Station — that he’s a hack, unworthy of the excess praise? Only the birds know for sure.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      I wrote this thinking of you the whole time. How could I not?

      This gets to the heart of what Frazen said and how he said it: I know that he’s blustering and a blowhard, but I don’t think he’s an ogre, either. It’s like the whole Naipal thing: he’s just being an ignorant jerk, ignore him and he’ll go away.

      At the time of Naipal slamming women writers, many people came down on the side of ignore him, which I completely understand. On the other hand, I also suspect that when one person of high visibility says something, he represents the views of a huge unseen population. Sexism won’t go away because people opt to ignore people like Naipal. You have to keep the conversation alive in the public arena.

      Anyway, the book thing. I’m in an unusual position because I’ve watched–literally across the house–the music industry contract and collapse and change in much the same way that the publishing industry is imploding now, just a few years earlier. It provides me an interesting sort of resignation to the dying process, unlike many people involved in publishing: the brain of publishing doesn’t want to believe the body is dying, and fights back against it with all its might. But it’s dying just the same. Dead is dead. Franzen lives in this old paradigm.

      But writing isn’t dead. There’s a weird sort of democratization which has been unfolding ever since the advent of the intarwebs, and democracy is freaking ugly. It’s hard, and sloppy. In governments, buffoons who have no real qualities of leadership end up in positions of power alongside amazingly deft and smart politicians. And now, writers who have no real skills as writers (DAN BROWN, I’M LOOKING AT YOU) are standing side by side with amazing unknowns who couldn’t get a pair of eyes to look at them sideways in traditional publishing. Now, in this very scary playing field, we are all equals, and it’s horrible.

      On the other hand, the only readership I’ve ever had has been electronic, and is at the root of how I managed to write a book to call my own. And that’s amazing.

      Franzen just needs to call hospice and go through the grieving process.

  8. When you are labeled The Great American Novelist by Time Magazine and you are still alive ( and supposedly writing), well, where do you go from there? How do you ever experience humility again? ( I fear, in Franzen’s case, you probably don’t). I barely made it through The Corrections, and still have yet to finish Freedom, so admittedly I am not a fan. When I open a Franzen novel I hear too much of his voice: that pompous, dare I say braggart tone said with a smirk.
    I may be simplistic in my thinking here: but anything that gets people to read — and to keep books in their hands– whether electronically or in paper — that’s good. In this great debate I think what we forget is we want people to still want to read! It’s a win for all. Are there are some books that cry out to be seen in their paper form? Absolutely. I think of all the wonderful books by Edward Gorey, his illustrations! You need to see those darling little books in the original. But will the e-book kill traditional publishing? No. Will Franzen win over any detractors by declaring the e-book the next plague? No. But then again I suspect that Mr. Franzen is happy enough with his Time Magazine cover and his own words to really care. He already has his share of the publishing pie. The rest will be split among kindles, and nooks, and i-pads…..

    • J.E. Fishman says:

      Actually, though I agree with most of what you say, Robin, it’s entirely possible that the ebook will indeed kill traditional publishing as we know it. Hardcovers have been the sine qua non of big publishing for a long time, and adult hardcover sales were down by 19% November to November. Sales of mass market paperbacks, which will soon disappear as a category, were off a whopping 35%. It is extremely unlikely that the hardcover revenue will be replaced and extremely likely that the decline will continue.

      • Quenby Moone says:

        Those are some impressive numbers! I’m fascinated by the notion that “mass market paperbacks” are disappearing altogether; I can’t say I’ll miss them. This goes to my whole “artisanal cheese” versus “orange cheddar” thinking. Why waste the paper on something that will stand just as well in an electronic offering? Save the paper for art.

        Of course, I’m an aesthete who just loves paper as an actual element.

        Boy, this whole electronic thing is a tangled web. I love it.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      There’s an old Gorey-illustrated book by Edward Lear called The Jumblies which floated around my childhood home for years, and now I wish I had it more than anything. My house is stacked with books like that: my father’s old children’s storybooks; the cover of Living in Twilight was based on them. Weird pulp novels, or anthropological studies from back when only white people were anthropologists. Early (not first) editions of When We Were Six or Winnie the Pooh, the collected strips of Krazy Kat. Archie and Mehitabel, illustrated by Herriman, which is just lovely.

      Those cannot be replicated by digital editions. They will never be. It’s not possible; even the thread-worn corners of the clothbound covers are charming.

