I have tried for a long time to avoid ebooks, largely because I was relatively uninterested in the technology for a long time. With the exception of some relative popular e-book commentary, I haven’t had much interest in exploring the devices or software. The fact is that I’m simply not a big reader or particularly well-read. I’m a product of my generation, I’m sorry to say.
Still, one of the most notorious factors in college is the hidden cost of books. It’s a sort of running joke in college that you pay more for your books than your food (a poignant and ultimately depressing thought if you are on George Washington University’s frustrating meal plan). So imagine my surprise when I discovered that one of my costly books – a copy of the legendary Don Quixote – was actually in spanish instead of being a translated version of the novel. It was a frustrating revelation, since the tome was the exact ISBN book my professor had requested us to buy (an unfortunate mistake, I’m sure….) And thus I was left to find another copy of the classic comedic novel very quickly.
Print costs money, but online text can be free. And luckily for humanity, Don Quixote has long been in the general domain, making it an excellent choice for the Guttenberg Project, a group devoted to making classic and out of copyright books available to the public. I found a classic translation of the novel, and realize that Guttenberg is available on for iBooks, free. Now I must tell you I debated this for a long time, probably longer than I should have, but with good intention. I have tried very hard to avoid ebooks also because I have feared them. As I’ve said, I’m not well read. I’m so slow at reading it borders on autistic (I’m not illiterate, just slow), and though I have a strong vocabulary and prose, I blame most of that on extensive movie quoting and my acting experience. In light of the countless reports I read about how our minds act different when reading on a computer versus a book, I’ve always feared my already under-utilized literary capacity would make any attempt to read a book on an electronic device futile.
And yet, I did it. On the one hand I was running out of options, but on the other I felt it was time to face my fears. And so I downloaded the iBook of Don Quixote on to my iPhone at 2AM this morning.
I made the right decision.
I felt something click when reading the novel on my phone. Perhaps it was that very fact: I was reading a book on my phone. Chapters, bookmarks, turning pages, highlighting, making notes, all from my phone. Much of this just speaks to the powerful design of Apple’s iBooks application, but the fact was I felt this wonderful sense of convergence. It was old meeting new as one of history’s greatest novels was being presented to me in a whole new way. I didn’t need a lamp (which my roommate I’m sure was thankful for), there was no adjusting my reading position beyond deciding between landscape or portrait, and it was all in the palm of my hand. Not only that, but I was reading. Really reading the book and loving it (Don Quixote is a wonderfully hilarious book). There was no subconscious block to my absorbing the text. If anything, my brain being accustomed to reading online made the experience easier for me.
At the gym this afternoon, I was still reading while on the exercise bike, something I have never done because of the inconvenience of a bulky book. It finally happened folks: I saw the light of ebooks, their clear advantage of portability, interactivity, and versatility became very real to me today. It’s only fitting I make this revelation on the eve of the iPad 2’s announcement, a device I have the clear intention of buying and now want only more so. Who knows? Maybe the iPad will enhance my reading skills. Perhaps it can really change my generation for the better and make us want to read again.
One can only hope. I’m a believer.