As any readers of this blog have probably realized by now, I love my e-reader. It’s a tablet as well as a reader, so I often have phases where I either use it to browse social media and play games or as a reader alone. As a reader, Kip (my Kindle) is unbeatable. Buying books and reading them immediately is a luxury I’ve grown accustomed to – as is the precious, sometimes minute feeling of anonymity connected to purchasing an e-book.
As an English major and lover of all things literary, book purchasing is a pastime of mine. At a store, your purchases are often scrutinized by a plethora of people – the customers near the shelves as you pluck a novel off the shelf, the cashier who rings you up, and if you’re like me, your own capricious mind. I often choose a novel and carry it with me as I continue shopping, weighing it over in my mind and deciding if the novel is worth my time and modest budget. Bookstore buying offers two things: public opinion and deliberation time. How many of us have been accosted amongst the classics by another book-lover, remarking that the H.G. Wells classic in our hands is among his worst works? Or perhaps a snarky cashier whose not-so-hidden facial expressions tells us we’re buying the wrong books? How many times have I carried everything from Light in August to Wicked in the crook of my arm for 25 minutes before putting it back on the shelf with a strange feeling of emptiness?
Enter the E-book. As I’ve related to readers of this blog before, having a Kindle colossally shifted my book-buying and -reading perspective. For one thing, I found that there exists a bizarre sense of rebellious freedom when you purchase a book you’ve never seen on a best-seller or English major’s reading list. Yes, I like beachy chick-lit. No, I don’t often purchase in them in store, under the prying eyes of my literary colleagues, but offer it for $4.99 on a Kindle daily deal and you can bet I’ve already hit the download button. Why is this? Why am I more comfortable displaying copies of Atlas Shrugged or Never Let Me Go on my bookshelf, but would rather hide Sex and the City in a stack of books on the floor next to my bed (i.e. it’s a figurative stack of books that in reality is my Kindle)? There is a perverse kind of joy in being able to own the entire Princess Diaries series but not necessarily being forced to own up to it.
We’ve established that e-readers have brought us anonymous reading. They’ve also but us shorter deliberation time and instant gratification – when I’m choosing whether or not to buy a book on Kip, I can’t mull it over for too long. One reason is that Kindle offers daily and monthly deals on novels that often force readers into making snap decisions (brilliant, Amazon – simply brilliant). They’ve made Wish Lists available, which is fantastic for those of us who still require good old-fashioned deliberation to make a decision.
. Remember in the nineties when the internet was new and exciting, and people found out you could shop online? This is similar – suddenly people no longer have to get up and go to a store to buy the latest in noteworthy fiction, and they certainly don’t have to stoically walk by the romance section while secretly wanting to buy all of them.
What does this mean for the culture of reading? We are finally embracing the socialization of literature – choosing to connect with other readers and authors on websites, blogs, and social media by sharing favorite quotes and writing reviews. But at the same time, e-reader sales specifically in the genre of romance (often of the paranormal persuasion) are booming, because readers are secretly buying novels they’re actually too embarrassed to own, and keeping quiet about it. How are these opposite trends co-existing in the world of literature? We have anonymous reading, which involves sitting along and choosing whichever titles you’re in the mood for and being able to read them within 30 seconds in the privacy of your home, and hyper-social reading, which involves internet book clubs and testing each other on our favorite book quotes. It’s quite curious.
I think that overall, anonymity and socialization amount to the same thing: we are building a larger book-loving audience than ever before. Whether you are learning to love books by privately purchasing novels that you can’t bring yourself to buy in a store, or you’re creating quizzes and booklists on Goodreads to incorporate as many readers as possible into the discussion of a certain novel, you’re reading. And that’s all that matters. What do you think? Am I over-reacting to the introduction of a new way to purchase literature, or do you agree that e-readers are changing the way readers enjoy the written word? I’d love to know your thoughts on this – have any of you bought a book on your e-reader that you would never have purchased had your choice been made known to another person?