Tag Archives: e-books

e-Books and the Environment

Recently, someone I know rather well challenged me to a verbal (and intellectual) duel about the merits of e-books over paper books. My opponent is a vocal supporter of e-readers and electronic books (as well as technology in general), and can’t understand why I am stuck, as they put it, in paper-ville.

‘Well,’ I said, as if it was an obvious point. ‘One reason I love paper books so much is because of the environment.’

This almost caused a meltdown.

Photo Credit: Ian Sane via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Ian Sane via Compfight cc

I was accused of being an imbecile who didn’t understand the first thing about the environment. ‘What about all the trees cut down to provide pulp for the paper that goes into your beloved books?’ I was asked. ‘You can’t tell me you believe that’s environmentally friendly!’ Now, I am an avid recycler, and have been for over twenty years. I love washing and squashing my plastics, sorting my old newspapers, making sure every tiny bit of recyclable material is separated from the non-recyclable bits, and put back out to use. I am one of these earnest hand-wringing types who worries about the state of the polar ice-caps and rising sea levels and global warming (and who has firm opinions on the latter, but I won’t go into them here for fear of generating another typhoon of derision), and so to think I don’t care, or don’t know, about the environment is a bit galling.

The other party in the e-book discussion is a person who lives and breathes technology and computers and – this is important – younger than me. Not by a lot, chronologically, but enough for us to belong, just about, to two different ‘groups’; digital migrants (me) and digital natives (them). Perhaps my interlocutor believes computers, and by extension e-readers, come out of the ground fully formed, wrapped neatly in plastic, with a friendly-looking user interface which says: ‘Me? I couldn’t possibly harm the environment! Come on, now. Not a single tree died to make me!’ For this person, ‘dead-tree’ technology is almost offensive in its backwardness, like expecting us to live in caves huddled around campfires instead of in houses, huddled around the TV. I completely understand why they, and so many others, think like this – but I couldn’t agree with them less.

What irritates me (can you tell I’m irritated?) is that there is such naivety when it comes to the reality behind producing e-readers. Sure, you can store hundreds of books on one device. Sure, you can use it for a good long while before it becomes ‘obsolete’ – or unfashionable, or broken. It all sounds good, that’s true. But in every single device, there are heavy metals, toxic chemicals, non-biodegradable circuitry and metal and plastic and glass and goodness knows what else – and these things not only do harm when the device is thrown away, but also when they are being mined, or manufactured, in the first place. They do harm not only to the environment, but to the people who work in the mines and factories from which we get our neatly-packaged, clean-looking, ever so modern pieces of sleek reading equipment. It’s too easy to convince ourselves when we open up our brand-new machine that no harm was done to anything or anyone else in order for us to buy it, but I just can’t believe that’s actually the truth.

In the EU, most if not all paper books are produced using wood pulp from managed forests. Sure, I will accept that printing causes environmental damage – water run-off, the dye used in ink, diesel used by log-cutting machinery and so on – but trees are an infinitely renewable resource, and it is far easier to control and monitor the damage done from pulping and printing than it is to control the damage done by mining and working with heavy metals. When a paper book has reached the end of its usable life, it can be recycled with ease – turned back into paper pulp which can be used for all manner of things. Books are so easy to recycle that you can do it at home, through your municipal waste collection. Not many people recycle their old e-readers, and even if they did, it’s no easy task to reclaim the useful components from each device. It’s a lot more wasteful of time, energy and resources to manufacture, use and finally recycle the average e-reader compared with the average book. I don’t have statistics to hand but I will defend this viewpoint to the cold, bitter end, dagnabbit.

So. Phew. That’s me. I feel very passionate about this topic (no! Really?) but if anyone wishes to chime in with refutation, information, argument or interested debate I’d really welcome it. I’d love to get others’ opinions on this issue, and to gauge if I’m totally off the wall with this. I promise to remain reasonable, polite and respectful (Girl Scouts’ honour), and if anyone out there has any actual, verifiable data about the environmental impact of e-reader production, I’d be charmed to make its acquaintance.

(And if the environmental argument can’t sway you to the paper book cause, maybe this article about how reading them is better for you will do the trick. If not? Well, I did my best. Adios!)


Paying for e-Books

Last week I read a blog post which was, in the main, a book review. I’m not going to link to it (for reasons which will become clear), or identify the blogger. I have largely forgotten the review itself, but what has remained fresh in my mind is the following (abridged and most definitely paraphrased) declaration:

I still feel weird about paying for e-books, though, you know? Because I’m so used to getting them for free, or maybe it’s because I object to paying for something intangible, but I just don’t think it’s right to pay for something you can’t touch.


