This past week, I got a Kindle. I have not been so changed by a reading experience since Stephen King’s Needful Things, which was the book that made me realize I wanted to tell stories. It’s the sort of genius-level device that demonstrates the fact that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Truly wonderful.

And my, how it changes things.

I’d long considered getting a digital reading device. I always love when people note how they don’t want to read on a screen, if only because the only place I’ve seen people say that is online, on sites where they’ve been doing exactly that. I was never really able to start writing until I replaced my mother’s Smith and Corona electric typewriter for a custom-built desktop, so I’ve never really known writing except as on a screen. I’ve heard guys like Elmore Leonard and James Patterson write longhand using pencils. I can’t imagine anything more primitive.

To be technical for just a second, that first desktop computer had a 1mHz processor, 16 megabytes of RAM, and one gigabyte of internal memory. It came fully loaded with Windows 95 and Corel’s WordPerfect.

Perspective: my current phone is a Samsung Vibrant. It has a one gigahertz hummingbird processor, 512 megs of RAM, and eight gigs of storage, expandable via microSD cards to nearly fifty right now. It came fully loaded with Google’s Android operating system (Android 2.1, or Éclair), as well as Amazon’s Kindle app. Not to mention a full copy of Avatar designed to show off its pretty, pretty SuperAMOLED screen (that’s Super Active Matrix Organic Light-Emitting Diode). I’m using this phone after an upgrade from an iPhone I jailbroke and unlocked to run on T-Mobile’s network; it had full access to all the media and apps developers could make for Apple.

Our phones are basically more advanced than anything that has flown to the moon or actually dropped an atomic bomb. My iPhone could fart in hundreds of languages.

***

When Apple announced the iPad in January, finally ending years of rumors and speculation, many people, myself included, joked that it was merely a big what-I-already-had-in-my-pocket (not to mention that it sounded more like a feminine hygiene product than a technological innovation). The iPad is little more than a large version of an iPod Touch, but saying that tends to neglect the degree to which the iPod Touch truly is revolutionary, as products go. Handling an iPad, using one, is a purely magical experience. It’s like picking up a screen, but with depth.

That’s the first thing I noticed when I handled the iPad. So thin but still dense. Design so triumphant it’s invisible. “Slide to Unlock”? The very first thing an iPad requests you do is stroke it, like a pet.

It changes the way you interact with much of the Internet. You could fire up Safari, but why do that when Twitter and Facebook and the New York Times all have their own dedicated apps? Its big, color screen looks great, and it’s so responsive to every touch it feels like it’s reading your mind, like it knows, to allude to Stephen King, what you need. What you desire.

The first thing I did, of course, was load my own site. I love the idea of millions of iPad users accidentally stumbling across my own little corner of the Internet, and I wanted to see how it would look when they did. Most of them, judging by my site’s stats, aren’t, of course, but it could happen. And it will look nice when they do.

The second site I visited was here. Which looks great except for the Flash bit of the homepage. But hey, content first, and Lord knows we’ve got great content out the wazoo. It’s one of the great things about being part of this site.

One of the major talking points concerning the iPad’s launch was the iBookstore. Which five out of the six publishers were totally on board with and got credit for (the sixth made the mistake of talking to the media about the iPad the day before the launch). Agency model, new pricing, ten bucks per book. It’s not a bad interface, complete with virtual covers on virtual shelves and page-flipping animations.

Thing is, at $500, it’s rather expensive, and that’s the WiFi only 16GB model. If you want always-on connectivity or more storage (for movies and music and apps), you’ll need to spend more.

To compare the iPad to the Kindle or nook is basically to compare Apple to Amazon; it’s not quite a comparison that works because the devices don’t really do the same thing. The iPad is not a digital reading device so much as a portable computer that happens to support digital reading apps—to the extent that Kindle and nook apps are even available for it.

Kindle’s been ludicrously smart about that. It has an app available for basically any platform, including PC, Mac, iOS, Android, and even BlackBerry. All have different levels of functionality and intuitiveness. I didn’t really start using the Kindle app until I got my phone, and then I started to take advantage of the ease with which I could download samples. It’s a great system, and any book I purchase via any platform is available on all others; if I buy a book on my Kindle, I can still read it on my phone or my computer. I can’t, on the other hand, read it on someone else’s device, or share my books with others, a fact a lot of people have lamented but I don’t mind so much because generally, I’ve rarely lent books to friends so much as given them away never to see them again (the books. Not the friends. Though sometimes them, too).

As an app, Kindle is terrific, but I’d avoided purchasing the device because . . . well, because they were so damned ugly. I mean, the first-generation Kindle looked like the designer of it actively disliked readers; the second iteration was better, but not by much. This latest, though, is stylish and slim, with a little five-way button instead of a jog-dial. It’s nicely laid out and feels fantastic in the hand. I like the keyboard on it; it’s much better than the too-small capacitive touchscreen the nook only barely implements (and certainly not well).

