You and your books.

19 07 2010

I find this news from’s Jeff Bezos (via Boing Boing) a little shocking:

“[E]ven while our hardcover sales continue to grow, the Kindle format has now overtaken the hardcover format. customers now purchase more Kindle books than hardcover books–astonishing when you consider that we’ve been selling hardcover books for 15 years, and Kindle books for 33 months.”

The idea of anyone selling more e-books than paper copies always seemed so Buck Rogers to me. I have trouble believing that that time has arrived already. Besides, I still have a lot of hard work to do to prepare for it.

Along with my promotion [Did I mention I’m a full professor now?], I got a new office. That office has a lot more bookshelf space in it, so I’ve been bringing in more history books from home and even getting rid of a few non-history books to make more space for my wife. [History professors are, by definition, bookshelf hogs. I strongly suspect all our spouses must live with that fact every day.]

My criteria for what to donate to our local public library’s used book store is really quite simple: Is there any chance that I’m I ever going to read that again? If the answer is a clear “no,” away it goes, as it no longer serves a function for me. Despite the fact that every single history book I own is staying, I still think this is progress over my own materialism. Unless you have some kind of emotional bond with the book (as evidenced by stuff like marginalia or maybe a stain from when you were reading it over lunch), what good does it do you sitting on a shelf? History books are always possible references for me, but most of the novels I read just end up collecting dust. I love Bookshelf Porn as much as the next guy, but from now on mine will almost all be filled with non-fiction.

Which brings me back to the Kindle…I always thought that we Americans were the most acquisitive people on Earth – that we like lining up material objects in their houses whether they serve any purpose or not. The notion that we’ve taken to e-books this fast almost gives me help about the future of materialism. After all, how many books can a Kindle hold anyways? At some point, most of the are going to have to disappear. Besides, how can you show off what you’ve read if all you read are e-books? Do you hand someone your Kindle and tell them to start browsing?

Maybe I’m going to have to join Library Thing after all.

PS In case you’re wondering, I still don’t own an e-reader. They have way too many problems at this point for me to hop on that bandwagon now. Nevertheless, I’m sure I will buy one someday, but just use it for novels.




5 responses

20 07 2010

I don’t have an e-reader, although I am a regular user of digitised books from gutenberg.
One of my concerns is it will become something that needs regular updating, new files will be incompatible with older readers, etc…. whereas right now I can just pluck a 40 year old book off my shelf and read it without a hitch!
I’m book-aquisitive too, I like having them all on my shelf. As for academic books, I will probably buy somewhere between 20 and 40 history books this year. Part of me thinks (or rather, excuses my shopaholism) by regarding this as a moral service to the discipline (it’s hard to complain about the state of academic publishing if none of us buy any of the books!). And (so far) academic books are slower to be offered in Kindle versions – probably because anticipated sales are so small (although there are some schemes, like Columbia U. Press, to offer digital monographs).

20 07 2010

I married another historian, so the book collection is really dire. And I’m not ready for an e-reader, partly for the reasons that Katrina notes, and also because I need to be able to take notes on it. E-books in the library are great for footnote checking, but reading? not so much!

20 07 2010
Jonathan Rees


Apparently you can take notes on a Kindle. Don’t ask me how it works or whether they’ll still be around in forty years though.

And Katrina, in my book you have nothing to apologize for. As I said, my history books are all staying.

9 08 2010
It’s all about the stuff. « More or Less Bunk

[…] will make you happier than owning something? Gosh, I hope so as I’ve been aspiring to own less and do more lately. I’ve also been reading a book that dovetails nicely with this subject, No […]

25 10 2010
Keeping track of what you’ve read with LibraryThing. « More or Less Bunk

[…] in any given year. I remember information, but I often have no idea where I read it first. As I get less possessive about books and the technology itself changes from paper to pixels, I fear this problem will get worse before […]

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