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Man with e-reader that says "People who gave up on this book also gave up on..." and shows several other books.

It was the best of tomes, it was the worst of tomes

It was the best of tomes, it was the worst of tomes published on Purchase print

I’ve become a lot more ruthless about giving up on books than I used to be.

Time was when it would take an act of physical coercion to get me to abandon a novel, no matter how tedious or disturbing I was finding it. But somewhere along the line, I closed one too many back covers thinking, “What the hell was that?”

Maybe it was trudging my way through the back half of Philip K. Dick’s VALIS that pushed me over the edge. (It was ambitious as hell, this being Philip K. Dick… but damn, it was a mess.) I do distinctly remember bailing on Tolkein’s The Silmarillion with exactly zero sense of guilt.

Since then, I’ve become a sudden-death reader, tossining books aside for reasons ranging from misogynist writing to an irritating authorial voice. I dumped one highly-recommended book after the first few paragraphs made me realize I was in for two hundred pages of ersatz Neil Gaiman without the insight or wit.

I’ve dropped out of really, really good books because I could feel the clouds of grim foreboding, and wasn’t prepared to follow the narrative down into the depths of despair. Maybe someday I’ll develop the strength of character to return to Mistry’s A Fine Balance, but sweet mother of pearl, was that ever bleak.

Then again, I was wowed by the brilliant Fall On Your Knees, where the plot basically goes “Oh, you thought what just happened was bad? It’s actually so much worse than you think.” And where a novel gives me a perspective I can’t find elsewhere, or explores an idea I’m encountering for the first time, or is otherwise funny and entertaining as hell, I’m a lot more willing to hang in there.

What it comes down to is, in a world filled with terrific books, life’s too damn short for meh.

Okay: your turn. What’s your mid-book deal-breaker? What’ll make you toss a tome, reject a read or spurn a screed? And what books have you given up on?

E-book cartoon shows (kid holding paper book) It's okay, I guess. I just miss the tactile experience of swiping to turn the page.

A real page-turner

A real page-turner published on 2 Comments on A real page-turnerPurchase print

My reading has reached the point now where there are some books I prefer to read on paper (e.g. mystery novels), some on an e-book reader (e.g. science fiction and other novels), and some on a tablet, so I can see the diagrams in glorious colour (e.g. software guides).

And I suspect this may be where we land for quite a while, with our reading spread across several platforms depending on which one does the job we need it to. Print books aren’t dead yet, and won’t be for a long time.

Print newspapers, mind you—I’m going to go out on a limb and say that, in Canada at least, the days of the printed local urban daily newspaper are coming to an end. (The economics in the U.S. are a little different, I know; the legacy of CanWest/Postmedia debt casts a long shadow over the whole industry north of the border.) My wild-ass, irresponsible prediction? The costs of printing and distribution are going to sink them within (takes breath, looks to the ceiling) three years, except for maybe the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail.

And then in three more years, we’ll all be laughing that we ever thought e-readers and tablets were going to last… and then go back to reading J.K. Rowling’s latest, laser-projected onto our retinal implants.

Next chapter

Next chapter published on No Comments on Next chapterPurchase print

The last few years have seen a pretty serious shakedown in the book world. Bookstores closing their doors, publishers merging or shutting down, and overshadowing it all, Amazon and the Kindle. And now the iPad – with its spectacular adoption rate and the Apple-powered negotiating clout behind the iBook store – promises to turn it all upside down and shake hard.

No wonder, then, that book lovers are wondering if the ink-and-paper era is ending. I haven’t read so many anguished paens to the tactile feel of paper since I stumbled across a alt.sex.fetish.papyrus on Usenet.*

I can relate to that. Thirty-plus years ago, I read Foundation and Empire by flashlight under my comforter cover to cover for what must have been the third time while my parents thought I was asleep. I can remember turning the pages as gingerly as I could, so that the rasp of paper on paper wouldn’t alert my mom and dad to the transgression.

So yeah, tactile experience. Then again, the subtly-rounded back of an iThing filling your palm and the finger-on-glass squeak of a swipe are pretty tactile, too. And I wonder sometimes if books’ days are as numbered as their pages.

But then I see my kids — in a household where Macs, iDevices, gaming platforms and screens outnumber humans by about four to one — putting down the PlayStation controllers and chatting for hours with each other in imaginative play. It takes no effort to get them to abandon the TV in favor of making pancakes together in the kitchen. And with a little prodding, they’ll turn from YouTube to cuddling with one of us as we read them a favorite story… even one they’ve heard dozens of times before.

For them, the war between analog and digital doesn’t really exist. They frankly don’t care about the distinction. What matters to them is the experience, the content, the connection — the story. And sharing it with us and each other.

I honestly don’t know if books as form will survive. But I’m getting more and more hopeful that books as idea will.

And years from now, I’ll still be poking my head into the kids’ room before I go to sleep to watch for the tell-tale glow of a flashlight.


* I completely made that newsgroup up a moment ago. And three of you just tried unsuccessfully to mask your disappointment.

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