Then again, the Nook II might well be even better, and with a better price. Which isn’t to say current prices are bad; one of the reasons I went with the Kindle over the iPad was that, for half the price of the latter, I got my Kindle, a lighted case, and so far, close to 40 books.

***

I’ve now owned my Kindle for a week. I fear raving about it too much and devolving into useless hyperbole, but I can’t help it: I don’t remember the last time I felt this excited about reading and writing, and it’s mostly thanks to this little device.

That’s a lie. I know the last time I was this excited. It was the week Harper Collins published Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. I’d corresponded with Neil via a website called the Well for several months prior to that week, and so, when I went to see him read, first opening for the Magnetic Fields at the Bottom Line in downtown Manhattan and then two days later at the Barnes & Noble at the World Trade Center, I was positively giddy. The night I shook his hand, I went into utter fanboy catatonia and found myself quite literally unable to speak, much less introduce myself.

It was a feeling akin to finishing Needful Things.

Magical feelings.

I don’t want to put this thing down. I’m currently reading Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. Up next is Five Quarts, by Bill Hayes. Then maybe Ivanhoe. Maybe some Shakespeare.

This changes everything.

It’s not just the reading experience. It’s not just the excitement.

It’s the possibility.

It’s empowering.

It may be an experience unique to readers who are also writers. I’m not sure. All I know is, suddenly, everything’s different.

Pundits and professionals have been talking about, and arguing against, the so-called death of traditional publishing for ages. People whisper about the ways the publishing industry is changing, about the implications for newspapers and magazines and books.

Thing is, you pick up a Kindle (or an iPad. To some degree, even a nook. Those are really the big three in terms of digital reading [and here I’d like to point out that doing so does not require one to sign a pledge that one may never again pick up a printed book. It’s not a binary choice]), and you realize it’s all wrong.

Publishing is never going to die. It’s not going to go anywhere. Publishing is just the creation and dissemination of information, and if nothing else, it’s simply got an entirely new medium for doing so. If publishing is changing it’s doing so because new devices are allowing new experiences of information; what’s the difference between an essay and a short story and a novel when you read them all on an iPad? Length, of course, but yesterday, reading was a different experience. The New York Times was a giant piece of matte paper you had to fold awkwardly to read on a subway; Vanity Fair was glossier and smaller with better pictures; books had no pictures but, at least as paperbacks, were easier to carry even though they had a hell of a lot more words.

Those distinctions are gone when they’re all apps. I read the most recent issue of The Atlantic (in which B.R. Myers becomes the first reviewer I’ve seen to criticize Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom) on my Kindle. I’ll be the first to admit it wasn’t as intuitive as opening a magazine, and it probably needs a better navigation interface, but the content? The story? Awesome.

I imagine it’s like what people felt the first time they handled a printed book when previously they’d only seen illuminated manuscripts hand-calligraphed by dedicated monks. Imagine the newness of something like typography when all anyone knew was spidery cursive? Imagine the sudden appearance of cheap books when many people had never even seen paper before? Which is why this seems like it’s publishing 3.0: publishing 2.0 came and went when Gutenberg introduced his magical press.

Perhaps not so ironically, many of the anxious articles I read about the “tenuous” future of publishing consider it mainly from what publishing has only recently become over the past three decades or so. In a little less than thirty years, Barnes & Noble grew from a single store (in 1971) to the corporate behemoth it was just a few years ago. I say just a few years ago because anyone following publishing news lately knows that its future is untenable (one of the major reasons I went with a Kindle over the nook; Barnes & Noble’s management listed the company for sale just about a month ago). Nowadays, you walk into a Barnes & Noble and notice a few things, the most notable of which is that many of the tables for new releases and best-sellers that used to greet customers as soon as they walked in the door are gone, replaced by a shrine to the nook.

Nowadays, though, who walks into a Barnes & Noble, anyway?

I only partly joke, there. I used to be the guy who’d buy 100 books per year. I’d stop by the local Barnes & Noble every day I got paid and drop money on new magazines, paperbacks, and bargain hardcovers long remaindered. I’d go to author signings to get Nick Hornby’s scribble on High Fidelity. My copy of American Gods was the first one Neil signed on his tour.

At some point, though, I became the guy who bought lots of books for a penny on Amazon’s Marketplace. And last week, I became the guy who thinks six or seven bucks is the perfect price to pay for a Kindle book.

At some point, I feel like I became the reader publishers started to ignore in favor of selling more books to people who only read a couple per year. At some point, when the shelves became glutted by series and tie-ins and toys, I became a reader who had to move farther and farther from a shelf to find a story I’d really want to read.

