By Margo Beth Crouppen, Acquisitions Editor, Organizational Studies and Economics
At the end of my formal education, having written a thesis and worked as a features writer at UC Davis’ daily newspaper, I promised myself: I will never again write anything for public consumption. I’m nearing a decade since I made this pledge and, apart from the rare exception of a contest entry or a fervent response to a news article or blog post, I’ve pretty much kept my oath. I am a book editor, the guy behind the guy who writes. This is both my station and my comfort zone. Why then, am I writing this post?
A recent chain of events, which started at the Stanford University Press holiday party, has changed my outlook on reading—and even my self conception as a “word nerd” and a “book person” to some extent. Inexplicably, I feel compelled to share this transformation—both as a staunch book lover and as a member of the quickly changing publishing industry.
Let’s begin with the facts. I love books. Until recently, I had read everything in my home bookshelves—cover to cover. At 19, I vowed to read all of Philip Roth’s novels and meet him prior to his death. I have nearly reached the goal of finishing his published works, and would have met it already if he would stop publishing so fervently. I like paper. I relish bookstores. And, no matter how much I adore books, I haven’t read much for pleasure since I became an Acquiring Editor—so in the past five years (or thereabouts). I am sorry, dear colleagues, to give away our dirty secret. But, for those of you reading who are not in Books Editorial I am pretty typical for an editor in this regard. Reading equals work. And, on most nights, I would rather curl up with The Real Housewives on Bravo than the great American novel.
So, when I won a Kindle this past December in a Press-wide raffle, I half expected it to become a high tech coaster on my coffee table. Not only was I unsure that I would use it, but I was resistant to doing so. My allegiance has always been to print, and I have a love/hate relationship with Amazon because of its vast impact on the publishing industry during my tenure within it. But, it seemed like the waste of a win if I didn’t give it a try. And, to my surprise, that little device re-kindle-ed my interest in personal reading.
Why? I’ve been giving that some thought, and I count five reasons:
- I do not like to commit myself to a book only to find out that I do not want to finish it. I feel as though I have wasted money. And, then I have to further tarnish my bookshelf with unfinished oeuvres. With Kindle, I can read a sample before buying. Sure, I could go to a bookstore, slump down along the shelves, and do the same. Or, I could use the “search inside” feature or Google Books or Amazon to scope out my possible reads. But, these options require me to be in a particular location: in front of a computer or in a store, whereas Kindle allows me to get part of a book essentially in book form for sampling. With this freedom, I am more willing to explore possible reads, leading me into more books.
- I am impatient. When I want something, I want it now, and nothing beats having a book that I want in 15 seconds. Now, nothing sucks more than finding out that a book I want in 15 seconds in not available on Kindle (Amazon, if you are reading, Random Family, please…). But, in many cases, I ask and it is delivered.
- I am lazy. I hate losing my place in a book, and then having to shuffle through to find it anew. Kindle keeps my place. Even more brilliant, I can lie on one arm, hold the device, and turn the page, never shifting positions. This seems frivolous, but I promise that it opens up a whole new world of reading “stances.”
- I am a neat freak living in a San Francisco apartment. Think tiny, and already crowded with bookshelves stacked two rows deep. So, space saving is appreciated.
- It’s kind of like…reading. On Kindle, I can highlight passages and take notes, keeping up all of my type A, former English major habits. And, the e-ink screen doesn’t leave me feeling like I’m looking at yet another glowing box (on top of my iPhone, work laptop, and personal desktop computer).
So, there you have it: the whole truth. In recent years, publishing has been a rough playground, with shrinking sales, tougher times getting titles into readers’ hands, and the list goes on. I’ve lamented this in the office, all the while running home to my television, and contributing to the breakdown between readers and books as a consumer.
If any of my seemingly frivolous reasons for liking the Kindle resonate with dormant readers and lead them to give e-reading a try—whether on a laptop, an iPhone, a Kindle, or any other device—writing this piece and outing myself will have been worth it. Books—whatever their form—need audiences. A book is a conversation that we have with an author when he or she is not there. The world needs those long-form conversations/stories; they are an irreplaceable piece of our social fabric—at least by my thinking. And, trust me, if we can find a way to get past our everyday hang-ups—whether space, or buyer’s remorse, etc.—reading books feels great.