So, this blogger was reviewing a book which was not self-published; it was a novel from a major publishing house. It was actually a novel I’ve read in hard copy, to the best of my recollection. I have nothing against self-publishing, I want to state right at the outset – I do feel that the tendency for self-published e-books to be free through some of the major online retailers does a disservice to the book industry, but that’s an argument for another day. The point of the current discussion is: this blogger felt it was ‘wrong’ to pay for an e-book, just because she couldn’t touch it. I can’t understand her logic.

Hmmm. Maybe if I sit here and scratch my chin for a bit, it'll all become clear... Photo Credit: Tambako the Jaguar via Compfight cc

Hmmm. Maybe if I sit here and scratch my chin for a bit, it’ll all become clear…
Photo Credit: Tambako the Jaguar via Compfight cc

It drives me crazy when people try to argue that e-books should be free just because they’re digital. I have little time for the mindset that anything you can download should come at no cost; simply making a piece of creative work available digitally doesn’t mean that it cost nothing to produce. The book this blogger was reviewing represented an investment by the publisher in the author, the cover artist, the copy-editor, the proofreader, the agent, the rights people, the legal team, and anybody else who was involved in the creation of the book. Just because it’s not printed, or stored, or shipped to a warehouse, or sold to you over a counter by a human being, doesn’t mean that nobody deserves to get paid for the creation of this work. It doesn’t mean that the reader deserves to get it for nothing.

I do accept that e-books should be cheaper than physical books for all the reasons I’ve touched on above – the fact that they don’t need to be shipped and stored, and so on. But free, if it’s not by the choice of the writer? No.

I felt that the blogger was trying to make a larger ethical statement, too, in the way she phrased her objection: it wasn’t that she didn’t want to pay, it was that she felt it wasn’t right. It wasn’t right to charge a person for something they couldn’t touch. But surely she’s paying for the use of the book, the right to read it, the temporary immersion in its story world? When you go out for dinner, you pay for your meal. Sure, you can touch your food if you want (and if your mama never told you not to play with your dinner), but you don’t get to keep it forever. You pay for the ‘use’ of it, and then that’s it. If you’re the sort of person who downloads music, you pay (or, at least, you should pay) for the right to play the music whenever you want, and listen to it as often as you like. You don’t have a physical album, but the music is yours to do with as you want for as long as you want. You’re paying for the use of it, too. The thinking that because you can press a button and have something delivered to your computer, or your ‘devices’ (a word I am coming to despise) means it has no intrinsic value is anathema to me.

If you’re not willing to pay for something you can touch – i.e. the physical book – why do you think you should get the contents of it (essentially, the same experience) for nothing? If this blogger’s problem was the ethics of paying for intangibles, shouldn’t she have felt obliged to buy the physical book?

Okay, you’re going to have to allow me a little soapboxing. I’ll keep it to a minimum, I swear.

*deep breath*

I can’t bear illegal downloading. I can’t bear piracy. I can’t bear the idea that music and books should be free because they are available online, particularly without the permission of the copyright holder. Some try to argue that they should be free because they’re ‘art’, and art’s for everyone – art is for everyone, yes. But there are libraries, and art galleries, and museums, and places you can rent books online if you really can’t engage with the physical world. In my opinion, nobody can or should work for nothing. Writers and musicians shouldn’t work for nothing just because what they do isn’t tangible. If you want to engage with or immerse yourself in or otherwise enjoy a work of art, then it should be instinctive to pay the person who created that art for their service. Perhaps the system we have now isn’t ideal, and it probably suits an outdated model of commerce and creativity, but that doesn’t mean we just get to chuck it out wholesale. We need something to replace it, something that people can get on board with, something that makes sense to everyone, both consumers and creators alike.

Part of me hates what I’m saying here. Part of me subscribes entirely to the ‘art is for everyone’ way of thinking, and would love a world where everything is available to everyone, borders be damned, and artists could just create art out of sheer love of what they where doing. But I don’t want to see a world where creatives are pushed out of existence through economic necessity, or where the creation of art is placed back into the hands of the wealthy, as was the case in the past. Even if all we pay is a pittance, whatever we can afford, a few cents or pennies here and there, it should be a given that art needs to be paid for by the people who use and rely on it. Surely that way it can keep going, and thriving, and we can all get used to paying for stuff that’s intangible – but nonetheless vital to our lives.

