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October 09, 2011

Sunday Book Thread

I recently picked up Stephen Hicks' Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault for my Kindle. It will now join the twenty other books on my "not started" pile, and I curse Amazon for making book-buying so easy. Amazon has made books into pure crackrock, and the Kindle is the glass pipe.

I always swear to myself: no more new books until I've finished reading the ones I've already bought. In the old days, I could look guiltily upon the stack of unread books I keep on my end-table, but the Kindle's list of not-yet-read books is far less intimidating. And with e-books, I can guard against buying the same book twice because I forgot I bought it the first time; I have three copies of Stephen Hunter's Point of Impact in various editions because I keep misplacing the book.

My Kindle has really transformed my reading habits. Prior to buying a Kindle, my reading was very regimented: an hour or two in the evening with soft music on the stereo. Now, my Kindle goes with me everywhere and I read in bits and pieces all day long, a page here and there: waiting in line, on breaks at work, sitting in airports, while eating dinner in restaurants, surreptitiously while sitting in long boring meetings. (You'd think with all that reading I'd make more progress on my backlog, but no....) And there is the Sybaritic pleasure in knowing that I can carry thousands of books with me where ever I go.

So having an e-reader has made two big differences to me as an avid reader: I buy more books on the spur of the moment because Amazon has made it so easy, and I read a lot more throughout the day. The only downside is that I can't show visitors my wall-o-books so they can see how smart I am! (I've known people who have bought classics like Moby Dick as "props" -- they've never read the book, but they want other people to think they've read the book. Or they'll buy one of those big coffee-table photo-books to impress visitors, but never actually read it.) The e-reader makes such displays obsolete: no one can see what books you have on your Kindle. So now the guys can read soupy romances on the subway without fear of anyone scoping the cover; attractive women can read X-Men comics without being mobbed by geeks. In a way, e-readers have made reading a more private and personal experience -- whether you view that as a good thing or not depends on the kind of reader you are, I suppose.

The most significant downside to e-books that I've seen so far is that it's accelerated a trend to "over publishing". Even before e-readers hit big there were too many books being published. Quality books are harder than ever to find amidst the rolling ocean of mediocrity. In the old days I used to use word-of-mouth, past experience, and (I admit) cool cover-art as my main criteria for buying books. Now it's far harder because there are so many new authors, especially in genre fiction -- there is the occasional pearl, but I'm not willing to dig through a mountain of crap to get to it any more. This is one of the reasons I started the Sunday Book Thread: word-of-mouth and recommendations by friends have formed the main part of my book purchases over the past few years.

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posted by Monty at 10:54 AM

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