I've been writing about books for years. Publishers hoping I review their books deliver them to my porch. I probably review 10 percent of those, if that. Books are heavy and take up space. I have too many. I give some to friends. I also donate many to charity.
Don't get me wrong. I love books. But sometimes they're too much of a good thing.
Enter digital reading. It's a solution -- with wrinkles.
I'm beginning to read books electronically. It's the coming thing.
I read John Burdett's "Vulture Peak" on an iPad 2 I bought this summer. Alfred A. Knopf, the publisher, offered it to me in a version enabled by NetGalley, an online service for book reviewers. After I signed up for the service and downloaded the software, I flowed in the book. It looked great on my Apple device and is a lot more portable than the traditional advance reading copy.
This was my first iPad read (I've read a few books on a first-generation Kindle, which wasn't bad). I read almost half of it on a very long plane trip to Dubai, the United Arab Emirate I visited as November turned into December. On assignment for a hotel trade magazine (I freelance stories about travel and hotels to trade and consumer publications), I put the Burdett down -- and didn't get back to it for several weeks.
One reason may be it wasn't as compelling as some of the other books in Burdett's Bangkok series. Another is I'm not used to reading books on a tablet. It's different from reading a conventional book. First, there's the feel: You don't "hold" an online book and you can't write notes in the margin. Second, there's the issue of positioning. I read most of "Vulture Peak" while seated at a table with the iPad slightly propped up on its special, magnetic Apple cover. I also read a little in bed, which wasn't as easy.
At the same time, NetGalley has tricks of its own that are unavailable in a conventional, "hard" book read: You can bookmark. You can take notes. You can put your finger on a "ball" at the bottom of the screen and roll it to the page you want. The bookmarking and note taking are not that different from making notes in the margin (I usually do that, making an additional note about the original note on an end page at the rear of the advance copy), then hitting the "back" button to return to the text.
With an iPad 2 at least, reading a book is easier on the eyes than a conventional book. The screen is bright and uniform, so all you have to do is find the right position to read clearly. No need to adjust the lighting. It's inside the machine.
On the ecological side, reading books electronically is a no-brainer, definitely a positive. "E-galleys" don't burn fossil fuels -- involved in the paper printing a book requires, the packaging books ship in, even the postage costs, not to mention the labor expenses involved in back office and postal service -- and they don't take up space other than virtual.
The general reader has many book downloading options these days: iBooks on the iPad, Amazon for the various iterations of the Kindle, Barnes & Noble's Nook versions. That these are leading to the demise of the bookstore is a question worth raising, but that's another story. For now, I enjoyed reading John Burdett's "Vulture Peak" on my iPad 2. It's an experience I endorse environmentally and politically (it also cuts publishing costs). I expect to do a lot more such book intake.