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September 12, 2011

Finding Books to Read
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 06:12 PM * 158 comments

Yet more of the thrash that is publishing, as folks notice that if the bookstores vanish, finding books you like will become harder.

The number one reason anyone buys a book is that he or she has read and enjoyed another book by the same author. The number two reason is that a trusted friend recommended the book. What some folks are looking for is an automated friend; the replacement for the friendly, helpful, knowledgeable bookstore clerk.

In The Economist:

Great digital expectations
Digitisation may have come late to book publishing, but it is transforming the business in short order

This week a British outfit called aNobii released a trial version of a website that it hopes will become a Wikipedia-style community of book lovers, with an option to buy. The idea has potential.

So, yet another Social Medium joins the party. This adds to the fragmentation of the on-line world. A thousand communities becomes a thousand and one, each a tiny bit smaller. It’ll be interesting to see how it all shakes out; I’m going to predict that this site will be over-run by self-promoters. It’s only minutes before they find out about it.

The Economist says “Wikipedia-like” (though that would in itself import a whole layer of known weaknesses), but I don’t see it. Where’s the ability to edit the reviews? And do we want anonymous others editing the reviews? That would end in a bad place.

aNobii is over here.

Meanwhile, you can find other Book Recommenders. e.g. What Should I Read Next. What criteria they use isn’t clear to me.

Way back when, there was a site where you’d be shown a bunch of titles and asked whether you’d read them, and, if you had, whether you liked or didn’t like it. I don’t recall its name (but it had an Ancient Greek theme, if that helps). After it had enough ratings from you, it would recommend new books for you. Sort of like Pandora Radio does for music now.

It’s long-since gone. But I think it may be time for it to make a comeback.

Comments on Finding Books to Read:
#1 ::: Chris Turkel ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 06:19 PM:

I can't believe how fast the era of digital books is coming. Naive me, I thought it would a decade before it took over. Now it looks just a couple of years away.

#2 ::: Stephanie Leary ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 06:22 PM:
Way back when, there was a site where you’d be shown a bunch of titles...

Alexandria Digital Literature, with the AI Hypatia.

#3 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 06:24 PM:

When the era of digital books arrives, it'll stamp the words "Not for you, fella" on books and reading for huge swaths of the world's population.

I don't see that as a step forward.

#4 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 06:25 PM:

Alexandria Digital Literature (Alexlit, to its friends) was put together by Fluorospherean Dave Howell, for those who care. An idea that was before its time, it seems.

#5 ::: Aquila1nz ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 06:34 PM:

Librarything has a lot of algorithms that do this.

Individual books have both automatic and member recommendations:
http://www.librarything.com/work/904416/book/20897608

And there are recommendations based on the books you have input: http://www.librarything.com/profile/Aquila/recommendations
as a bonus you can filter those by tags (bottom right hand side).

Plus there's the usual reviews, and a lot of book discussion in the forum, and you can see what books you have in common with people recommending things.


#6 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 06:44 PM:

James D. Macdonald @ 3: "When the era of digital books arrives, it'll stamp the words "Not for you, fella" on books and reading for huge swaths of the world's population."

I don't see how, unless you assume that widespread use of digital books will lead to book-barbecues as the hot new social event. It's not as if it's impossible or even unlikely for multiple information formats to coexist, especially if they appeal to very different audiences: notice the continued sale of not only CDs, but vinyl for goodness sake. The cult of vinyl, for that matter, has at most a fraction of the numbers and passion of people who love books as physical objects.

Insofar as digital displaces physical copies, that will create a surplus of unwanted books which will inevitably flow towards the exact sort of people who have trouble getting ahold of books now: the poor, the disenfranchised, the distant-from-power. Not to mention that easy accessibility of digital manuscripts will make duplication and proliferation a snap: not a lovely thought from the business end, but certainly a win from an accessibility standpoint.

In an era of digital books, the main barrier to reading will be the same barrier as always: literacy.

#7 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 06:46 PM:

Before the era of ebooks arrives, I hope we see ebooks with better proofreading and formatting. I've seen more than a few where it's obvious that no human actually tried to read the text before it was distributed. Some of those books were free (like the copy of Melville's The Confidence Man that I'm reading right now, where numbers in square brackets [76] are sprinkled through the text for no obvious reason [77] (eventually I realized that whoever prepared the Kindle etext must have reformatted an existing text that included page numbers)) but others were sold by major publishers.

#8 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 06:47 PM:

Are people really running out of books to read? I seem to be buying them faster than I can read them.

#9 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 07:17 PM:

I have a fond spot in my heart for Alexlit. It predicted more than 10 years ago that I would like Lee & Miller's Liaden Universe, Hughart's Bridge of Birds, and Kagan's Hellspark, none of which had I read. It was absolutely right.

I liked it a lot. But, y'know, I'm pretty sure I never did anything on the site that would provide it with income. And that seems to be the sticking point on this as so many good online ideas. A labor of love only goes so far. Eventually somebody has to pay for at least the bandwidth and the light bill, if not salaries.

#10 ::: Chris Turkel ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 07:50 PM:

I'm not a fan of ebooks. I keep buying ink on paper until they stop making them (My lawn. Off it). Ebooks need some maturity to be a really compelling choice.

#11 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 07:55 PM:

aNobii wants me to sign up before I can see what it does. Unless someone can tell me that it offers significant functionality that LibraryThing doesn't, I'm disinclined.

Usability takeaway: if you're going to make people sign up to use your site, at least provide a brief tour/demo to show them why they might want to.

#12 ::: janra ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 08:00 PM:

My method of finding new books to read, after "author I know" and "friend recommended" absolutely depends on a physical bookstore: I browse. I specifically watch for books by authors I've never heard of with only one or two books on the shelf. (How do you search for "never heard of them" at Amazon?) I read the back. If that's interesting, I read the first chapter. If I'm suddenly on chapter 3, I buy it. (How do you accidentally reach chapter 3 at Amazon?)

My most recent purchase was 2 books by authors I knew, and 2 books by authors I'd never heard of but whose first chapters intrigued me. And both of those "authors I knew" were found using my "authors I'd never heard of" method in previous browsing expeditions.