At some point, I became a reader who began to wonder if publishers were really less scared about the death of the industry and more scared they wouldn’t find some way to profit from other people’s work. Because at some point, I realized that the Internet was only going to increase the vast amount of work published overall, and while corporate publishing houses had once claimed they kept some gates or other, they had long ago thrown those gates open to failed vice-presidential candidates, comedians better known for their appearance than their humor, and bad actors.

Which is funny, in a way, because I’ve voiced that complaint before, and I think a lot of people dismiss it as one of a bitter writer resentful about publishing contracts. That’s probably easier than acknowledging it might be the complaint of a frustrated reader demanding, even pleading for, better stories.

***

When I first handled an iPad, I did a quick Internet tour of my site and the Nervous Breakdown.

I did the same thing when I got my hands on my Kindle.

I also picked up some Nervous Breakdown books.

I really hope Duke’s Subversia will be Kindle compatible. Bet it’d look great. The Kindle’s sharing function (I already tweeted and Facebooked a brilliant passage from The Magicians) seems to suit the comment-ready essays Duke’s (in)famous for here.

In late November, I’m going to publish my own debut novel, Meets Girl, on the Kindle. I’m going to serialize the first half of it on my site.

I can’t decide whether I’m more excited about Kindle as a reader or as a writer, but I sort of think that’s phenomenal. In an age of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and book blogging, people are unfortunately prefixing the word “self” to publishing, which is really just redundant. Every essay, every Tweet, every comment, every video is a culture of people publishing our ideas, and that’s really sort of genius.

Marshall McLuhan noted that the medium is the message. Nowadays, with Ashton Kutcher beating CNN to a million followers, the messenger is the medium is the message, because we all have one to share.

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Will Entrekin is a writer, professor, and Eagle Scout from New Jersey living in the New York metropolitan area. A novelist and screenwriter, Entrekin earned an MPW from the University of Southern California and is finishing an MBA from Regis University while pursuing what happens next. He can be found at his web site, willentrekin.com, and he has a self-titled collection available here. He hopes you'll check both out.

59 responses to “Publishin’ 3.0: Digital Boogaloo”

  1. Art Edwards says:

    I’m glad people love digital reading devices. It gets people reading, and I want them reading.

    Two things digital reading devices can’t do.

    1) They can’t not be a computer.

    The thing I love about reading a book is the fact that I am not, for once during the day, looking at a computer.

    2) They can only with a lot of willpower be a solitary reading experience.

    If I’m using my Kindle, I have immediate access to all of my digital books, right? With a paper book, I at least have to get my lazy ass up and hunt down another book if I want one. This keeps my attention on what’s in front of me in a way that feels healthy. I’m communing with one author, which is how I want people to read my books.

    But again, different strokes. I get that these are not good reasons for everyone.

    • I get those reasons. I haven’t noticed the Kinde as a computer, probably because it’s such a vastly different experience. Especially the different display. And input.

      For me, the Kindle does just enough or just not-enough. Like I see what you mean about too much access. When it comes to the Internet, I’m like a hummingbird with ADHD. One reason I didn’t get an iPad, in fact. Too many apps, too easy to click away to other things.

  2. Dana says:

    Will, I’m pretty sure I’m ready for a Kindle. Christmas isn’t too far off. Did you get the $139 or $189 model? I’m thinking 3G would be really helpful, but I’m curious about the wi-fi connectivity. I look forward to checking out Meets Girl!

    • I splurged: $250 for the 3G with a leather case that has a built-in light that connects directly to the Kindle. So I don’t know about the connectivity. It seems spot on. Haven’t had any issues, not sure I would have otherwise.

  3. Cynthia Hawkins says:

    I so love the tangibleness of the printed book, the weight of it in your hands, the jacket cover, and so forth (I write drafts longhand in sketchbooks for the same reason – tedious, I know), but more and more I think I could succumb to an iPad or a Kindle and be okay with it. I’m running out of room for books in my house, for one thing. And also, it would be awesome to be able to own a book in an instant the second I decide I want it. We’ve become such an instant-gratification culture …

    • I love all those things about books, too. Books are awesome.

      I’ve begun to think of it thusly: I didn’t have to swear I’d never buy anything printed again, and what books make it to my actual shelf in my living room will be of the rarified sort that have meant something to me. Books that deserved a spot, for one reason or another.

      Because there’s nothing like a book.

      Of course, a good enough story makes everything else–even that which it’s printed/displayed on–completely disappear.

  4. Becky Palapala says:

    I’m sure I’ll be holdout on the e-reader for a long while, as I am with most things everyone seems to be talking about. Just to be a jerk. Just to be the person who is not doing what everyone else is doing.