      What’s really odd for me is how much I enjoy trying to replicate the experience of the worn, well-thumbed book for a digital experience. The simulacra is my modus operandi. I have no idea why. I’ve done it forever, like I’m making homage to all these books with every anachronistic design I make.

      Well, all that aside, I can’t imagine being called the Great American Novelist by my second mainstream success. It must be debilitating. It’s like filmmakers who come out of the gate with a freshman masterpiece; there’s nowhere to go but down, because the public expectation is absurdly out-of-step with the director’s experience. It’s got to be a pretty weird bubble to live in.

      Still, destroying culture is a bit strong. The Beatles and Elvis didn’t destroy culture either, no matter how many nattering naybobs said they were going to.

      • Quenby Moone says:

        I should amend my anthropological comment to say when only white men were anthropologists. Goodness knows women weren’t writing these wacked-out texts about how inferior women were.

  9. Matt says:

    This entire episode just goes to show how good Jonathan Franzen is about getting people to talk about Jonathan Franzen. I find his books painfully dull, his public persona as a Great Writer tiresome and pompous, and his luddite assumptions rather ridiculous, but the man has mastered the more sublime methods of self-promotion, I’ll give him that.

    I’m not a huge fan of ebooks, and have no desire to own a Kindle or a Nook or whatever, but that’s just my cup of tea. Physical books still hold a totemic significance for me. I like the feel of them in my hand or the weight of them in my bag. And I love patronizing my city library beyond all reason. I get headaches when I read stuff off a screen for too long.

    But on that same token, I have the Kindle and Storyville apps on my iPhone, just in case I’m out for the day and forget to take a book with me. I can whip my phone out have something at hand to read at any time, which is nice.

    I think the true merit of ebooks is going to be seen when the marriage of images and text reaches equilibrium. Which is why it bothers me that in the ebook discussions no one save for those in the comics industry is talking about how comic books are embracing the format. They’re an art form (and yes, I know Franzen would decry them as such; fuck him) that has been all about marrying images to words for close to a hundred years now, and the ebook is the perfect platform to promote new innovation in the medium.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      I can’t believe I’m quoting myself in an earlier comment up above, but it’s easier than just trying to say the exact same thing with different words:

      As to the Kindle vs. Paper, the truth is, I sit very heavily on the fence. As a designer, how could I not want to hold something in my hand after I made it? I suspect books are going to become like “artisanal” cheeses; there are the ones which everyone consumes, like orange cheddar, and true bibliophiles will be the only ones buying books like The Bedside Book of Birds. There will be a great split between reading for words and holding a book for the quality of the book itself. It’s one I’ve long understood, but most people don’t differentiate (consciously, at least) between the supermarket murder mystery for 7.99 and the high quality texture and feel of a book like aforementioned “Birds.”

      So yeah, my father taught me that books were, like you said, almost totemic. There really isn’t a good e-replacement for my favorites. But when J.E. Fishman wrote above that the mass market paperback was disappearing altogether, I have to admit I’m no fan of them. The words are great; the books as objects are Velveeta. I just bought one yesterday, and decided for the next one, it was more valuable to me to have it on my iPad than to pay for a really shoddy product printed with blurry inks and crummy paper.

      The biggest problem with this is that I can’t hand my crappy paperback to someone else to read when I’m done with it. Or can I? I don’t even know! Maybe I can digitally hand it over to someone else and I’m just too unfamiliar with the format to realize it.

      Anyway. Save the trees for works of quality.

  10. Donna Sabin says:

    I sell books.
    I like my Nook and I LOVE my Kindle Fire.
    They are both great venues for readers, the iPad seems a little too large and definitely too expensive to suit my needs.
    If all you want is to read the bloody book, then download an ebook.
    If you totally adore a particular book, if it touches you in a very deep place, then buy the very best hardcover copy you can find, preferably signed by the author, and put it on your bookshelf. It will give you warm and fuzzy’s every time you look at it.
    The brick and mortar bookstore will evolve into an art gallery for words and analog books will take their place next to paintings and sculpture.
    I sell analog books but I love ebooks.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      I find the idea of a “book museum” really interesting. I suspect that’s where this is heading, but I fear the class schism that will arise when books become luxury items. On the other hand, I believe that books can also be beautiful objet d’art, and can be treated with the according respect.

      It’s a strange time; it feels like the Wild West to me, and while I wouldn’t want to live in Deadwood, no one can argue that the West didn’t offer tremendous possibility as well as risk.

      Oh well. I just want to see any book I publish represented in both formats.

      Thanks, Donna!

  11. I’ve been wondering for a while, “Where’s my e-mail notification to a reply to that comment I left on Quenby’s awesome TNB post?”