#13 ::: Claire ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 08:18 PM:

I've been relying on Locus for (SF/F) recommendations for a long time; there are several reviewers who reliably lead me to new authors and new books that I find interesting. But even more useful over the last couple of years have been blogs where authors whose work I love plug books that they found to be worth reading. Jeff VanderMeer has been the leader here, but Elizabeth Bear and Charlie Stross have also provided great leads.

And, of course, I also read the Guardian's book coverage, which clues me in on mainstream and nonfiction books I might otherwise miss. It's been a long time since I relied on picking up a promising book in a shop, although I do that too, occasionally. As I have stacks of books I haven't gotten around to reading yet, I think these methods are working (perhaps too well!).

#14 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 08:49 PM:

heresiarch @ 6... Maybe Jim is referring to the same thing that happened when cell phones became nearly ubiquitous. Five years ago, on my way back home I found myself needing to make an urgent phonecall and couldn't because there were no pay phones anywhere. That's when I finally asked my boss to get me a cell phone. What does one now do, if one is too poor to own a cell phone?

That being said, I love having my Tesladyned Nook. It's filled to the gills with novels and with short stories, including all of Mark Twain's. Quite handy to have when on a trip.

#15 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 08:57 PM:

Serge Broom @14 -- a cell phone is actually cheaper than a land-line these days, when one buys them with pre-purchased minutes. There are organizations which help homeless people get cell phones, for example. Most homeless shelters have free phones for local calls, as well. Refurbished cell phones are often available, both for emergency calls and (for the poor) with a certain number of free minutes on them (Detroit is one city that does this very visibly).

#16 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 09:01 PM:

Recently I read a review of something and decided I wanted to read it. Neither of my library systems had it, so I went to a favorite bookstore and was told it was only available as an e-book. I don't have one of those e-book gizmos and am not sure I want to get one, for a while anyway. I have physical issues that necessitate not being on computers or gizmos all the time. Also I don't belong to the credit-card religion and don't do business online. I get annoyed at having the choices taken away from me like that.
I had one book printed on demand but it turned out to be full of print-on-demand-variety typos that messed up the reading experience. I am not sure where to turn next.

#17 ::: Ian C. Racey ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 09:52 PM:

Angiportus @16

Without knowing your specific issues, let me just say that my experience with reading an ereader with an e-ink screen (I have a black & white Nook) is pretty much exactly the same as reading a paper book, only a lot lighter, and not at all like staring at an LCD screen.

#18 ::: glinda ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 10:19 PM:

Friends' recommendations are what keep me in new authors to read, but I miss the staff at the (long-gone) Totem Books. They knew me, and would recommend books to me - thus, among other authors, Dana Stabenow, by way of Breakup, which, though not the first in that series, is an excellent gateway drug.

And they hosted signings. (Yeah, the UW Bookstore does, too, but... Totem Books was a smaller, more intimate venue. *sigh*)

#19 ::: LMM ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 11:10 PM:

Did Alexlit recommend _Bridge of Birds_ to *everyone*? That was its number one recommendation for me. I bounced off of it, though....

#20 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 11:19 PM:

For the past few years, I've gotten all my science fiction recommendations here at Making Light. Currently reading: Diane Duane's Star Trek novel My Enemy, My Ally. In the queue: a bunch of Bujold.

#21 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 11:23 PM:

glinda @ 18: I hear what you say about a smaller bookshop.

I'm blessed to work near Powell's Books, which is a full city block full of paper books -- more than 1 million volumes on the shelves. I often go online to make sure they have a particular book on the shelf, or order it from the warehouse to be held for pickup, and then walk over and buy just that one book. I live closer to a small shop, Broadway Books. When I go in there, I never come out with just one. I always make serendipitous finds, and stagger out with a big pile of books. I'm not sure how much of this is due to uncanny brilliance by the staff of Broadway Books, and how much is due to being overwhelmed by the choices at Powell's.

Aquila1nz @ 5: I have many of my books cataloged on LibraryThing, but hadn't thought to look at their recommendations. I'll give that a try.

#22 ::: MichaelC ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2011, 11:56 PM:

Chris @ 1. Seems fast to you, but to me it seems to have taken a lot longer than a couple of years: about 20 years, in fact. Back in 1991, I helped develop the first commercial ebooks at the Voyager Company. We published a lot of books--on floppy disk--including large swaths of the Modern Library collection. You can read more about it here: "Nora Barnacle and the Birth of the Ebook"

#23 ::: mjfgates ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 12:49 AM:

What on earth IS at http://www.alexlit.com/ ? That appears to be the right URL, but the content... it's like a whole blog written by the same AIs that create some of the comment spam that pops up around here. Perhaps it's what they do on their day off?

#24 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 01:28 AM:

mjfgates@23: "it's like a whole blog written by the same AIs that create some of the comment spam that pops up around here."

That's what it is. That's what happens if a popular web site lets its domain registration lapse. It's acquired by spammers, who attempt to batten on the lingering google-juice that old incoming links provide.

#25 ::: Dave Howell ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 01:48 AM:

Incomprehensible incompetence that I mostly lay at the feet of GoDaddy resulted in "alexlit.com" getting stolen away from me.

The Alexandria Digital Literature web site, and in particular, Hypatia the book-recommending collaborative filter, however, have never left the web. They are now lurking at www.alexlit.ORG.

After years of benign neglect, the system is actually under active development. I have moved all the data from SQLServer to PostgreSQL, and am nearly finished rewriting the web page code to use the new database. Once I get it switched over, well, nothing will be any different. But that lays the groundwork for replacing all the web page code, moving it from Tango to Ruby, and THAT will be when real changes start to appear.

#26 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 04:58 AM:

> (How do you accidentally reach chapter 3 at Amazon?)

Quite a few books have either significant chunks available in "Look Inside" or "Download a free sample to my Kindle". The latter might be only any use if you have a Kindle[1], but it doesn't stop you deciding to buy the full version on paper if you want.

[1] There is a "Kindle for PC" app - do you need to have a physical Kindle registered to use it, or can you set up a "Manage My Kindle" page on Amazon without having a Kindle?

#27 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 05:38 AM:

Chris @1, we do not have a couple of years; to those of us who are in the trade, ebooks have already arrived, taking roughly 15% of revenue.

