Sunday, August 14, 2011


By Jennifer Gravley

I recently purchased an e-reader. My e-reader curiosity finally got the better of me, and I had to have one.

It's probably pretty clear, but I don't think e-readers are the end of the book. I love books. Reading and writing have been, basically, most of my life. Nothing will ever smell as good to me as the public library of my childhood. I have an MFA and an apartment with more bookshelves than is structurally sound and far more books than will fit onto them. I think about my library holds list like some people think about their fantasy football teams.

But the only people I know who own e-readers are big readers. Maybe because e-readers' sole purpose (and obviously I mean dedicated e-readers here) is to provide big readers with another format in which to get their fix. An e-reader without books on it is just another fancy piece of plastic. Sure, when I got mine, I downloaded a few freebie classics, but I couldn't wait to go through, one by one, the books that I knew through a Facebook re-post were on sale this month only and pick the four or five most promising. I bought a couple of books I knew wouldn't come through the library's holding system quickly enough, and then I downloaded an Annie Dillard book from the library's eBooks lending system. I bought a YA book that I'd read had been banned some places. I'm still thinking about buying Bossypants.

I loaded up my e-reader and a fat hardcover and went out of town for a few days. I ended up reading the hardcover on the plane--it could be open during take off, so that decided that. But I toggled between the two otherwise. When we went to an indie bookshop, as big readers are wont to do, I bought a couple books for myself and one for a gift. One of the books, which I probably wouldn't even have glanced at before, was an earlier book by the author whose book I'd been reading electronically. It was a delightful find.

Other than the tactile sensations (the heft, smell, and occasional water stains that accompany the used variety), the experience of reading itself so far has been much the same for me, but I wasn't only e-reader curious as a reader. As someone who works in publishing, I wondered what our books looked like in their electronic form. What was it, exactly, that we were selling?

I started at the press as a part-timer, photocopying and cutting and pasting (more often than not with scissors and glue sticks) my cubicle-shaped days away. As I worked my way up, I knew the thrill of being a little more and more in on it. Getting to request and look at manuscripts before going to New York for my first publicity trip was exciting not just because I was going to New York and going to have to talk to people about this stuff but also because I was finally getting to see what we were publishing one step earlier in the process. I was getting to read--for work! Obviously, seeing the books come together made me feel more a part of the team. Even when you believe in your mission abstractly, it's different to believe it in concretely, as you can only when you know what the specifics are behind those abstractions.

Now I have a few of our own books on my device. I swipe my fingers across the screen and see the pages that I worked to promote. I try out the difference between my device's defaults for text size and the publisher's defaults. I think, those defaults are mine. I think how someone else out there is saving this book up, maybe reading a chapter a day. I know exactly how she feels.