    Then I actually bothered to check… and lo and behold, once a-fucking-gain, WordPress has deleted my comment.

    I can’t even remember what I said, except perhaps: I agree with you; Franzen is a douche; I used to dislike ebooks but now I love them; and probably some other stuff that has been said above.

    Anyway, to reiterate: this was a great post, as usual.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      I blame spies. I think they’re secretly going in and deleting your comments.

      It must be totally liberating for such a peripatetic traveler as yourself to have a Kindle or the like. I’m just rooted to the lot dimensions of my house, and Powell’s bookstore is eight blocks away. I can get books easily, but for YOU: e-readers must be so great.

      I remember buying trashy paperbacks in France because though there were English books around, it’s not like they wanted to cater to English readers there. Now it wouldn’t be a concern: buy an e-reader, buy any damn book you want.

      Franzen is a provincial idiot, but again, the check will get spent in either case. He’s just not gonna be that noble.

      • I China I had to read really slowly just so that I always had a book. I brought some with me, and friends were kind enough to send a few over, but in the middle of the country there’s nothing in English. Nothing. So yeah, a Kindle was a no-brainer, really. All you need is a wireless connection. Unfortunately, it’s still really difficult to find one of those… but once you do you’re set. I got my Kindle 4th November, and read more books by Christmas than I had done all year! Franzen can take that little bit of information and suck it.

  12. Dana says:

    I just checked my Kindle Fire and I CAN loan some of my library, but I don’t see that option for all of them. Maybe the author has to agree?

    I didn’t think I’d like a Kindle, but I loved it. It’s so light, and I loved the ability to read in sunlight without glare, and the battery time was amazing.

    I got the Kindle Fire for the holidays and I really love it too. But they are different. I almost wish it didn’t have all the tablet options (disStracting asshole Angry Birds), but the illuminated screen is nice for reading at night…

    Quenby, I look forward to seeing your book in whatever form(s) you decide. It looks amazing.

    I can’t imagine that I’d ever get rid of all my paper books though. I’ve pared down and gotten rid of books that weren’t favorites or special to me in some way, but I love having a handful of signed first editions (Christopher Moore makes me happy!). My shelves are organized in a way that makes sense, sorta, (Electric Kool Aid Acid Test next to You Can’t Go Home Again) and I loved bringing home some of my dad’s books. Looking at my shelves now it appears that I have a split personality disorder, and that’s okay.

    Also, it was fun last weekend to pull Paper Doll Orgy off the shelf, pick one of my favorite drawings and leave it propped open for our guests to see. It was the living breathing embodiment of sharing a link.

    • Quenby Moone says:

      Dana, THAT IS SO FREAKING COOL! Thanks for looking into it! I don’t have a Kindle myself, but lord, I can see which direction the wind is blowing, and being able to exchange books just sweetens the pot. I saw a Fire in the store the other day, and in a shoot-out between the Fire and my iPad–Fire wins for my greatest criteria: size. The iPad makes things beeeyooooti-ful, but good grief it’s big. Hard to read it in bed comfortably. I’ve tried.

      YOU HEAR ME, APPLE?

      [Apple and I are feuding right now, though they don’t know it. I feel like a spurned lover.]

      Paper books can’t wholly be replaced by eBooks, but they can save a lot of forests by treating mass market books to the treatment they deserve. It’s easier to read on a Kindle or some other medium, and there’s no reason to print crummy books. The words don’t care where they live, just as long as they live SOMEWHERE.

      Thanks, Dana. I hope we all don’t wait a couple dozens years for me to find a home for my little exercise in blah blah blah.

  13. Henning Koch says:

    This piece really hit the spot for me! A positive and inspiring look at what eBooks can do, rather than what they can’t. I agree with much of what you say about Franzen, but we do all have to realize that the guy can’t win. If he eats a cheese sandwich it’ll annoy someone, somewhere.

  14. Great piece, Quenby!
    I have a NOOK and use it for traveling. If I carried as many books on the plane as my NOOK has on it I’d need a few more suitcases and I’d have to pay some hefty baggage fees.
    Also, if you are lucky enough (or unlucky enough!) to be in bed with someone else and you wake up in the middle of the night you can read on a NOOK or KINDLE without turning on a light and waking your bedmate. Very convenient for people who like to sleep with other people!

  15. […] was because of him that I met Mira Bartók, whose book The Memory Palace I mentioned in an essay about Franzen’s misguided attack on eBooks. In one of those twists of meta-synchronicity that […]

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