My (conservative) projection is that ebooks will, within a very short time, replace the mass market paperback channel as the distribution medium for "disposable literature", i.e. read-once-then-dispose-of fiction. This is clearly already happening in the romance field, and the other genres are following (romance has a lead of maybe 12-24 months on uptake; many romance readers plough through multiple books per week and ebook readers are a huge boon to them in terms of portability).

The mass market channel may well collapse under the impact of this, except for the distribution of best-seller titles. Not to worry: you'll still have A-format paperbacks for a while, they'll just be trade paperbacks.

Longer term, demand for hardbacks will probably hold up for a while, but not indefinitely, as they come under ferocious price competition from ebooks.

Our biggest challenge is, I think, to deal with the legacy legal boilerplate in our book contracts that treats the physical binding of a book as a proxy for the sales and distribution channel; this links price points, royalty rates, and discounts to a physical attribute. We badly need fully-flexible ebook pricing, so that we can sell ebooks by reverse-auction protocol: i.e. start high, then cut the cost incrementally each month, rather than simply lopping 33% off it when a paperback edition comes out.

We're also going to experience a lot of push from competing business models -- things like Amazon's pitch for a fixed price ebook subscription service, for example.

#28 ::: kaleissin ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 05:41 AM:

James D. Macdonald @ 3: "When the era of digital books arrives, it'll stamp the words "Not for you, fella" on books and reading for huge swaths of the world's population."

That era is here. My money (as a European) is not good enough to buy some ebooks. Can't get them in any legal form, for any price. I've gotten quite used to the repeated slaps in the face (for that is what it feels like).

I read a lot of independent authors these days, simply because I'm allowed to buy their books.

#29 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 06:41 AM:

kaleissin @28: I feel your pain. And wearing my consumer hat, I've been forced to engage in work-arounds that undoubtedly violate the terms and conditions of the Kindle store: setting up an account under a false name, priming it with credit in the shape of gift vouchers, registering a street address that doesn't belong to me in a foreign country, then downloading ebooks and cracking the DRM. Just so I can read something that isn't published in my country, but where the publisher's rights department is squatting on the ebook rights.

Note that I can buy the dead-tree edition without jumping through these hoops because it's a physical object and the First Sale doctrine applies. (We -- the industry -- badly need some way of handling territorial subrights for ebooks that gets this stupid purchasing restriction out of the face of the customers.)

As Cory Doctorow points out, DRM punishes honest customers, not pirates. So do territorial subrights. Unfortunately they persist because authors and publishers can get more money by subdividing the rights that they sell: there's a trade-off here, and it's not a positive sum (or even zero-sum) one.

#30 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 06:53 AM:

Could someone link me to the most recent developments in ebook-lending for libraries? Last I heard, there was talk about a ridiculously low limit before the permissions expired. A library near me is considering switching to e-readers for new acquisitions, and I'd like the librarian to be fully informed.

#31 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 07:24 AM:

#28 ::: kaleissin I read a lot of independent authors these days, simply because I'm allowed to buy their books.

Tell your friends: It's all for sale.

#32 ::: Ceri ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 08:50 AM:

OOOh! Thank you all for the info on Hypatia and Alexlit, and to Dave Howell @25 for the link.

Related: I saw yesterday that Ikea is changing its classic Billy bookcases (which every one of my friends has and uses for book storage) because they foresee the death of the paper book. This caused some rather snarky comments about what to do with all the space we have now that our books have ceased to exist.

(Article here: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/technology/2011/09/ikea-bookcase-e-reader.html)

#33 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 09:29 AM:

Alan Braggins @26--not as far as I know. I know I can download a book to either my Kindle, or my Kindle-enabled PC, or to both, as I choose. I can go back and download (without charge) something to the PC which was already purchased and downloaded to the reader.

Amazon likes selling Kindles, of course, but what they really want is to sell you books. The Kindle is just an enabling tool, and giving you the software free for as many different devices as it can be packed onto just means more candidates for the role of "e-book purchaser". People with notepads may wonder why they need a separate dedicated reader, as may people with really smart phones. People who have laptops or PCs but slender budgets might well prefer to spend their limited funds on books rather than a separate reader. So Amazon is going to make it as easy as possible for you to buy e-books, whether you ever actually buy their little reading device.

#34 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 09:30 AM:

After I got my Nook, I also downloaded a "Nook for PC" software from Barnes & Noble. When I buy a Nookbook, I download it on my Nook and on my laptop. That way, I can read the book on either platform. Not that I'd want to read a book off my laptop that often. After all, the latter's bulk was an obstacle to the popularity of e*books. But I have the choice. Also, it's much easier to search thru an e*book by way of a laptop than by way of a Nook.

#35 ::: Nina ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 09:49 AM:

I think bookish.com is trying to become that? Or, you know, will when it opens?

#36 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 10:24 AM:

janra @12:

How do you accidentally reach chapter 3 at Amazon?

When a book has a large enough digital sample available, it can (usually does?) have also a "go to random page" feature. (Looks like it's currently called "Surprise Me!", in the left sidebar of the viewer.)

You can browse on Amazon, by the way; it's just not very convenient compared to bookshelves. (It is, however, far easier than browsing the Nook store from a Nook....) Searching on metadata such as "not popular" is harder... I wonder if Calibre's "Get books" search has any useful metadata for that? (Not "rating"; a meta version of it ("how many of those who've bought this have rated it?") would come close, though, ignoring the problems with self-selection in Amazon's ratings system.)

So I think Amazon, at least, has been putting some thought into the question of how to replicate the shelf-browsing experience online. I wonder how much it's limited by various rights restrictions (such as the aforementioned digital samples) preventing them from providing not only said samples, but also some of the metadata that would be needed?

#37 ::: Columbina ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 11:24 AM:

Matt @7: This problem is far more common in books which are free/PD. I looked at four versions of Bleak House before I found one that was readable. I don't remember what the problem was now - I think it may have been that Dickens' constant use of em-dashes there was mangled - anyway, it was clear that three of the four versions were just re-using a dump of the book that had bad formatting, and only one place (might have been Project Gutenberg, not sure) had bothered to do it right.