*clambers down off soapbox* *straightens clothing*

I thank you. Normal service will resume tomorrow.

Photo Credit: MonsieurLui via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: MonsieurLui via Compfight cc

Sort of related to this topic is this book, being published in November in the US (I’m not sure about the rest of the world). If I have the pennies, I’ll get a copy, because I think the model set forth by this particular artist may be the ‘right’ one, or at least the most acceptable to a modern audience. Interestingly, I don’t think the payment structure she has put in place for her music is the same one her publisher will be using when it comes to this book – and doesn’t that say a lot about our world and its relationship to art? Anyway. Adios!

Too Much?

I’ve just read an interesting blog post which gave some advice to aspiring authors. The first thing the blogger recommends is not to post any of your writing on the internet, including in a regular blog. This is because, the blogger says, most of what people write on their blogs is not really ready for public consumption. I suppose she (the blogger) sees incomplete or poorly written blog posts as millstones around an aspiring author’s neck.

Perhaps she’s right.

I put a lot of effort into my blog posts, and I take my time over them every morning. Even so, of course, errors creep in and badly phrased sentences pop up here and there, or I write something in a way I’m not completely happy with. In an age when a person can go from having a very long Word document on their computer to having a published book via Kindle Direct Publishing in under 24 hours, and when it takes only seconds to publish work to a blog, I think I can see the wisdom of this blogger’s point of view. It’s always better to take your time, not give away too much of your writing too soon (and for too little, perhaps), and to make sure your writing is of the highest possible standard before you release it into the world. It doesn’t pay to be hasty, perhaps, when the written word is on the line; one-click publishing means that all those errors made in the enthusiastic rush of writing a book don’t get a chance to be fixed, and instead end up in your shiny new e-book, tormenting readers and destroying their faith in literature, and in you as a writer. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to ensure quality across the board, even with something like writing – after all, it’s a product like any other. But, somehow, I feel a little bit sad about thinking this way.

I like to blog, you see.

I usually like to kick-start my writing day by posting here on ‘Clockwatching…’ before I get stuck into the meat of my WiP. That’s not to say that my blog is merely a dumping ground for any old nonsense, just to get me in gear for my ‘real’ work – the writing I do here is entirely different from the work I’m doing on my current project, and it’s good to write in different styles. It’s like stretching different muscles, surely? That, to me, is the value of a blog. I think writing here has improved my style, and it certainly helps me to think. When you know you have to come up with enough material to fill a blog post on a regular basis, your brain gets used to looking for inspiration everywhere and coming up with ideas.

So, those are the reasons I blog. As well as all that, I enjoy connecting with the people who read and comment regularly on my blog – it’s wonderful to feel you’re reaching people via the medium of words.

What do you think about this advice? Do you think aspiring authors should not blog, or (if they simply must) that they only blog once in a while, when they have a perfectly crafted jewel of a post? What do you think the benefits (and, perhaps, drawbacks) of blogging are?

Thanks for reading – happy Friday, and have a wonderful weekend.

Well, we can all dream!

Well, we can all dream! Have a relaxing time, whatever you do.

Just Wondering…

Hello, hallo, hullo. Good morrow to you.

I’m here listening to some Pink Floyd, and it has put me in a very mellow mood indeed. Life seems great (despite my rapidly advancing age – see yesterday’s blog!) and all sorts of frivolities are flipping about in my cavernous skull. Today, I’m thinking about reading, and how you know whether you’ll like a book or not. Do you judge its cover (despite all the warnings against it!) or is it the ‘blurb’ that attracts you to a story? Have you ever made any serious errors of judgement in your reading life? How far into a book do you have to be before you’d consider writing it off as a lost cause, or are you the type of reader who will doggedly persist no matter how poor the doggerel you’re slogging through, a sort of ‘finish or perish’ mentality?

I’m not wondering this because of anything I’ve read recently – in fact, it’s been a long, long time since I came across a book I just couldn’t force myself to finish. Many years ago, I boasted, filled with the hubris of youth, that I *never* left a book unread if I started it. A friend promptly challenged me to read L. Ron Hubbard’s ‘Dianetics’; I think I may have reached page 4 before my brain started to mount a rebellion against my eyes, and I had to shut the thing and fling it as far from me as possible. Since then, there have been some others that didn’t make it much further than the starting blocks – another friend asked if I could possibly read ‘Mein Kampf’ (the answer is, of course, ‘no’, though I did give it a go, albeit briefly). Also, there are some classics which I just couldn’t manage – one of them is ‘Middlemarch’, about which I’ve had some impassioned arguments over the years. I don’t care what anyone says – Casaubon is a character that should just never have existed, end of story. I read the beginning of ‘Middlemarch’, and the last 50 pages or so, leaving about 80% of it unread, and still managed to write a passable essay on it while at university. This is less a statement of my own intellectual prowess as it is an indictment of the Irish higher education system, but I digress.

