[9/52]: 4 March 2011

the problem with giving books as gifts is...(344/365)

Dear Reader,

This week I’ve been feeling so worn out, due to a combination of bad habits (sleeping too late) and misalignment of stars, that I was tempted to skip writing this letter.

Then I read this poem by W.S. Merwin, to Berryman.

I had hardly begun to read
I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can’t

you can’t you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don’t write

from Berryman, by W.S. Merwin

So here we go…

So what has been going on? My last craft weekend was very productive and I made a pretty vest in just five days. It’s enough to encourage me to make another one, like Paper Dolls pullover. Although given the weather and pull of the new season, I’m looking forward to some sewing, and there’s a new set of clothing patterns I have my eye on. I really need to figure out how to incorporate more creative time daily, instead of putting it on the back burner (some things are just better done little by little, rather than one big whoosh). Maybe I should spend one weekend dedicated to the big finish! 🙂

I also got an enormous amount of reading done. I bought a book, And I shall have some peace there, and finished it (it was great, though it felt like a work in progress. Then again, we’re all works in progress.) I realized something the other day that I’ve not been to a bookstore as often since making the 52 books resolution and well… resolving not to buy paper magazines when they are available in digital print. The last one has been challenging, but going to libraries and using Zinio have been helping. And more and more publications are becoming online-only, like Matchbook. It makes more sense when you’re pretty much reading advertising that sells you stuff that you have to look up online anyway. I think it makes more sense to have magazines if you are going to treat them more like books. (Guess who’s been trying to get rid of her magazine stash for the last few months? All that dust and lack of free space…)

That brings me up to the issue of e-readers, which I think have the advantage of not taking up space (and producing/wasting energy for materials). I don’t think anything will ever replace the physical feel of a book (other than another book) and I do not think e-readers should try to emulate that, because there is no way they can. I strongly dislike e-ink software, mostly because the way they refresh pages makes me want to go into seizures (Pokemon effect, anyone?), and it probably affects me more because I read faster than the average reader (just ask Mr. Yum. We don’t ever, ever read together because it is a complete disaster). Reading faster makes me turn the pages more frequently, and therefore, increase the number of refresh “blinks.” However, I do have fairly bad eyesight and prefer to read larger fonts (I’ve found large type books to be more convenient to read, and the library has a nice selection of them), but the drawback is that due to my reading speed, I have to turn pages faster than if I’d been reading the normal font size.

So no Kindle or Sony Reader for me, though I’ve been experimenting with Apple iBook and Google Books. I very much prefer the latter, though Apple iBook has the advantage of giving free samples of the first chapters. Google Books has a comprehensive bookstore, and allows me to purchase e-books via my local bookstore, and allows a night reading feature (light font on black). So far I’ve only bought one e-book, and it’s a collection of short stories, which would have taken up too much space on my bookshelf and gathered dust (I am horrible at finishing short story collections). I do not think I will be reading novels on an e-reader, simply because I keep moving back and forth pages to look up when the character first showed up, the first moments, etc. And it gets worse when the novel is the riveting, cannot-put-it-down kind– my poor phone takes the brunt of my frustration, and a physical book is so much faster to read (no waiting for uploads, even if the book is offline), and there is a very satisfying pfft! when you close the cover on the last page. (Such was the case with Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother (download for free here), which I first read in Stanza, then finished in the physical book. If you like dystopian YA, please read this book- it hits much closer to home than Hunger Games.)

None of this matters, though, because it doesn’t solve the biggest problem I have with e-readers, which is the DRM (digital rights management) copyright. Under DRM, a customer is automatically treated as a thief, and has absolutely no rights whatsoever on whatever medium they like to read (there are ways around that, but all of them involve some serious cursing and major headaches). Also, I can’t even lend a book to someone and tell them “hey, this was good and I think you’d like it” (there are ways around that and I’ve heard rumors of Kindle allowing this, but I’m suspicious). I also completely resent the amount of control companies are trying to have over what I want to read, how I read, and where I read (for example, if you are a Briton living in Japan, you cannot buy books from a certain British bookstore if your phone number says you are living in Japan, even though you are STILL a British citizen.) In short, I agree with everything listed in this e-reader bill of rights:

The eBook User’s Bill of Rights

Every eBook user should have the following rights:

the right to use eBooks under guidelines that favor access over proprietary limitations
the right to access eBooks on any technological platform, including the hardware and software the user chooses
the right to annotate, quote passages, print, and share eBook content within the spirit of fair use and copyright
the right of the first-sale doctrine extended to digital content, allowing the eBook owner the right to retain, archive, share, and re-sell purchased eBooks
I believe in the free market of information and ideas.