Text formatting is so important for Tristram Shandy, which is a lot more avant-garde that way than I formerly realized, that I gave up on ALL electronic versions and bought a nice paper copy with notes.

My theory is that for the PD works, there is no money incentive to proofread the electronic file for problems like this, unless it is a Labor of Love - someone is doing it hastily to get it out there, and often passing along a prior electronic version without checking, errors and all.

By the by (particularly germane to @27), I could swear I read somewhere in the last four days that Amazon is now selling more e-books than paper books, but please treat that as unverified information, as the desk of my brain badly needs a decluttering right now.

#38 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 11:31 AM:

Columbina @37: As Amazon sell around 80% of all ebooks sold in the USA, but is a minority in the actual book market, I find it easy to believe that their sales figures for ebooks outstrips their paper book sales. Note also that a whole raft of their ebooks are self-published items at $0.99 a pop -- part of the long tail -- and thus contributes to a whole bunch of impulse purchases that wouldn't happen if physical distribution costs had to come out of the cover price.

What I'd like to know is what percentage of reader hours are spent reading ebooks vs. paper books. Reader time is inelastic (we only have 168 hours in the week, and it's hard to generate new habitual readers) so that ratio is the real determinant of how well ebooks are doing in the marketplace.

#39 ::: Doug K ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 11:50 AM:

TexAnne @30, read the Librarian in Black for news on elending ..
some posts

Also, what you heard about was probably the Harper-Collins debacle, where their ebooks expire after 26 loans.

#40 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 11:59 AM:

Ceri #32:

Thank all gods we just already ordered a whole slew of Billys for our downstairs library. (We feel they're already a bit too deep, and seriously question their hole-punching algorithm that leaves blank many areas where mmpb/trade-only shelves could usefully be inserted, causing us to engage in hackery involving extremely careful measurement and metric drill bits.)

I may yet go somewhat more ebook than I am, given the current space-driven constraints on book storage.

#41 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 12:13 PM:

I am not at this time even remotely interested in buying an e-book reader. Unfortunately, it's being borne in on me that I'm going to have to install e-book software on my computer, because there are things coming out that I desperately want to buy which are only being released as e-books.

Given the possibility that sooner or later I may want to buy an e-book reader, and will want to buy the one that's compatible with my software, I'd like to hear opinions about both the Nook and the Kindle -- how well do they work as readers, and (more importantly at this point) how well does their software work on other devices? What things do you particularly like or dislike about them?

#42 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 12:17 PM:

Doug, 39: Thanks! That Harper-Collins thing was what I was thinking of.

#43 ::: Brenda Kalt ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 12:23 PM:

Jim @31 -- I clicked on the link, and you're wearing a... a... a... suit. And Debra is wearing a velvet(?) dress. What occasions this?

#44 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 12:24 PM:

Charlie @38:

What I'd like to know is what percentage of reader hours are spent reading ebooks vs. paper books.

I'd like to know that too, but anecdotally I've noticed a significant increase in the fraction of people with ebook readers vs. paper books over that last year when I've been commuting via public transit (which is certainly a use-case where portability is prized). I have not, however, counted carefully enough to know whether the current e-book readers were reading paper books a year ago or whether they were playing Angry Birds -- that is, I'm not sure what the e-book reading hours are coming from.

#45 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 12:31 PM:

I'll second Lee's request for info on and comparison of Nook/Kindle -- I'm considering getting one as a retirement present to myself.

(And the color Nook is very tempting at $249.)

#46 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 12:38 PM:

Lee @41:
I'd get the Nook in that case. The Nook Color is actually a full Android tablet; the Nook Touch is a cut-down tablet which can be (unsatisfactorily) turned into a full Android device, after a fashion. (The original Nook also runs Android, but a very old version and without enough RAM to run any useful apps.) But the key part is that, once you get access to Android, most (I want to say "all" but I'm sure there's some niche software that hasn't even been tested) e-readers have Android apps that will happily run on the Nook. This specifically includes the Kindle app, which turns out to be the single most popular reason to root the Nook.

(The Nook Touch is a lousy Android device, but the Kindle and Kobo apps at least are perfectly usable. I don't know if anyone's tried to see if the Android Nook app (a) works or (b) is significantly more/less usable than the bundled software.)

#47 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 12:43 PM:

Nook v. Kindle

(One word: wait.)

The key facts are: Kindle uses Amazon's proprietary ebook format. This is based on the old Mobipocket reader format, and Amazon acquired Mobipocket a few years back. It will read PDFs and other (non-DRM) Mobipocket files happily, and sideload files via USB.

Nook uses the industry standard ePub file format with their own DRM server. It will read ePub files sideloaded via USB. (Within 3 hours of acquiring a Nook Color I rooted it; I can confirm that it runs Amazon's Kindle app for Android, even though it generally makes a sucky Android tablet :)

Amazon are allegedly stockpiling supplies of the Color Kindle reader to launch this holiday season, i.e. in 4-8 weeks time. It will almost certainly cost $249 (same as the Nook Color). I expect the e-ink Kindle to drop in price slightly when the color model comes out.

So the choice in December is going to be between Color (backlit LCD based) ebook reader tablets with a 10-12 hour battery life and a proprietary app store, running proprietary versions of Android, costing around $250 ... and much cheaper e-ink readers with a battery life of around 2000-4000 page turns (effectively: many days of non-stop reading) costing around $100-200. Which you buy into depends on whether you prefer to go with ePub (the industry standard for ebooks) or Mobipocket (Amazon-only -- although there are rumours of Amazon going ePub).

Either way, you will want to download and get used to using Calibre, the cross-platform open source best-of-breed ebook library software that runs on your PC (or Mac or Linux box) and lets you manage your ebooks, download and digest news feeds, and sideload stuff via USB.

#48 ::: Columbina ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 12:56 PM:

I'd like to add that if you are already invested in using and schlepping an iPad, as I am, that the Kindle application for that is excellent. I haven't tried any of the other iPad reader apps.

#49 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 01:10 PM:

That's good news about Alexlit not being dead - I'd noticed the .com domain had fallen to the dark side, but not that the .org domain was active.

