When I moved last year I carted along 41 boxes of books. I haven’t counted them — I haven’t even sorted them well, just shoved them willy-nilly into bookcases — but I’d guess I have around 1,500 books.
Of those, perhaps a hundred are books that double as works of art — heavily illustrated books produced by publishers who cared — while a few others have sentimental value.
The rest, though, are valuable — or not — for the words between their covers. I keep them because I haven’t read them yet, or am likely to want to read them again, or want to have access to the information they provide.
But I’m sick of carting them around. They’re heavy, they’re bulky, and they limit how small my living quarters can be.
I am not one of those people sentimental about physical books — except, of course, for the ones that really are art in book form. Reading pixels instead of print is fine by me.
And if I could also always have 1,500 books with me when I’m traveling — so I don’t have to decide in advance which ones I want — and could actually find the one I’m looking for by the simple method of remembering the author or part of the title or the subject matter, I’d be extremely happy.
Not to mention how wonderful it would be if I had all my reference and nonfiction books stored to my home computer, so I could look up that key quote or detailed explanation whenever I wanted it.
I don’t, however, want to read all those books on my computer itself. The computer is fine for research, and for reading the news while I drink my morning coffee or taking in a short story over lunch, but for serious reading I want to curl up in a comfy chair or prop up in bed.
So I need an e-book reader. But there are snags.
The obvious choice right now is the Kindle. You can download right to the device and Amazon has 250,000 books available. What annoys me about the Kindle, though, is that it’s proprietary. I can’t buy the Kindle editions for any other reading device (though I can apparently download other electronic books onto the Kindle, just not as conveniently). I really don’t want to contribute to Amazon being the only game in town.
Otherwise, there’s the Sony Reader or downloading books to cell phones. Lately, I’ve been thinking that one of those new netbooks would work as a book reader — they’re small enough to fit in a large purse, and wouldn’t be as tricky as a laptop for reading in bed.
But all these methods still feel like a stopgap, like we haven’t really solved the hardware issue for books the way we have for phones and music players.
And I want to see it solved. In fact, I want much more than that.
I have a dream.
I want instant access to every book written in the world (and off-world, once we develop settlements elsewhere or meet interesting aliens). I’m tired of not being able to get hold of a book because it’s only published in the UK or of paying an arm and a leg to get something shipped from Australia.
Paid access, of course. Writing is hard work; writers should get paid. Since we’re talking about my dream here, let me add that I’d like to see the bulk of the money go to the writers, along with the editors and others who do the work to make the book available and readable.
But since I’m paying for it, I want it to be easy to read and use and save and share — to be able to use it precisely as I use the physical books I buy right now. And I don’t want to find out in two years that I can’t read any of those books anymore, because my device is obsolete and no one’s updating it. (I bought the Rocket e-book reader; I know from obsolete.)
That’s my dream. It’s not an impossible dream. The barriers to it aren’t technological — the technology exists. The barriers are corporations who are invested in certain ways of doing business — not just Amazon, who’s trying to corner the market, but the established publishers who want to hold onto their current methods and the other businesses tied into those systems.
Right now, we’re at the edge of change. The change could be simply a shift to a new group of players in the publishing world — Amazon rather than Random House et al.
Or the change could be broader than that, could open up publishing much farther and both give writers more income and readers more choice.
That’s my dream. And it’s no coincidence that one of the ways I’m pursuing the dream is by being part of Book View Cafe.
Nancy Jane’s flash fiction for this week is “Sirens.” Her collection Conscientious Inconsistencies is available from PS Publishing and her novella Changeling can be ordered from Aqueduct Press.