In recent years, I started ‘Wolf Hall’ but didn’t manage to finish it (though I do intend to go back to it as soon as I can clear enough space in my head – so, probably not till the New Year); I also started Nicola Barker’s ‘Darkmans’, which I really liked, but just wasn’t able to get my head around. I think my bookmark sits forlornly at about page 140, where it has remained for about three years. I intend to chivvy it along one of these days, and finish the book, but for whatever reason, I just haven’t been able to manage it. A recent book which I came this close to finishing, but for some reason didn’t, was ‘Embassytown’ (China Mieville); it’s a work of genius, but at the time I tried to read it I didn’t have the opportunity to devote my unbroken, full attention to it. I was trying to snatch ten pages here, fifteen pages there – and I really think it’s a book which just doesn’t respond well to that sort of treatment. I wasn’t able to really engage with it properly, and it creates such a rich imaginative world that you really need to be able to immerse yourself in it. However, I did get to within twenty pages of the end before I gave up. I fully intend finishing it, and probably sooner rather than later.

One thing these books all have in common is wonderful covers, and enticing blurbs. I think I’m a bit of a fiend for a good book cover. An intriguing author photo helps too, sometimes. I usually end up being drawn to books with a focus on history (particularly medieval or ‘early modern’, or whatever it is they’re calling the Renaissance nowadays), or perhaps with a supernatural/folklore-ish flavour, and of course I can’t help but indulge myself when I pass near the SF/Fantasy shelves – you can’t really beat SF/Fantasy books for excellent cover art. I think my love of a good book jacket is another reason why I just can’t warm to e-readers; it’s just not the same when all you’re looking at is pixels on a screen. Sometimes, though, I do feel short-changed when a blurb, a beautiful cover, or even reviews, lead me to believe a book is going to be life-changingly brilliant, and it turns out not to be the case. A recent example was ‘1Q84’, by the normally mind-bogglingly amazing Haruki Murakami. For months in advance of publication, I’d read reviews which told of this book becoming an instant bestseller in Japan; it had sold a million copies before it had even been printed. Advance reviews promised wonderful things. As well as that, I’ve savoured so many of his past works that I was practically foaming at the mouth to get my hands on ‘1Q84’ – such was my ardour that I couldn’t even wait for Books 1 & 2 (published together) to become available in paperback. I had to have the hardback, and I left it for ages on my bookshelf, like a treat to myself. I even bought the hardback Book 3, so they’d look pretty together on the shelf.

Well, they do look pretty. But…

I just don’t know. Perhaps it was the anticipation, or perhaps it was the fact that I usually love his work and was fully primed to love this, too. Maybe it was the fact that I adored Book 1 and thought Book 2 was reasonably good, but by the time it came to Book 3, and I realised I had hundreds of pages of drawn-out, samey story to trudge through before the wholly unsatisfactory ending, that I felt my enthusiasm for it had been sucked right out of me. There are characters in the books called Little People, for instance, who are supposed to be evil, threatening and spooky – but to an Irish reader, all that ‘Little People’ conjurs up is bad old movies about leprechauns, and folklore about fairies. I just couldn’t get behind them as the source of all horror, or whatever it is Murakami intended them to be. After the ten millionth time they’re mentioned, I just wanted to eat the book rather than finish it, but I persevered. I’m glad I did, but I really don’t know if I’d recommend it to anyone else. It was a lesson, perhaps, not to be sucked in completely by a beautiful cover and great reviews. Normally, of course, you can rely on your past experience of an author – in this case, I didn’t feel it was so clear cut. ‘1Q84’ definitely was not up to the standard of a Murakami masterwork like ‘Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World’, which is a book I’d recommend to anyone who’s willing to let logic fly out the window and who’s looking for a mind-expanding read.

So. Are there any hard book lessons you’ve learned? Anything you’ve read that you’d rather have left unfinished, or anything you wish you could’ve finished but haven’t yet managed to, for whatever reason? And what is the all-important hook, the thing you just can’t resist, when it comes time to make a book purchase?

Do tell. I’m all ears.