My story is much the same as OtterB @ #9, down to the authors and titles. Yes, LMM @ #19, I was recommended "Bridge of Birds" too (I liked it well enough, but I've never felt motivated to hunt up the sequels).

Back in the good old days, I got in the habit of making a note of every book I read and what rating I'd give it on Alexlit - and I kept that up even when I thought the site was gone, so I have a lot of ratings to enter some time when I get around to it...

#50 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 01:13 PM:

Dave, I'm happy to hear that Alexlit isn't truly dead; I used to check in every so often to see if it was really dead or just resting, but gave up when the .com went away.

I still haven't found anyplace with recommendations as good as its were, back in the day; I'll need to go poke it and see if they're still as good.

#51 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 01:15 PM:

Speaking of reading time, my experiences with having Kindle on my Android HTC Wildfire is that I mostly use it in situations where getting a physical book out is impractical. Waiting in line in the supermarket e.g. where it takes too long to dig a book out, but my phone is already on the last page I read. Also, because you don't need two hands to turn pages, I can read while walking home carrying my groceries in one hand.

So more reading done in moments otherwise lost.

For my wife in hospital having a Kindle app on her iPad made it possible for her to read as her glaucoma got worse (due to side effects from medication she had to use)

#52 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 01:32 PM:

Bought myself a Nook Color a few weeks back. Mostly it has submissions on it, lol, and a few freebies I downloaded from B&N just to see (including a novel whose heroine is a prostitute who reforms in the course of the story . . . in which there is not a single actual sex scene . . . . ).

But I've also bought a few books for real, including some of the Heyers recommended elsewhere on ML.

And this past weekend, I had the in-store ebook experience. I've been waiting for a particular book to come out in tpb, and saw that it was finally available. Went to the store to buy it; had my Nook with me. In the store, the Nook woke up and said, Hi, want to shop now? So, curious, I poked around. The e-edition of the book I wanted was cheaper than the print edition. I also saw, on a table, a new book by an author I've been following for a couple of years. Again, the e-edition was cheaper.

In both cases, the actual books were bulky objects; both would have been kept at home to be read there as they were too heavy to be carried every day. One of them was the kind of book I don't keep in perpetuity; the other is something that I expect will take a couple of months to read because it's kind of dense. So in both cases, the e-editions made a lot of sense.

On that same trip to the bookstore I bought 2 printed books. One is something dd and I will both read; the other is something dd needs for school.

So far, owning the Nook has increased the number of books I've bought. That's good for bookselling, if bad for my budget.

#53 ::: Ceri ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 01:48 PM:

joann@40 Looks like this is just a prototype, but it gives me a sinking feeling (the same sinking feeling I got when they intended to get rid of the "medium brown" shelf colour some years ago.) And I sympathize on the hole-punching algorithm. How many times have I placed a shelf only to discover that my paperbacks were too large for the shelf my *millimetres*.

Though, as one of my friends pointed out, it will be easier to double-stack (or triple-stack?) your books.

#54 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 01:49 PM:

I've found that the Kindle for ipad and the iBooks app are both decent reader apps. They certainly don't get in the way of me enjoying a good book.

As for how to find books, I've found that a free download is like crack. That promo Tor did when they started their website? Read a good half or more of them, and then the rest of each series. And Brandon Sanderson's new one, in chapters. Which is really evil, since I can't get the rest of it yet.

#55 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 01:59 PM:

In Ken MacLeod's The Sky Road, Myra Godwin gets the entire Library of Congress as a magazine-cover freebie. I remember having my mind boggled by the ridiculousness of this, when in fact it's not ridiculous at all: the LoC has 22.2 million books. At 1MB/book (round figures, and Moore's Law eventually corrects all errors in this sort of reasoning) that's only 22.2 terabytes. Who doubts that we'll have terabytes of storage for pennies in the near future? Even at today's prices 22TB's worth of hard disks would cost me less than a thousand quid, and I've spent much more than that on books over the years.

In the near future it will be easy to torrent everything, literally everything. In 10 years' time many people will feel guilty about stealing all the books in the world on their 100Mb/s connections, but not guilty enough to refrain from doing it.

(Has the book publishing industry done any anti-Internet-piracy campaigns like the film industry has done?)

Someone tell me I'm wrong here; publishing has given me loads of marvellous stuff and I want it to continue doing so, but I just can't see how the economics will work, given expected technological improvements and the way people have shown themselves to like downloading free music very very much. I see no e-book price point that's sweeter than Just Bloody Nicking It.

#56 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 02:07 PM:

I have an iPad2 and an iPhone, and I use the Nook reader, the Kindle reader, and a PDF viewer. I should say that I *love* the reading experience on my iPad, and like it pretty well on my phone. Stuff like being able to read in a dark room is a big win, to me, since this means I can read for a few minutes while my wife falls asleep, I can read on a darkened airplane without annoying the people around me, etc. Having my books with me all the time in my pocket is similarly really nice--if I'm waiting in line somewhere, I've got a book handy.

I travel a lot, and I read a lot, and I'm terribly disorganized. These three things combine to mean that I really get a huge benefit from e-books. Since I got an iPad and started loading up reading material on it (ebooks, downloaded PDF papers, downloaded web articles in Instapaper), I've become a much lighter traveler--I used to bring four or five books and a few papers along on a week long trip. (Also, for purposes of travel, I find that an iPad takes the place of a laptop well enough for most things, though I wouldn't want to do a lot of writing or work other than document reviewing and email on it.)

My preference is to read things in the Nook app. I bought my first few books on the Nook app a few months ago, when I was just using my phone. I loved the ability to travel and carry a dozen books with no added weight! I only configured the Kindle reader at all because I could open things from Project Guttenberg directly on my iPad with the Kindle app, but not with the Nook app. The Kindle app is okay, but I still like the Nook app a bit more. I've read a couple books in the PDF viewer, and it works fine if the book has been formatted properly, but the PDF viewer won't change the print size and reflow the text for me, which can be a problem.

