E-books: a love-hate relationship

E-books are brilliant. I don’t like e-books. These two statements sum up my feelings about e-books, and rather than try to resolve the paradox by choosing one side or another, I’m going to let the paradox stand and be a thing in itself.

When I am waiting at the doctor’s surgery (she’s always late, but I keep going because she is a great doctor and has long, curly, red hair like a medieval princess), I don’t need to read the trashy magazines about Melissa Doyle and how fat I am. I have e-books on my phone, always ready to go. I’ve read mostly nonfiction like Tina Fey’s autobiog on my phone, and a couple of J. R. Ward erotic vampire novels. I have been eyeing off a Kindle for a while. Traveling overseas recently, I was very aware of how bulky and heavy books are. It wasn’t a thing I’d noticed before. And, as Kimberley Freeman, I’ve sold a metric shitload of e-books. Apparently romance is a genre in which e-books are super popular. I’ve made mucho dollars from e-books.
E-books are brilliant.

But I don’t like e-books.

Or rather, they don’t give me the lovely feeling that real books do. A book has always been such a tactile, sensual pleasure for me: the feel of the pages, the cover, the smell. I miss these things if I don’t have them. It’s like 20% of the joy of reading is missing. Walking into a bookstore (if I can find one) still fills me with a feeling of magnificent promise. All those stories, all around me, contained between gorgeous covers with smooth spines just waiting to be cracked, pages to pore over and thumb and dog-ear. It’s like I want to rub myself all over them (sorry if that’s TMI).

Click on the photo to open full-sized version.

And e-books don’t remember you the way real books do. Look at this photograph. I found this book in a secondhand bookshop when I was a child, and was entranced by the idea that somebody had owned it in the 1940s. As soon as I got it home, I wrote my own name (and proposed pseudonym at the time) in the front, with the date I bought it. I loved that book so much (I blogged about it here: The Romance of Work) and I still have it. Of course. With my inscription and the original inscription intact. Those inscriptions, that history that I have with the book, make it more special. And you simply can’t do that with an e-book.

I am fine with not coming down on one side or the other over e-books. I’m not fence sitting. I am actively choosing not to choose, because I enjoy different books for different reasons. If all e-books disappeared from the world today, I would mourn their loss. If all print books disappeared, I would mourn their loss too (perhaps a little more). E-books are brilliant; I just don’t like them. And that’s my final position on the matter.

Any other conscientious objectors out there who refuse to take sides?

When I first heard Kim Wilkins speak, I was stunned by how beautifully and directly she spoke about her life and her journey as a writer. She made me laugh hard, too, and I have seldom heard anybody tell their story more pithily and sharply than her. How compellingly refreshing so lacking in dulling, protective cloaks of convention and caution. How wonderful it would have been when I was a teen sitting in a classroom, to have heard such a person speak.Here is a delicious sample of Kim’s directness from her blog.

I am about to start work on the last novella for my collection The Year of Ancient Ghosts (see cover art below). The novella is called “The Lark and the River” and is set around the end of the 11th century when a new church is built on an ancient pagan site and then the shit goes down. The other stories in the collection are:
“The Year of Ancient Ghosts” about a woman who brings her daughter to Orkney to investigate her husband’s secret past and then the ghostly shit goes down.
“The Death of Pamela” in which a couple of Arthur’s knights leave their sister at a spooky castle and then the bathing-in-virgin-blood shit goes down.
“Wild Dreams of Blood” about a woman who finds out on the eve of her wedding that she is Odin’s daughter and then the frost giant cage-fighting shit goes down.
“Crown of Rowan”, a prequel to my historical fantasy novel The Garden of the Mad King, in which shit just goes down pretty continually.

As to her back story, Kim was born in London, grew up at the seaside north of Brisbane and has degrees in literature and creative writing. She teaches at the University of Queensland and in the community as well as writing. Her first novel, was published in 1997. Since then, she has published across many genres and for many different age groups. You can find a comprehensive list of her books here.
Her latest books, contemporary epic romances, are published under the pseudonym Kimberley Freeman. She has a blog in her this persona, here: Kimberley Freeman. Have a look at the brilliant post on traveling and children.

Her official Kim Wilkins blog, which I thoroughly recommend, can be found at Hexebart’s Well.
I hope you enjoy her offering here, as much as I did.

13 Responses

    1. Emily Craven says:

      “And then shit goes down”. I love it! I really must meet you Kim!

      I completely understand where you are coming from, I was a bit like that then I first started learning about e-books. And the reason I was learning about e-books was not because as a reader I thought they were cool/convenient/easy etc etc. I learnt about them because as a writer, I was frustrated over the gauntlet to get published and thought if there was some way I could publish the things I liked writing then I would go there, even if I still ached to go that traditional publisher way.

      May I ask, did you self publish under the name Kimberley Freeman, or do it through an e-publisher? I’m curious as to the way authors are going, the types of percentages they get from ebooks if it’s through a publisher etc.