    But writing things out by hand…this is a much larger discussion…I’m sort of in love with people’s handwriting, including my own. Handwriting takes on a fetishistic quality in a world where you don’t get to see it as much. It’s almost…intimate.

    I recently sent a short, handwritten note with a package and realized two things:

    1. I don’t really remember how to write in longhand/cursive. It looks like a 6 year-old wrote it when I try.

    2. The electronics-acquired impulse to write quickly and without planning is powerful, as is the accompanying notion–call it a process notion–that I can do this because when I make a mistake, I can (and must) immediately correct myself.

    The second, I find particularly interesting. The assumption of quick and easy deletion & reconfiguration of whatever I write has literally changed the way I think WHEN I write. I am less thoughtful before putting words down and less tolerant of the smallest errors, scribbles, scratches, or what I perceive to be undesirable or less desirable arrangements of words, even when writing the simplest little note.

    I may rewrite a simple note 4 times because I don’t like the slant of my writing or because one letter looks funny. It makes writing by hand exhausting, but only because I’m so accustomed to the tidiness of type.

    Plainly, both my impulsive and my perfectionist tendencies have been indulged–spoiled utterly rotten–by electronic writing & communication. I’m thinking of stopping it. Like, reducing electronic communication as much as possible. Definitely doing some writing by hand. Seeing if it changes what or how I write.

    • Greg Olear says:

      Do you have cool handwriting?

      As an aside: the cassette cover image we used in lieu of an epigram at the front of my book is my actual handwriting (albeit sloppier than usual). And you can see it on a Kindle. Or, presumably, an iPad.

      • Becky Palapala says:

        I don’t know if I have cool handwriting.

        But I know it’s mine. Like a voice (the actual sound…not the literary kind). You can look at handwriting and, with a little bit of past exposure, know who’s talking to you. You can’t do that with type.

        I love any handwriting. I remember, even, how I first identified my mother’s handwriting. It was her lowercase Rs. They looked like Vs trying to look skinny. Sucking in their sides. And my dad, because of his use of drafting in his work, uses the all-caps, serial-killer method.

        • Aaron Dietz says:

          Ugh–handwriting–so painful to get into a book if you want it to be accurate, but so wonderful to behold when it’s finished.

          I had three different people’s handwriting in my novel, Super, and one of those sections was pages long–finding and correcting mistakes made me appreciate the digital age. But after all the extra work was done, I really enjoyed seeing it in the galley copy.

          To Greg: Nice going getting your handwriting in there! I had kind of wondered about that (whose it was).

      • Gloria says:

        She does have cool handwriting. Almost masculine. Small. Not a bubble or a fat loop to be found in it. Tight and precise. Just thought I’d throw my two cents in.

    • I have a couple of fountain pens, with another on the way. I keep meaning to write something long and wonderful and exciting with one, but all I ever use them for are poems and letters.

      I love the look and feel of writing with one, but don’t know that I could sustain it.

      Apparently, though, the oft-mentioned Neil Gaiman writes only in fountain pen, and then transcribes everything to computer.

      For me, at least in terms of writing, there’s something about the screen. I like that I can create, with simple fingerstrokes, something a lot like what I’d expect to see on any page of any book I picked up. When I used to type out manuscripts, they looked like manuscripts: clunky, awkward, badly formatted, etc. When I write novels on my computer, though, they look like what novels always looked like when I read them.

  5. Joe Daly says:

    As much as I keep telling myself that I need to carry a book with pages, so I can dog ear them, highlight them, get ink all over my fingers, etc., I find that I very rarely do any of those activities while reading. Plus with a number of trips coming up, a digital reading device probably makes sense. My travels, especially the international ones, always involve me packing several magazines and one book in my carry on, and then several more magazines and another book in my checked luggage. Then when I finish my book in my travels, I end up leaving it in a coffee shop or on a plane, hoping that someone will pick it up and read it, although my main motivation is just lightening my load.

    I might just have to pull the trigger on the Kindle. My main reservation would be the availability of my magazines- if they have UNCUT, MOJO, Q, and Classic Rock, there will be nothing stopping me.

    Thanks for the head food and practical tipsters!

    Oh, and well done on the title. 🙂

    • All of which inspires me to ask: do you always read with a highligher/pen in hand?

      I never do. And I gotta tell ya: the passage from The Magicians I ended up tweeting and Facebooking was the first such highlight I’ve ever made in a book. My books are generally pristine except for inscribed author scribbles on the title page; besides those, I don’t like creases, folds, pencil marks, etc.

      I had a great copy of Good Omens, but it fell by several grading points when it was all that saved my sister from a nervous breakdown after she drove across the country with me. It’s even more talismanic now.

      I don’t recall seeing those magazines in the magazine section. There are fewer than I’d expected, though there are also more blogs.