The only thing holding me back from completely switching my book collection over (over time, not all in one massive purchase, assuming I don't suddenly win the lottery or something) is the DRM/survivability issue. I don't want to have to screw with breaking the books out of their stupid DRM format, and I don't have great confidence that they'll always be readable, or that some jackhole in the marketing or legal department won't find a way to retroactively change what I'm allowed to do with the book ("oh, sorry, after three changes of device, the books go away from your collection"). Obviously this doesn't apply to stuff that I will probably only read once, or to stuff that I get from PG that's in a public format. When that changes, when I'm confident that books I buy will remain mine (and eventually be inheritable by my wife and kids, and be possible to lend or move around, and....), I'll probably never buy another paper book again.

#57 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 02:17 PM:

Hmmm. Much useful advice, and several things to think about. Something I should have mentioned the first time: I don't have a smartphone, so that puts no constraint on getting one type of software over another. I'm also very interested in hearing about how the software works on a PC (desktop, laptop) or pad device, because that's how I'm going to be using it for the foreseeable future.

#58 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 02:40 PM:

Brenda@43: It's actually a leather jacket (for Macdonald) and a turtleneck top under a wide-wale corduroy big shirt (for me) -- no suits or velvets involved. And the occasion was "having Author Photo taken by local photographer."

#59 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 02:51 PM:

Advise perused -- and I won't be buying until after my birthday, and possibly not until after Yule, as my potential retirement date is the end of this year. ColorNook still tempting.

Like Lee, I don't have a smartphone (not sure I'll ever have a reason to want one since I'm doing fine with a paygo cellphone)...but it sounds like the Nook* may be easier for me to work with than the Kindle.

*Since I do have a B&N membership, that has some influence as well.

#60 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 03:11 PM:

People looking for ebook readers may well find it worth considering unbranded Android tablets. There are many available on ebay and similar sites, and while they may not have the quality that the brand name tablets have, the most common problem is in the sensitivity of the touch screen, which is likely to not be so much of an issue for book reading as it is for other applications...

#61 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 03:13 PM:

One under-considered factor with ebook readers is weight.

Being somewhat anal, a while back I got out the kitchen digital balance. (I'm recounting some of these weights from memory ...)

One US pound weighs 440 grams.

A 300-400-page US hardcover (typical product of Tor or Ace) weighs 620-680 grams.

A 300-page US mass market paperback weighs 250 grams.

An iPad 2 weighs around 620 grams, but is much denser than a hardcover (being thinner). Subjectively it therefore feels heavier than it is. It's not something you can easily hold in one hand and read from for lengthy periods. Interestingly, if you put it in a book-type case such as the Twelve South BookBook (weight: 280 grams) it feels lighter ... because it's better balanced and you can hold it like a big hardback. In Landscape orientation the screen can display two paperback-like pages side by side.

A Kindle 3 weighs around 230 grams. It's as light and easy to hold as an old 1960's vintage 120 page paperback. The screen can display about as much text as a paperback page. Beware the Amazon Kindle case with built-in light, though: it weighs another 200 grams.

An iPhone or typical Android smartphone weighs around 120-160 grams. However, the screen is significantly smaller than a paper book page and can't display as much text at a comfortable point size.

The Nook Color is about a centimetre taller than the Kindle 3, but substantially heavier; 440 grams or one pound exactly (without a case). Consequently it feels much denser than even the iPad 2.

Verdict: the Kindle 3 is so light it's barely there and can be held by the edge, one-handed, for extended periods. None of the others quite match up to it in that respect.

#62 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 03:15 PM:

It seems a little silly to alter the Billy range, given the other types of bookcase they have occupying slightly different niches in the ecosystem. Everyone I know who needs large strong bookcases has Billy ones, and fiddling with them to make them suitable for a different purpose is silly.

On the topic of easy access to books, yes having more locked up e-books will restrict it, but then so does simple 2nd hand paper books. They are restricted by the problem of finding them, their cost and the simple fact of rarity.
Moreover, the danger is that as time goes by the books which the powers that be don't like simply become more rare by a process of attrition.

This process of attrition is not necessarily driven by simple commercial or power basis. I've picked up quite a few books online that are clearly the result of the liquidation of or reduction in books held by university, college and town libraries, so that the information they contain may well not be available to people now. The books may be gotten rid of because of space considerations or lack of popularity, but then are useful and interesting things always popular?

And simply scanning and ocr'ing books isn't necessarily good enough. Although you can store the books in electronic format, you need to transfer them around, which I suppose these days is easy enough.
Perhaps there'll be an awkward decade or so before the worlds libraries are cracked open in full electronic format, one in which the publishers/ content providers and hardware manufacturers will attempt to restrict access as tightly as possible at the same time as paper publishing decreases.

#63 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 03:43 PM:

Guthrie #62:
New Zealand (still) doesn't have an IKEA though we now have an importer not affiliated to IKEA so you can get the product but at added cost. The Billy bookcases? I would like them but can't justify the cost.

Ebooks: While waiting for the rest of us to catch up (I still read dead tree books), ebooks are exploring new frontiers. Booktrack for example, is an ebook enhancement that provides a musical soundtrack to your reading experience, claiming to be able to work out your reading pace and sequence the right music for the paragraph you are reading.

Me, I'm more likely to be put off reading by this, not to mention the unintentional comedy/ irritation if the wrong music gets played.

#64 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 03:55 PM:

Charlie Stross @ 61: FWIW, in my experience the major source of strain while reading isn't the result of the weight of the thing as much as trying to hold two hinged flaps open and stable with one hand: even a light book with a weak spine requires a particular grip* that tends to induce cramping rather quickly. The iPad or Kindle, by virtue of being a solid lump of material, offers a greater variety of comfortable handholds.

* I vary between three fingers on the back, thumb on one page and pinky on other, and four fingers on back with the thumb in the crease. I suppose there must be other ways to do it?

#65 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 04:08 PM:

ceri #53:

We're US, and I will *swear* that we were looking at a bunch of in-stock medium browns while getting the height extenders and extra shelves on Sunday, having a debate over whether black-brown had gotten too dark, and determining that no, two middle-aged semi-able-bodied types really could not lift a full length flat pack in any width (or thickness), so that we'd have to pay extra to have those delivered. (Why they don't put those in a two-pack set I'll never know; greenness is no excuse.)