I believe that authors, writers, and publishers can flourish when their works are readily available on the widest range of media. I believe that authors, writers, and publishers can thrive when readers are given the maximum amount of freedom to access, annotate, and share with other readers, helping this content find new audiences and markets. I believe that eBook purchasers should enjoy the rights of the first-sale doctrine because eBooks are part of the greater cultural cornerstone of literacy, education, and information access.

Digital Rights Management (DRM), like a tariff, acts as a mechanism to inhibit this free exchange of ideas, literature, and information. Likewise, the current licensing arrangements mean that readers never possess ultimate control over their own personal reading material. These are not acceptable conditions for eBooks.

I am a reader. As a customer, I am entitled to be treated with respect and not as a potential criminal. As a consumer, I am entitled to make my own decisions about the eBooks that I buy or borrow.

I am concerned about the future of access to literature and information in eBooks. I ask readers, authors, publishers, retailers, librarians, software developers, and device manufacturers to support these eBook users’ rights.

(via Boing Boing via Librarian in Black)

Whew. I didn’t mean for that to be long. In short, I would support e-readers more if there was a better copyright system, but in the meantime, if there is a short story collection I’d like to read, it’d probably be bought through Google Books and read on my iphone. If it’s not available, well then, there’s the bookstore that’s long overdue for a visit.

Also- another thought- is it just me, or is it SO much easier to browse in a bookstore or even a video rental shop than it is online? Maybe it’s just that the online browsing system is too complicated (more features does not equal better usability), but I’ve noticed that I tend to find out about new books and movies from an actual shop rather than online.

Random link:
I loved this piece on Ted Kooser, about poetry being simple and readable for the masses. Or as Mr. Yum pointed out, it’s why no one remembers any poet other than Robert Frost.

Random thought:
A phrase from a movie (The American) has been bouncing around in my head: “You’re a craftsman, not an artist.” I’m trying to figure out what that means, and so far I think one can be either but very rarely both. Your opinions?

Til next week,
Eunice

P.S. I’m updating my reading list to include the non-52 books. You can find it here.

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6 Responses to [9/52]: 4 March 2011

  1. marthasnail says:

    i have been thinking alot about e-readers. reading magazines online bugs me to no end. i have no idea why. i’m not sure how i would feel about reading an entire novel on an e-reader. i have several friends who recently bought kindles and they showed me how they work (i had never seen one!). they both love them. the e-reader appeals to me solely because i’m tired of having stacks of books everywhere but i still don’t know if i would like reading on a device. plus, like you, i am concerned about all of the copyright issues. e-books are cheaper and since i like to keep up with the most current books that seems like a positive as well.

    so i’m still on the fence.

    • Eunice says:

      yah, i think the e-book/reader issue is something to keep an eye on– i think it’s still evolving. in the meantime, nothing really is giving me a big push towards e-readers, even though i must admit the conveniences are appealing.

  2. carolyn says:

    Dear Eunice,

    I’m glad you didn’t skip writing this letter, it’s given me lots of things to think about!

    Your vest is beautiful and I love it! And I agree–I would be much more productive craft-wise if I would make myself do just a little every day. Instead I am always putting off being crafty until I have big blocks of time available…and then being surprised when I don’t get as much done in them as I’d like. I’m always saying ot people, after even just an hour of knitting, “Gee, it’s surprising how much you get done WHEN YOU ACTUALLY KNIT”. I mean, 30 minutes of TV knitting every night when I get home is going to result in a lot more getting done than saving it up for that two-hour block I have on a Sunday or something!

    In terms of craftsman vs. artist, I would say it’s inaccurate to separate the two ideas. I believe it’s possible to be an artist or designer who doesnt have the technical skill to craft their vision and I believe it’s possible to be a craftsman who can execute beautifully someone else’s vision…but I believe that many, if not most, of great artists and craftsman are both at the same time: the visionary and the executionist.

    But we may have to agree to disagree on that one! 🙂

    Til next week,
    Reader (Carolyn)

    • ejchang says:

      Re: craftsman vs artist– that’s a good way to put it. i would also guess it depends on the task involved.

  3. carolyn says:

    p.s. Ted Kooser sounds like one cool dude. But I’d have to point out that the article is wrong about him beng the first accessible Poet Laureate. Hello, Billy Collins, anyone!?!?!? (I would also argue that of William Carlos Williams and Stanley Kunitz but that may be before the official designation of “laureate” came about.)

    • ejchang says:

      Maybe ‘accessible’ is the wrong word. Maybe ‘minimalist’ or ‘simple’ or ‘easy-to-understand.’ I’d also put Jane Kenyon on the list.

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