My E-Reader, My Self

I have to admit that I’ve been a fierce luddite when it comes to the idea of E-books. For me, books are a physical thing, an object of beauty. They’re tailsmanic objects with their own energy.

I got an e-reader for my birthday. It was a lovely, thoughtful gift, something I’ve been expecting ever since they were released. It was also, in a way, something I had been dreading a bit. It took me years to get an ipod - thanks to being broke and in college, to being someone who thought that they may just write about music full time in life, so why partake? (This is a little funny because I am definitely a former music journalist, now.) The ipod was good, and with it, I slowly stopped buying CDs. The creep crept on, and eventually I stopped caring about music like I was a Nick Hornby character.

I had been dreading e-readers because to me, they’re a little bit the enemy. I have no doubt that the project I’ve been trying to flog has been languishing, somewhat, due to change within the publishing industry. Due to bad timing. (It just needs one agent and one editor to give me some notes and it’s gonna be a hit, I swear. I wrote for newspapers, I’m great at revision.) It’s been very typical for me. I graduated college thinking I’d be a newspaper journalist, mind you. Now I barely read the paper I grew up with. Modern times.

With e-readers, I know that they empirically make sense in my life, particularly when I’m traveling. I dragged 15 books with me to go to Stockholm for three weeks, with an eye towards leaving some of them there for my sister, who would have to pay 30 dollars in kroner for a paperback. Something ridiculous. I took my e-reader with me to New York last week and it was so easy and great. I have downloaded one book so far, and it was a slightly salacious “women’s novel” of the sort that would be sold as summer reading somewhere. I read it back and forth on the LIRR between doctor’s appointments and for once my back didn’t hurt. And nobody hit on me. (Recommendation: if you are in Boston, try reading Dostoyevsky on the T. The Brothers K got me chatted up so much.)

I feel leery, however, downloading more books. (Except for Emily Books books! I’m looking forward to getting some of those.) I’m not sure where to go. I’m a fast reader, and a re-reader, and I haven’t quite figured out the nature of my relationship with my e-reader yet. Don’t I want to cuddle with E.B. White’s essays for the rest of my life? Shouldn’t I buy those as a book? Don’t I need Moby Dick in print? And when it comes to more disposable, “fun” books, aren’t those worth a library spin? What book is worth the money on an e-reader, but also evanescent enough so I don’t want it as an object? There is something about the e-reader that makes me realize how fast I am at reading, how I can say, jeez, I paid this amount of money for something that took me this amount of time. Is it worth it?

I suppose the answer… is somewhere in the middle. The idea of Kindle Singles. Long reads. I like the idea of cuddling up with John Jeremiah Sullivan essays on my e-reader. (Even though I bought Pulphead, and loved it, and now would like to do something of interest so I could attempt a truly John Jeremiah Sullivan-esque essay.) Nonfiction, maybe? It just doesn’t feel like a romantic venue for what’s, for me, a truly romantic art, and sometimes I feel weird about that. I don’t want my relationship with writing and literature to go the way of my once intense, wonderfully life-defining relationship with music. Music just feels like an ex-boyfriend I once had.

A younger Elisabeth would hate me for writing the previous sentence. It’s funny, however, I can’t quite figure out if my likes and dislikes, and the changing quality of them, are the result of technology or “growing up.” Do I not define myself by music in the same way as a result of my age, or is it the result of the relationship that you have with music through an ipod? Technology has been keeping pace with my age in a way that’s rather creepy, so we’ll see. Hopefully somebody my age writes a good book about that back-and-forth someday. Nick Hornby’s too old for it, unfortunately.

What’s your relationship with your e-reader?

PS. Buy my e-book next year? I promise you’ll like it.