#66 ::: Ceri ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 04:28 PM:

Joann@65 Sorry, I was unclear. They *did* (to my knowledge) intend to end the medium brown colour and I bought several bookcases when it was at its 'discontinued' price. I remember being miffed that I'd have to replace all my shelves or have a mismatched set. However, the medium brown was brought back (my suspicion is due to popular demand, but I could be wrong).

#67 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 04:48 PM:

Steve with a book @55:
1MB errs on the high side; the typical Project Gutenberg ePub is around 100KB. Many of my PDFs are larger, but they're also created from PostScript printouts of scanned pages (which suck on any e-reader, btw).

I'll also note that with current technology handheld multi-terabyte storage is already within reach and only a couple cranks of Moore's Law will make it convenient.

#68 ::: ACW ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 05:01 PM:

Only very vaguely on topic: sculptures made from paper books being left as anonymous gifts to Scottish libraries and cultural institutions; photos and story here.

#69 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 05:08 PM:

Geekosaur @67: the epub format is actually a container. The outer layer is a zip archive, which comes with LZW compression so any text inside it is going to be squished by at least 50-60%. (Inside the zip archive you then find some ebook descriptive metadata, CSS, and a subset of HTML5 for the actual book contents.) Further, note that many of PG's texts will be short by modern standards.

Going in the opposite direction, if I were to start razoring paperbacks and feeding them to my Fujitsu ScanSnap (a double-sided scanner optimized for text), I could expect 0.5-1Mb/page for a reasonably high quality image; so around 150-400Mb for a novel. OCR will of course reduce that by a couple of orders of magnitude ... but introduce a buttload of errors that would need to be laboriously corrected.

#70 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 05:26 PM:

Charlie Stross @69:
I know all too well what's inside an ePub, having hacked the guts of too many of them while working out conversion of various documents. But why should I assume that they'd prefer an uncompressed format? Additionally, while PG does tend toward smaller works, even the larger ones rarely go beyond 300KB. Text compresses much better than graphics or audio.

#71 ::: Dave Howell ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 06:16 PM:

I've had a lot of people ask me "which e-reader gizmo should I get?" over the years. My answer is always "You have to go touch them. It won't matter one iota if Gizmo A has some whiz-bang feature missing on Gizmo B, if Gizmo A is annoying/inconvenient/unpleasant to hold." For me, until this year, the ONLY e-reader that wasn't unacceptably irritating to use was the RocketBook, which has been out of production for years. Because all the devices were made for people with cute, adorable little teensy-weensy hands. The early Kindles might have worked if I could have flipped the display 180 degrees. This is a no-brainer, but it took them years to add that. OR if I could have swapped the functionality of the page-forward and page-back buttons, since, as designed, it was the "Go BACK one page" button that actually fell under my thumb. Their UI people are idiots.

I haven't seen the latest, ultra lightweight Kindle. I have seen the new super-thin Nook, and it is the very first e-reader in years that I actually want to own. Partly because of the weight, and partly because it has at least four different ways to turn the page, and I find at least three of them easy and comfortable to use.

#72 ::: Dave Howell ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 06:22 PM:

heresiarch@64: Yes, the paperback-book grip. For me, it's pinky in front of the recto, three fingers in back, thumb over verso, with the right hand. Only with that grip can I flip to the next page with my thumb. Otherwise, page turning requires a second hand. With a thick book, this becomes very fatiguing, despite years of exercise with it.

#73 ::: Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 06:52 PM:

heresiarch @6:

Insofar as digital displaces physical copies, that will create a surplus of unwanted books which will inevitably flow towards the exact sort of people who have trouble getting ahold of books now: the poor, the disenfranchised, the distant-from-power.

That's likely in the short run; thrift stores and used bookstores will have a surplus of donations and trade-ins for a few years, and books will be more accessible for the poor than they have been in the recent past -- though they won't necessarily be able to find the specific book they want when they want it. But if that increased cheapness of used books lasts more than a generation, I'd be surprised; in 20-30 years, probably few thrift stores will have many books in stock, used bookstores will be far fewer, and they'll probably have fewer books and higher prices -- more like today's antique stores than the used bookstores we know now.

Re: ebook readers and formats -- I've been reading etexts on computer screens since the early 1990s, but I didn't have a portable reader of any kind until fairly recently. My old flip-phone broke, and I acquired one of the cheaper touch-screen phones, a Samsung Solstice II; experimenting determines that it will display HTML files, but I have to tinker with their formatting to make them display with a reasonable font size and not make me scroll side-to-side. I have taken to using Project Gutenberg plain text etexts and converting them into a batch of html files, one file per chapter, with a custom Perl script -- that's easier than taking a PG HTML etext and stripping out the formatting I don't want.

#74 ::: janra ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 07:06 PM:

geekosaur:

"When a book has a large enough digital sample available, it can (usually does?) have also a "go to random page" feature. (Looks like it's currently called "Surprise Me!", in the left sidebar of the viewer.)"

Well, my point wasn't that I opened the book randomly. My point was actually that I intended to read chapter 1 to evaluate whether or not the story interested me, and got hooked such that I didn't *notice* reading past chapter 1. That's why it's a "buy this book" trigger.

Some books on amazon may have enough in the free preview to allow for that sort of browsing, but I haven't seen many. (And I generally avoid Amazon in favour of other bookstores anyway. The ones I am familiar with don't often have the first 3 chapters, complete, in the preview.)

Another question about depending on reviews to find books: how does the first book by a new author get found before anybody has left a review? Is it down to professional reviewers and careful placement by the publisher in the "you might also like" list? (which at that stage couldn't be based on customer reviews)

#75 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 08:24 PM:

The IKEA demise of the Billy Book case thing is a non-issue:

http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/ikea-dispells-death-of-the-bookcase-rumors_b38097

#76 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 09:01 PM:

44
One of my fellow commuters has switched from a Nook to a pad of some kind. He used to read hardcopy books, I know.

I have e-books on my computer. Some of them I bought; most of them are free (Project Gutenberg and PD via Google and archive.org).

#77 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 09:20 PM:

I have one of the new nooks, not the color, but the new black & white.

I spent my breaks this summer walking back and forth, reading from it - nice and easy to turn pages, clear text, balances will in my hand.