      And thanks. I almost went with “Digital Killed the Paperback Book,” but “boogaloo” is just more fun, as a word.

  6. angela says:

    i never thought i’d need an iPad till we got an iPad, and while “need” is maybe too strong a term, it’s still pretty handy if you want to look up something quickly (take out menu, TV listings, IMDb trivia).

    i’m not sure yet how i feel about eReaders. i’ve yet to try one, though i see how they can be great for material that goes out of date quickly, like science and technology journals and text books.

  7. J.E. Fishman says:

    “I don’t remember the last time I felt this excited about reading and writing, and it’s mostly thanks to this little device.” AND “I used to be the guy who’d buy 100 books per year.”

    Every time these two thoughts squirrel their way into a person’s head — as they increasingly do — another nail sinks into the coffin of big publishing. Why?

    1) Publishers make more money selling printed books than e-books.
    2) Most books sold are sold to heavy users.
    3) Heavy users are more likely to buy e-book readers. (After all, who’s going to spend more than $100 for a reader if they only buy one or two books a year? A: no one.)

    Here are some scary numbers for big publishers. (Warning: I’m fudging some of the statistics for convenience. Guess what: it won’t matter.)

    U.S. Population: 310 million
    Population over 18: 232 million
    50% of them buy books: 116 million.
    20% of them buy 80% of all books: 23 million.
    Number of e-book readers projected by the end of next year (if my memory serves): 25 million.

    Ruh roh.

    • What’s funny is that guys like Seth Godin and that musician make such a big deal about how one can make a great business model following 1,000 true fans. These are the fans who buy literally everything an artist ever creates/publishes. Not the casual listeners and the CD downloaders.

      I feel like the corporations lost the true fans. Because you’re right; I bought the Kindle because I love reading but haven’t bought a single book at full, list price since Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry (which taught me to hold off from doing so again). I’m a true fan of reading. I love books. I like first editions. Illustrated copies. Signed copies, inscribed to me moments after having shaken the author’s hand. My books–all of them, be they invaluable or wrecked with age–mean something to me.

      And I feel like somewhere along the line, the publishing industry gave up on me. And don’t get me wrong: quick bucks are good to make. But they’re quick. And they’re bucks.

      I missed loving reading. And then I bought a Kindle.

  8. Paul Clayton says:

    Good choice, Will. I’m saving my pennies and will get a Kindle too! (Especially since I intend to sell most of my books on Kindle, having just about given up on traditional publishing houses.) For readers, not computer geeks and gagetphiles, the Kindle is the way to go… dedicated reader, eink, no color, no games… until very recently.

    I work with someone that was going to buy an ereader. I implored her to go with the Kindle. She went with a $400 ipad. For the color, she said. (it came with an illustrated version of Peter Rabbit). Then she found the games tab and now plays boggle all day long on her machine. Sad.

    • Paul Clayton says:

      Will, forgot to say… if you’d like a freebie for that Kindle. Drop me a line via TNB.

    • I don’t know, Paul; did we give up on traditional publishing houses, or did they give up on us? Can you guess whether I’d more likely ask that as a writer or a reader?

      I can’t. Which is why Joel’s comment is cogent.

      And that’s pretty much exactly why I didn’t go with an iPad. I’ve got games on my phone. My laptop is always connected to the Internet. I wanted a device just for reading. Solely for reading.

      I wonder if maybe we need a device just for writing, too?

  9. Greg Olear says:

    I love the line about our phones being more sophisticated that anything that dropped bombs or went to the moon. Never thought about it that way before.

    The problem with an iPad, as a computer, is ergonomic. I don’t see how you can type on it for any length of time and not hurt your back.

    Steph just bought a Kindle, so we’ll see how we like it.

    • Greg Olear says:

      Oh, and thx for the TK Kindle image. I’m told the cassette tape thing looks cool.

    • I don’t see how you can type on an iPad and not hurt your hands. That capacitive screen is responsive, sure, but not built for 60 wpm (which I think might be conservative), not to mention the keyboard’s on the screen. I don’t want to type where I need to be looking!

      I think the problem with the iPad is that people still think of it as a computer. It’s really not. It’s got all the components of a computer, but it’s no more a computer than a calculator or cell phone is. It’s not computing in scales; it’s a difference of execution as much as anything else. Really, it’s, like, a portable information device, or something like that. Labeling it so neglects it primary function, though, which is to disappear. Something computers don’t do.

      • J.E. Fishman says:

        You get a bluetooth keyboard.

        Setting aside all the additional stuff you can do with an iPad, the big difference for reading books is the backlit color screen vs. the black-and-white electronic ink. The former is good for reading in the dark but impossible in the sun. The latter is impossible in the dark but great in the sun. I’ll bet you a dollar that these technologies somehow converge in the next 36 months — if it even takes that long.