      As an end note, I recently re-discovered a copy of Jules Vernes “From Earth to the Moon”. A first edition of the book that I bought from a book store a couple of years back for 8 bucks. In two years the book will officially be 100 years old. To hold a hundred year old book in your hand is pretty awesome…

      • Kim Wilkins says:

        My Kimberley Freeman books are all published by major publishing houses, including their e-book imprints. But I’m eyeing off possible self/e-pub options for another project that I’d like to retain control over. And as for your century-old book! How exciting and wonderful! Sniff it for me.

      • Emily Craven says:

        What is the going royalty rate for digital sales? I’ve heard around 25%. Have you found that digital sales have increase your overall royalties? Sorry, I just realised these seem quite personal questions! I wasn’t after numbers just a general feel for how it’s turned out for you.

        I love how authors are now doing a mix of traditional and self publishing. Perhaps we can make writing a bit more of a profitable profession!

        The last time I smelt my century book it was a little musty, I’m a little afraid of opening it let alone reading it incase it falls apart!!

    2. fence–sitting n. \ˈfen(t)s-ˌsi-tiŋ\

      1. a state of indecision or neutrality with respect to conflicting positions.
      2. supporting both sides in a disagreement so as not to make a decision.
      3. actively choosing not to choose.

    3. David says:

      Sadly, it’s been a while since entering a bookshop (except specialist ones for kids’ lit, perhaps) has given me a feeling of promise. More often it’s a feeling of having to wade past stacks of vacuous celebrity books and soulless below-cost remainders to get to the promise. E-reading permits a sort of automation of the wading, a bit, which isn’t something I was expecting before I got a Kindle.

      I do miss the inscription, especially the kind you describe, Kim. I had a number of old Famous Five hardbacks with a similar thing going on (sans prospective pseudonym). I don’t miss the feel or smell of individual books, but I would sorely miss the concentrated smell of books en masse, should libraries cease to exist largely as they are.

      That said, I dunno. I’m reading two books via e, and a couple via p, and one (Giants of the Frost as it happens) via audio book. I’m no evangelist. Just gimme a book!

    4. Deb says:

      As this debate goes on, I finding myself closer to the fence. How close I will come, or if I will try the ‘greener pastures’ on the other side is yet to be determined. I will however admit that I’m getting more interested in the whole e-book thing, and am planning on checking them out over the next little while (if I can find books I can read on the computer).

    5. Ah the smell of chemicals sandwiched between covers. The very essence of carbon footprint and the crisp snap of native forest wood chips in every page.

      • Emily Craven says:

        Hahaha, agreed! The smell of the book has never figured in my enjoyment of one. And the number of times I’ve read about the ‘smell of a book’ in these posts is making me a little loopy. I feel like i’m the only odd reader out, how could I have missed this sniffing addiction?? I love owning physical copies of books, but never because of their odour.

      • Min Dean says:

        I knew only two people who actually ‘smelled’ books before the debate (and one of them is a programmer/gamer). Every time I’ve seen it mentioned here I want to post this: http://boingboing.net/2012/07/25/perfume-that-smells-like-new-b.html (which I found a while ago / sent to other book-smelling friend, who’s a lit graduate).

        Each to their own I guess – I had just never realised it was so common before!

      • Emily Craven says:

        Oh my goodness that’s hilarious!! I particularly like the comment below that says “Is this revenge for magazines that smell like perfume?”

      • Richard Harland says:

        Maybe it’s the glue that fastens the pages to the spine, and we’re all really glue-sniffers at heart? It’s true, I’ve never liked stapled books – I thought that was because they’re too thin and look cheap. But maybe I’m missing my fix …

      • Emily Craven says:

        Oh dear Richard, I fear you’re right!

    6. Kirsty says:

      My name is Kirsty, and I am a fence sitter. Or is it really that easy to classify?
      I am not one thing and one thing only. Recently, I have come to accept that I am made up of more variations than I can name.

      I am a lover of books. The smell of ink and paper, the feel of a new un-blemished cover in hand, the familiarity of folds and creases, the delicacy of well worn pages. There is a thrill in flicking through a book and seeing all those words sitting there, waiting to be read. Excitement in removing a bookmark and seeing how far you have come, and how far there is to go.
      This Kirsty fiercely dislikes the ‘invasion’ of eBooks.
      But that is not the whole me. I’d like to think I am not insane, that it is normal to debate and argue in your own mind. That the devil and angel on your shoulders are just the tip of an iceberg of inner opposition, because when it comes to eBooks, that debate is the fence on which I sit.

      I am a product of modern society. I learnt to type rather than fix my almost illegible handwriting, because as my teacher said “computers are the future”. I can see the value in eBooks. A slimline device that will never change size no matter how many words a story contains. The ability to have several books at your fingertips all at once, without carrying more than one device with you. My brain is not adverse to the efficiency and accessibility that seems to drive much of what is sold in the current day, and the earth child in me screams ‘save the trees’. I have embraced music that no longer arrives at my house on a Cassette or CD, and the tiny devices that can hold days worth of music in one place. So one day I will give in, and buy a device for eBooks. It is just a matter of time.

      Will I ever get off the fence? No, probably not. But I’d like to think the view from the fence affords me the chance to stay true to myself, and not be swept up by ideals that aren’t really mine, no matter what influences come my way. And so the internal debate rages.