Tuesday, April 13, 2010

TRIED AND TRUE BOOKS: New Fashions for the Unleashed

(NOTE: The faithful and almost genial writer of this blog has been missing for several weeks, much to the consternation of his debtors. Mr. Detroit found him sipping rum drinks under a beach umbrella in the sunny country of Belize. “Why did you run off?” asked the good Michigan native. “I didn’t run. I hobbled,” the writer replied in his defense. While cavorting between manuscripts, he ran into a newel post and broke his left clavicle. This led to surgery and weeks of recuperation. “No place better than Belize to heal,” he said. Mr. Detroit stormed off in anger. Responsibility for the blog had fallen to him. The following is what he wrote.)

This is silly. I don’t have a blog, a MySpace or Facebook page, and I don’t see the Internet as endless entertainment. I’m stuck writing online on account of California weakens people. Most of the population is a bunch of complainers who’ve never seen a real winter with snowdrifts and black ice on the freeways. Rain and fog is the worst for them, and the summers in the northern part of the state are too mild to be considered anything but a long spring. Your regular writer gets a hurt shoulder and he cries like he’d lost a limb. Man up. Stop the sobbing. No one is going to kiss whatever you want kissed to make it better.

So heck, I’m stuck with the assignment. The Easter weekend for many people meant standing in line to plunk down ready cash (or credit for those that still have a working card) at the Apple Store. The iPad is in with apps aplenty, more versatile than a Kindle, and better looking than any other ebook reader out there. A quarter of a million iPads were sold, along with 600,000 ebooks. Chills and thrills, right?

Wrong. Most people start their days by booting up home computers to check for news and email, and go to jobs that require them to boot up other computers. Once home from the office, warehouse, or delicatessen after a long and tedious day wired into a Blackberry, they boot up their HD TVs connected to the Internet and watch bad movies until it’s time for bed, or they get stuck in gaming and don’t sleep at all. None of this makes for a full, integrated life, just efficient consumers.

For the public transit commuter, reading is how time was passed while waiting to hit the destination. Books, magazines, and newspapers were read. Magazines have folded or reduced size, and newspapers knocked down the same. Now books are making the transition (transitioning? Is that a legitimate word?) to digital, and ebooks promise to be the next big thing, at least for publishers. Just think: an ebook doesn't require a designer, a printer, a warehouse, and barely an editor. Download the text file to a server in Colorado and get ready for the income stream. Writers of works will be screwed over on the change, and some deserve to be mistreated, like the whiner with the jug of Bain de Soleil. Many are made of stronger stuff. They’ll get theirs, anyhow.

For my money, the ebook thing doesn’t make sense. Dropping $259 for the six-inch or $489 for the 9.7-inch version of Kindle, or $499 for the iPad, puts a heck of a dent into my book-buying budget for the year, never mind the month. For those amounts of cash I can walk out of an independent bookstore (www.indiebound.org) with a healthy stack of reading material that does not require batteries. Taking the same bankroll to a used bookstore means I leave with two stacks, and a clear conscience about the lightness of my carbon footprint. What’s even more important is that after hours and hours of being logged on and jacked in, I can rest in a world with greater permanence than a pixel. Pop a beer, put a little smooth music on the stereo, settle into a comfortable chair next to good light, and it’s almost like a date except you don’t have to say “excuse me” when you burp.

Nights in with a book are more pleasurable than nights out with those so-called friends who leave you with the bar tab; may they find their foreheads pressed against parking meters. The physical properties of a book are part of reading: Type never lets you down, or crisp off-white paper, or the touch of a buckram binding. I’ll set my own trend, thank you, and read my books in the real world. Plus I get that rush of achievement every time I add another volume to my bookshelves. What screen will give me that?


Even though I’m writing this and what’s-his-name isn’t, I should stick in a plug for THE DOG WALKED DOWN THE STREET: AN OUTSPOKEN GUIDE FOR WRITERS WHO WANT TO PUBLISH (Cypress House, $13.95). Available at independent bookstores and other places across the country, THE DOG has been reviewed favorably by those who should know. One reader and likely a writer said, “At last, the rhododendron has perked up. This is due to the wonderful advice and clear-headed explanation of the publishing business I found in THE DOG.” So buy some copies already, please?

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