By September 9, 2009 3 Comments Read More →

Book Group: Batteries not Included

computer mouse and bookThe electronic book has arrived at one of my book groups. At my SF/fantasy group, one of our regulars has taken to bringing his electronic reader instead of actual books. I’ll admit up front, I have rather extreme views on this subject. Frankly, I think electronic books are an ungainly technology with little upside that large monopolies are spending huge amounts of advertising money to promote. If they can convince enough of us to give up our perfectly lovely books, they stand to make gobs of money, further expand their monopolies, and minimize the pesky role of all those annoying bookstores, publishers, and writers. See, I told you my view was extreme.

So when Dan, who shall remain nameless, breaks out his reader (I hate that term: since when is the reader not the reader?), I have to stifle the urge to ask him not to use his graphing calculator in the middle of the meeting. A few times, I’ve unkindly pointed out that everyone else can show us their book’s cover and pass it around the circle.

I stayed awake last night pondering the effect of modern trends on book groups (I used to write poetry in the middle of the night. I should probably go back to that.) Here are some of the questions that kept me tossing and turning:

  • Will electronic books with tiny screens encourage or discourage Bloviating Blaine from intoning long passages aloud so that he can hear his own voice?
  • What will our less literary members do to pass the time if they can’t pass around copies and look at the pictures inside?
  • If dear Lush Louise tosses back a fourth glass of wine (as she’s prone to do) at group, will she be held liable when she gestures wildly to indicate how the novel moved her and in the process dumps the fifth glass of Merlot into her neighbor’s Kindle?
  • Instead of adjudicating the merits of the Feagles translation or the Fitzgerald, will we now have to listen to long debates about whose file format is better?
  • Which has a higher collective cost for the group–the mix of personal copies, library books, and book store purchases that we bring to meetings now or the Kindle copy that each of us will have to buy in the future? How much will the price of e-books go up once someone has the market cornered?
  • As the facilitator, is it my responsibility to tweet the meeting? Should I join the discussion or focus on twittering and twaddling it for the rest of the world? Is it really more fun to make snide comments on the keyboard than it is to spout them out loud like I usually do?
  • What kind of new excuses will we hear from the people who never seem to finish the book? “Sorry, I didn’t have enough battery life this month”? “My carpal tunnel is acting up again”? “I only finished the first five screens, but it changed my life already”?
  • Perhaps the next generation of electronic reader will involve implants. Instead of reading, can I download the book straight into my brain?

Here’s the last question, the one that really haunts my bookish dreams:

  • How long will we keep interrupting our efficient lives to engage in inefficient acts like reading? How long will we bother with meeting together at all?



About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

3 Comments on "Book Group: Batteries not Included"

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  1. Sounds like eBook readers are a really scary topic for you. Have you ever actually tried one?

    Susan in Las Vegas

    • Neil Hollands says:

      Hi Susan, I have tried an e-book reader, but only for a few pages of reading. I didn’t like it, but that’s not my main argument. I don’t have any problems with books as they are, so I don’t have much motivation to do more. If a few people find e-books useful, then good for them. I haven’t got a problem with that. For a few kinds of informational reading, I’ll even admit that electronic readers might make sense. I also don’t think that e-books will replace physical books any time soon.

      What I dislike is the hard sell, the implication by many that it would be a good thing if e-books were to replace physical books, and the damage that I think the mass use of e-books would do to the book industry, to the cause of writers, and to the sharing of literature.

  2. I think there’s always going to be new and different technologies that make reading more accessible but there will always be a demand for physical books.

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