26 April 2018

e-reading and me

I have a confession to make...

Until just a few months ago, I was a book purist. Even worse, a book snob.

I didn't get the appeal of reading a work of fiction (or even non-fiction) by staring at a screen. To me, books were meant to be held, manipulated — tangible objects that had a weight and a smell and took up physical space. They'd also been my constant companions for as long as I could remember, their presence and contact an unfailing source of comfort. Before Rebus came into my life and started to sleep next to my pillow, that space would be occupied by a volume or two. I couldn't imagine ever adopting e-reading. I sincerely believed it wasn't for me. It just felt all wrong, like a betrayal of my best friends.

I don't know when that changed, or even how or why it happened. Maybe it was while I sat in so many waiting rooms last year, wishing I'd brought something more absorbing than the one book I'd taken with me. Or possibly when my thirst for reading went into overdrive early this year and I wanted to absorb as many words as possible through every pore of my body. I do know that, after that initial change of heart, a number of factors helped the idea take root. Here are some of the advantages I found to e-readers and e-books.

Since I'm a freelancer with limited financial means and a boundless appetite for reading, I must admit that one of these was that electronic books are generally less expensive than their print version. As an example: the newly released Circe by Madeline Miller has a list price of $32; as I write this, the hardcover is $19.75 on Amazon.ca and the e-book version is $17.99 in the Kobo store. Even Book Depository can't beat this price... Plus, there are often surprise sales on e-books, so it's sometimes possible to grab a book you really want to read for just a few dollars. For example, I recently paid $1.99 for Himself by Jess Kidd, which normally sells for $11.99, and $2.99 for Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven, which is usually $11.99 as well. It's also possible to find classics, such as Hard Times by Charles Dickens, for free. [All of the prices mentioned above are in Canadian dollars.]

While it's also possible to borrow e-books from the library, I very rarely read in French and my library system doesn't offer any e-books in English, so this element held no sway in my decision.

Something hadn't occurred to me, but soon surfaced when I started to look into e-books more closely: the availability of certain works in my part of the world. Just an example of this is From the Wreck by Jane Rawson, which was published in Australia and is not yet available in print in Canada; however, I can easily buy it as an e-book.

The portability aspect of cramming hundreds of novels and reference books into a device with the dimensions of a very thin paperback is self-evident. This can be extremely handy in case I unexpectedly find myself needing to wait for some reason and don't have my MP3 player with me. Short story collections are perfect in these eventualities.

So, once I'd convinced myself that the addition of an e-reader would brighten my reading life, what made me choose the model I purchased (Kobo Aura H2O)? Two points: it's not associated with Amazon, and it's waterproof — a definite tick in the "pro" column given my legendary clumsiness. It's also reasonably priced given its 8 G storage capacity.  

One thing that was unexpected but sent me in a clicking frenzy when I found out about it: free previews! This means I can read the first few pages of books I've heard about and might want to buy later, either in electronic or print format, without spending a single cent! (I may have downloaded over 100 of them thus far...) Amongst the bookish discoveries I might never have made without this are The Humans by Matt Haig, Awayland by Ramona Ausubel, The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen and Minds of Winter by Ed O'Loughlin.

Another bonus has been the ability to receive e-galleys (preliminary versions of e-books) through NetGalley.* You may have noticed that some of my recent reviews were for novels that came from NG, and more are forthcoming. This has been a very positive experience thus far, as I've discovered wonderful works of fiction and a couple of authors I really enjoyed.

It's funny how our opinions can change so completely... Obviously, I haven't abandoned print books — they're still my main vehicle for consuming literature — but e-books now have their place in my reading diet.


*NetGalley is a platform that brings publishers in contact with "professional readers" such as booksellers, librarians, reviewers, bloggers, etc., who can receive and read digital galleys of upcoming books (provided they meet publishers' approval preferences) in exchange for an honest review.

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