        I might add that, in its current iteration, the electronic ink is better for reading novels and the iPad is better for color illustrated books. Again, however, we shouldn’t be surprised if these differences converge.

        • I think you’re totally right. I’ve been showing off my Kindle today, to some friends and colleagues.

          Universally, people have attempted to swipe the screen to navigate.

          I’m thinking a color, e-ink, capacitive touchscreen. Not sure it’s feasible, in terms of cost and production, right now, but someday I think it certainly will be.

  10. And I bought not only for reading books, but because you can read PDF files s on it – with all of my school work, it’s easier for me to look at journal articles on the Kindle and then write about it on my laptop. Also, as Greg will attest, I like to read lying on my back and sometimes my arms get tired if the book is really big and clonky and heavy. Then the book just ends up laying on my face while I sleep.

    But we’ll see how it goes – it should – in theory be a good thing. And to help me be more organized.
    But I like actual paper books too – I get all sentimental and attached and like to hug it when it’s over.
    Will I hug my Kindle?

    • So you haven’t gotten it yet? It does html better than PDFs, but it does both well enough. It sure is light. Feels great in the hand. So small and thin. It’s wonderful. The opposite of big and clonky and heavy, certainly.

      You may hug your Kindle. It’s something you’ll want to handle, for sure.

  11. Paul Clayton says:

    Will, there is a computer or device for writers. I can’t recall what it’s called, but I used to see it advertised in writing magazines. It looks like a laptop from the nineties (did they have them then?), with a decent keyboard and an LCD screen. It takes about four D-cell batteries. It is not internet capable, and is only for writing. I think it might have an onboard dictionary and spell check too. And it only costs about a hundred bucks or so. The only thing that kept me from buying was the screen, too small, about six inches wide by about three inches high, just big enough to read what I’ve written her, and nothing more.

    • I know which one you’re talking about, Paul. The one with the informercial print ads in those writing magazines. I think the thing that always turned me off was the screen. It was basically just a keyboard with that screen.

      I always wanted a small laptop with no wifi. The laptops small enough usually had the wifi and the ones without wifi were too big. The one I have now is a good size, but here I am.

  12. It is incredible how these things develop. Like you, my first computer was a 1gb affair with about as much RAM as a freaking calculator. Nowadays, though, I only have a laptop – it’s fast and furious but I own no other technology; no phone, no TV, no iPod. My laptop does it all, and it’s portable.

    I wonder about stuff like the iPad and Kindle and iPhone. I guess it would be nice to have something a little more portable than my laptop, but I am first and foremost a writer and I love the ease with which I can write on a laptop.

    I’ve also been wondering whether or not I should try and create a version of Beatdom for Kindle or such devices. I guess anything that opens it up to more readers, right? Hell, I don’t even know how these things work. As you say, they are indistinguishable from magic.

    • You ONLY have a laptop? No phone at all? That’s impressive. I mean, you do all your communication by e-mail? Chat? Webcam (probably pays more than by the word!)?

      I agree with you on the writing/laptop correlation. There’s something about touch typing, muscle memory making writing easier, more efficient. I’m not thinking about how my fingers are moving, just the words.

      Just the words.

      I think pretty much everyone should be pursuing Kindle. Hard.

      • Yup, no phone. I keep in contact via e-mail, Facebook and that’s about it. If I need to call someone I use Skype. It’s for the best, really. In the last year I’ve lost two phones due to drunkenness. They’re expensive and unnecessary, in my experience.

        Typing is an interesting thing. I’ve been talking to a friend of mine, and we came to the conclusion that our best writing comes from that we handwrite, then type out after. I think there are different parts of the brain triggered by these methods of transcription, and when we engage before maybe we’re pushing our brains harder.

        I’m sure I’ll relent one day and move into new fields of technology.

  13. Simon Smithson says:

    I was going to say that I’d love to own both a Kindle and have all my printed books available to me, too, and then I realised: fuck, I don’t even remember the last time I actually sit down and read something. Ugh! What have I become?

    Also: yes. The Kindle. Interesting thing. Full of scope for interesting projects.

    William.

    • A tech-savvy reader?

      I think print is going to become . . . well. Okay. I’ve been using an analogy.

      I mean, making out with girls is fun, but I’m not going to just invite any back to the boudoir.

      I think I’m looking at reading the same way now. Samples? Downloads?

      Totally.

      Book’s going to have to be really special to earn a spot on my shelf, though.

  14. Maybe libraries–like all the dead malls–will eventually be sold to churches and big flat touch-screens with USB port stations will be installed in their absence.