Happiness is a Dusty Book

Good morning, good evening or good night – whenever it is where you are, I hope these words find you well.  Today’s blog post is going to concern itself largely with books – those vaguely rectangular things, between two pieces of card or boards, with a picture on the front, and absolutely no buttons.  Remember those?  I hope you do.

As I write, unexpected sunshine streaming through the window, I’m constantly having to fight to keep my concentration on the computer.  This is due to the large and extremely attractive pile of books sitting on the table beside me.  They’re calling to me, begging to be loved and cherished and demanding all my attention (they’re probably a little needy, because I picked them up yesterday at a second-hand/antiquarian bookshop, so we can forgive them that – but it’s still a distraction!)  I think there are a few gems in here, and so I’ll tell you about them.

The first one to draw my eye when I entered the shop was ‘Wulf’, by Kevin Crossley-Holland.  No matter what condition this book was in, no matter what it was about, I knew as soon as my eye fell on it that it was coming home with me. I would happily read Kevin Crossley-Holland’s shopping list and no doubt derive enjoyment therefrom, because I’ve relished everything else I’ve ever read by him, but also I knew the book would have an Anglo-Saxon aspect just by its title, which is right up my street, too.  I bought some Philip Reeve, some Catherine Fisher (of course), some Margaret Mahy – who I’ve always wanted to read – some Terry Jones, who writes the most fantastic absurd tales for children, some Kate Thompson, some Siobhan Parkinson, and one by Frances Hardinge.  I bought a book called ‘Wolf’, partly because of the pleasing symmetry with ‘Wulf’, but also because the storyline sounded amazing – I had never heard of the author (Gillian Cross), but I’m looking forward to finding out more about her.  This particular bookshop was the first place I ever came across the work of Catherine Fisher, and I’ve since become a devoted fan, so I know the stock is chosen with a discerning and careful eye, and I never fail to find wonderful nuggets of pure bookish joy there.

The jewel in my crown, though – the Queen in my pack of cards – is the book which was by far the most expensive, but by far the easiest one to buy.  It’s a first edition of ‘The Wizard of Earthsea’, by Ursula K. Le Guin.  It’s a hardback.  It’s from 1971.  Despite the fact that it’s an ex-library copy, the only evidence of this is the stamps on the front flyleaf – the interior of the book is a model of readerly restraint, and there are no markings or scribblings or tea-stains or anything of that nature.  I, of course, already own this story – I’ve loved my ‘Earthsea Quartet’ for many years, and I’ve read a significant fraction of Ursula Le Guin’s prolific output – but I had to have this wonderful book.  It gave me a feeling of light-headedness as I handled it, and I just knew that if I left it behind, I’d never have a second’s peace – I’d be tormenting myself until I found another one.  It was at once a connection with the past, and also a link with my future – I’ll treasure this book for ever.

And so, to the real point of this post.  Books, especially old ones, are such a feast for the senses, in my opinion.  I hope I’m not alone in sticking, much in the manner of a barnacle, to my convictions regarding books and reading.  Sometimes I feel like the only paper enthusiast in a sea of screens, and it can be very disheartening.  I used to work as a bookseller, and I’m used to seeing the many ways in which e-books are killing bookshops – a tragedy, in my eyes – but I think, even if I hadn’t had this background, I’d still be a ‘real’ book reader, as opposed to an e-book reader.  Recently, my husband and I were in a large computer shop – he was looking for some piece of magical computer-witchery, don’t ask me what – and I tried out a model e-reader which the shop had on display.  It did nothing for me.  Not only did the ‘turning’ of the ‘page’ hold no mystery, there was no tactile feedback, like I’m used to with a book.  After a few minutes of messing about with the first example, I moved onto the next model, which was hopelessly frozen – none of its buttons worked, and it just had to sit there, awkward and apologetic, tethered to its display case with absolutely no purpose.  This experience cemented me as a paper-lover, once and for all.

Books are works of art, in every respect, not just in their contents, but in the designs on their covers, and even in the skill needed to bind them.  How can you feel a magical connection with a book you can delete at the touch of a button?  I feel like I’m entering a fairytale cave full of treasures every time I enter a bookshop – I don’t think the same feeling is had from browsing a list of books to download.  You don’t have any emotional investment in that sort of book-buying; you miss out on the thrill of the scent of a book, the feeling of its pages, the comforting way in which the spine just settles into the palm of your hand.  Plus, if you drop a paperback, you don’t need to worry about breaking it beyond repair, and – unless some miscreant rips pages out – you don’t need to worry about it getting ‘frozen’ and refusing to work.

Am I alone?  Are there any other paper-lovers out there?  Care to share an opinion?