    Saul Bellow once said: “art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos. A stillness that characterizes prayer, too, and the eye of the storm. I think that art has something to do with an arrest of attention in the midst of distraction.”

    I’m not anti-e-reader, but I’m just kinda tired of being sold technological distractions. A book forces you to stop, sit, and slow down, which is sort of beautiful, no?

    Plus, as a culture, we look so silly now. Ever watched someone try to text and walk at the same time? Have you seen digital cigarettes? We are epic douchebags.

    • I haven’t seen digital cigarettes except (maybe) in movies.

      I wouldn’t mind big flat touch-screens with USB ports. And Espresso machines all around. I’d love to see reading and books become the mass market activity and product that movies and music managed even though they’re more nascent media.

      I agree about slowing down. Kindle replicated that for me. Some readers’ mileage may vary, though, I’m sure.

  15. Irene Zion says:

    Will?

    I do a lot of traveling.
    I used to carry a dedicated suitcase just for books.
    Now I put the new delightful kindle in my purse and I have a Cornucopia of books to read on my trips.
    I lovelovelovelovelove it.
    I still read regular books, if they have good pictures or they don’t appear on kindle, but that’s it.
    I welcome you.

    • I used to have the most difficult time packing books for trips. When I went to Jamaica, I literally packed a handful, including something by Einstein. I don’t know why I thought that would make good beach reading.

      Well. I do. I mean, I’m me.

      I’m looking forward to making it to your Kindle. And your shelves.

      If I say most of all, your heart, is that too on the nose? I’m still naive enough that’s always my aim.

      • Irene Zion says:

        Will,

        I buy a book for my kindle and if it’s one I really really love, I buy the hard copy.
        (Please don’t tell Victor.)

  16. Erika Rae says:

    I got to fondle a friend of mine’s iPad. Lord have mercy, I’m in love. This is a great article, Will – I love to read about the comparisons.

    • After handling and reading on a Kindle, I wondered if iPads weren’t more lust than love.

      Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I would definitely spring for an iPad if I had the cash. Because yeah, Lord have mercy.

      Thanks, Erika.

  17. Aaron Dietz says:

    Is there going to be a physical book version of Meets Girl? Because, as you know, I have this photo project, and I don’t yet have a kindle, nor a nice t-shirt that emulates the soft gray of Kindle’s text.

    • Yep. I haven’t decided how I’m going to fulfill the orders yet, though. I think what I may do is set it up as a Paypal directly to me, and anyone who orders it will receive a signed, personalized copy, as well as some small surprise or other. Will have to figure out shipping/handling etc.

  18. jmblaine says:

    Some months back
    I started having
    this strange left
    eye twitch &
    lethargy headache thing
    that happened
    if I spent more than
    an hour or so
    staring at a computer screen.

    So I’m kinda in an out
    a lot quicker now.
    It’s good in a living
    life without your eyes
    focused a foot in front
    of your face sort of way
    but difficult for someone
    who’d want to write.
    A writing Rabbi once
    told me
    Make sure you live
    more than you write.
    Whatever that means.

    It is Fall though
    & I’ve got an old bicycle.

    • That’s good advice. And is there anything better than a bike in the fall?

      How did you tend to write? Are you more into poetry? I’ve always liked your comments. I think longhand lends itself more to poetry than to prose.

  19. Matt says:

    I write longhand, frequently with a pencil. I wrote 3/4 of the rough draft of a novel by hand, then wrote the remaing 1/4 after I’d typed up that first chunk. As I mentioned to Nick Belardes the other week, about 80% of the roughs of all my TNB posts were written out by hand as well, and those that weren’t started off that way before I switched to the computer. And even on those rare occasions when I write directly into the computer I still keep my notebook and a writing implement handy, as I’m always scribbling down notes for something later in the story or working out a line revision.

    I find writing this way connects me more intimately to what I’m working on in a way that a computer, even with a touchscreen, doesn’t. The smell of the paper, the weight of the pen or pencil in my hand, the scritch-scritch-scritch sound of it writing…all of these things give me a nice little neural stimulation that text on a computer screen never has. They connect me more with the language. Plus, it’s a little slower, which makes me concentrate more on word choices, sentence structure, etc. And unlike a laptop or iPad, I never have to find a place with an outlet if I want to get some writing done while I’m out and about. I can just pull my notebook out wherever I want and start jotting down. My notebook consumes no electricity when it’s in use, so I’m not consuming any fossil fuels other than those that went into it’s production.

    That said, I’m not a luddite. I certainly love my iPhone, and would like to get the WordPress app to interface with TNB so I could write and upload a post directly from my phone, and I think the more avenues storytellers have to get their work across, the better it is. But for the time being, I have no interest in a Kindle or a nook, and I’ll give the iPad a few iterations before I pick one up.

    One thing about the Kindle that I do not understand, from a pure marketing standpoint, is why, when a vivid color screen is so readily available, they chose that horrid-looking grayscale, which I haven’t seen on a computer since the late 80s. Why completely cut themselves off at the knees regarding the market for color-illustrated children’s books, not to mention downloadble comics? I mean, much as I prefer my comics the old-fashioned way, they ones you can download and read on the iPhone/iPad app look gorgeous.

    • I definitely get your choice for ink on paper, writing-wise. I wonder if my particular slant (I usually aim more at story than word choice and such) has influenced, or been influenced by, my using a computer. Interesting idea.

      The Kindle uses e-ink. I can see how, from a distance, it looks like late-80s computers, but it’s not, really. The text is displayed on the screen, rather than, like, in it as imagining a Texas Instruments calculator or the like. If you check out a nook, I think you’ll see a difference. It’s not immediately apparent, but after a while you notice. That’s also why it uses so much less power (I think it’s, like, 10 days with wifi shut off? Something like that). The screen requires no power at all except when refreshing, as opposed to an always on LCD like the iPad or the computers you mentioned.

      Like Joel mentioned up above, though, they’ll probably all converge, technology-wise, before very long.

      • Matt says:

        When I first started my undergraduate studies, my writing was pretty firmly plot-driven, because that’s what I knew; I grew up reading plotted genre, mostly sci-fi and fantasy. At the time I wrote straight into MS Word on my old clunky PC. It was very meat-and-potatoes work. It was college that really opened my eyes to more “literary” non-genre fiction, to the way that prose style and diction choices could enhance the narrative or provide characterization; a well-written, single sentence written by one author can do more towards defining a character than three so-so paragraphs from another. So I started fiddling with sentances (or revising typed paragraphs) in a notebook, and before too long this turned into my doing a lot of drafts out by hand.

        I neglected to mention above that part of the appeal of this end of the process is also sentimental; I like having these artifacts leftover, even after a work is completed/distributed electronically. There are about a half-dozen filled notebooks on one of my bookshelves at home, dating back thirteen years–an archeological treasure trove of my continuing development as a writer.

        Plus, there’s a practical element to the hard copy as well. Mid-2000 that clunky PC suffered a catastrophic, terminal crash, taking a large chunk of my student work with it, including the sold copy of a screenplay I was in the middle of writing. Luckily, my notebook had pretty copious notes from my pre-writing brainstorming, and from them I was able to recreate it and finish that script. Similarly, when my apartment flooded durning Hurricane Katrina, I lost almost all of the electronic and hard copies of all my grad school work; the sole extant copy of my graduate thesis is the one residing in the university’s archive. But because my notebooks survived far better than my electronic equipment did, I still have a legacy of that work.

  20. Richard Cox says:

    I feel about my iPod and finding music on the Internet (last.fm, iTunes, Music Map) the same way you do about your Kindle. Those things reignited my love for music. I haven’t bought this many albums in years.

    That being said, I’ve been hesitant to migrate to e-books in a way I never thought twice about when it came to CDs or vinyl. I find the vinyl renaissance fairly silly and yet I cling desperately to my printed books. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

    P.S. Thanks for the img src shout out. 🙂

    • Well, there will always be something special and valuable about a book on a shelf. And in your hands. Whenever I’ve gone to museums that house special copies, like Shakespeare’s Folios or the Gutenberg Bible, I always want to touch them.

      And totally no prob. You know I love Rift.

  21. D.R. Haney says:

    Thanks, Will, for the shout-out about Subversia. As I understand it, the e-book version is now in the works. But seeing that I don’t have a Kindle, and I doubt seriously that I’ll be getting one anytime soon, I won’t be able to share my comments in response to the comments of others — assuming, of course, that there are any.

    I’ve personally had many people tell me, in person, that they dislike reading on a screen or, more to the point, that they prefer, and always will, paper books. In other words, that isn’t just an attitude I’ve encountered online. Meanwhile, I do think there’s much to be said for the old “medium is the message” argument, which seems to have fallen by the wayside. A book read on paper isn’t the same book as the one read on a screen. It won’t be a worse book, and the different may be slight, but the medium has a way of altering perception. David’s remark about different parts of the brain being triggered by methods of transcription applies equally to reading, just as it applies to films projected and films watched on television, and so on. But I know you’ve heard this all before.

    • But I always like discussing it. It’s fascinating stuff.

      I’m wondering if preferences will begin to change as digital reading is adopted more fully across the board. Like, I’ll always prefer a hardcover to a paperback, especially to keep on a shelf, except when I’m reading on a train or bus, or traveling. I think preference has as much to do with circumstance/situation as experience.

      Looking forward to Subversia. Very exciting stuff all around.

  22. Akash says:

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