Loading stuff up to read was easy - my mac sees it as an external hard drive, and I can just move .epub and .pdf files onto it. I've also figured out how to get library ebooks onto it, but that requires me to go through Adobe Digital Editions, which is a bit annoying. OTOH, books! right now! Not when the library is open!

I operate on the assumption that anything that I really want to keep, I will rebuy in hardback. I'm using it for my "disposable" reading. Some Heyers will make the cut, not all. It's easier to carry the nook around than the leatherbound copy of Jane Eyre my grandmother gave me. Better for the book, too.

#78 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 09:31 PM:

Dave, #72: For me, it's the inverse of yours with the book held in my left hand. This is so that I can read while eating (I'm right-handed); the need to use a second hand to turn the page is not a bother to me, and I find myself using the same grip even when I'm not eating.

#79 ::: Ian C. Racey ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 09:47 PM:

Lori Coulson @59

I love my Nook, but you should bear in mind that the B&N membership card has very little use when it comes to e-ditions. It's good for a discount on the Nook, but only if you buy it within a certain period of renewing the card, and it doesn't give you any discount on ebooks themselves.

#80 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 09:54 PM:

I just dumped my B & N membership, despite the discount it offers should I decide to buy a Nook. It was great for a while, but I no longer buy new books. I buy used, if I can find them. Mostly, I use the library. I expect that when I finally buy an eReader there will be no problem using it at my local library, which already offers some free downloads. If there is a problem, I'll just keep reading tree-based books.

#81 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2011, 11:03 PM:

The problem I have isn't finding books I'd probably enjoy reading. The problem isn't even finding time to read. There's no way I could read all the things I would likely enjoy in this lifetime, even omitting food and work and sleep. To say nothing of other forms of media.

The problem is finding that rare book, at that rare moment, that blows me the fuck away. For that only a combination of good luck and good friends will ever suffice.

I'm still looking.

#82 ::: Reinder Dijkhuis ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2011, 01:53 AM:

Charlie Stross @#27: "My (conservative) projection is that ebooks will, within a very short time, replace the mass market paperback channel as the distribution medium for "disposable literature", i.e. read-once-then-dispose-of fiction."

I've heard of the concept of throwing books away after reading them, but each time someone reminds me that this is a thing, I get a sad little twinge of nausea.

#83 ::: Sica ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2011, 06:23 AM:

Ive bought more books as ebooks this last year than physical books.

I have the kindle app both on my iphone and on my macbook and read on either. More on the phone though. I really like how it syncs up so I pick up reading on either.

I have years and years of reading things on the screen so I don't find the backlit display a problem. I have the phone with me at all times so I've been able to stop always carrying a paperback with me, which my shoulders like.

The last bit of why I like ebooks is just clutter. I still like reading and buy paper books but I find it hard to part with them later even if they were absolutely a read once kind of book and I don't have a lot of space for bookshelves where I live.

A friend of mine has an ipad and I've tried out reading on it but I prefer the much lighter weight and one handed grip of the iphone for reading. Sure the screen is smaller but turning the page over isn't much effort.

#84 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2011, 07:00 AM:

Reinder @82: "throw away" covers more than just dumping in the trash; it can include giving the thing away to a friend, selling to a second hand shop, or filing it in a bookcase or a crate where it will gather dust, unread thereafter. (I have a thousand-plus paperbacks in that latter situation next door.)

The point is, some books are bought for reference, and to be studied; others are bought to be re-read every year or two: and some are bought with no-expectation of re-reading by the purchaser. And the latter category have no need for durability.

#85 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2011, 07:33 AM:

Charlie, 84: Or as Bacon put it, "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested."

#86 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2011, 08:14 AM:

I'm thinking that the new-style publishing operations are bringing to light some of the long-standing awkwardnesses of international business.

Let's take Amazon as an example. If I buy from them they know where I live, and charge the VAT. Which is ouch!, but nothing remarkable. There are other US-based companies which do the same. They're charging UK tax to a UK-domiciled customer, on transactions made through a .uk website.

If I were working for Amazon (they have a Europe-based subsidiary operating I think in Luxembourg) I would be taxed according to where I lived and worked. The jargon is different, but money would be withheld, and paid to the relevant tax collector on my behalf.

But as soon as I use Amazon as a publisher, it all changes. Amazon withholds US taxes from my paycheque, and I have to jump through various administrative hoops to avoid being taxed twice on my income.

For somebody such as that well-known author Carolus Scotti, the individual payments are big enough to be worth the hassles of dealing with HMRC. He will have the special ID number from the IRS which he can use instead of an SSN. Heck, the Americans even speak more-or-less the same language. He's already sorting this out for the physical books he publishes.

Me, I might not get enough from Amazon to pay the train fare to go to the nearest HMRC office which handles this sort of paperwork.

But there doesn't seem to be a way out of dealing with Amazon and the IRS. And it may be that the only difference between Amazon and some of the other solutions presented here is that Amazon is aware of US tax law.

Similarly, there are UK-based PoD and ebook operations, but we seem to know mare about the American crooks than the British ones. There's a reporting bias. Who may I trust?

It makes me feel that ebooks are very americo-centric. And I wonder what the situation is for other languages. What is happening in the rest of the world?

#87 ::: Kate Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2011, 10:06 AM:

I've had my Sony ereader for over two years now. I still buy lots of paper books. In fact, in my most recent Powell's order I bought a trade paperback of a book I first read on my reader, because I loved it and wanted it on my shelf. To me ebooks are the disposable books, easy to acquire but in constant danger of loss if my reader self-destructs in any way. Electronic devices don't last, but I have books on my shelves that I acquired when I was in elementary school and which will probably outlast me.

I do like my reader, though. The eink is extremely readable, and the reader itself is light, slim, and easy to hold (although its hardcover case makes it hard to hold one-handed). I often forget I'm reading on a reader rather than a real book and catch myself reaching up to turn the physical page rather than hitting the 'next page' key.

I still get most of my book recommendations from friends--mostly on Goodreads, where I can see what my friends are reading and enjoying. I also read a lot of book review blogs like The Book Smugglers and Book Aunt (two of my favorites). Typically I keep the B&N site open while I read reviews, and the books that interest me I'll add to my wish list to evaluate later. And then I usually order from Powell's, because I like them better.

#88 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2011, 11:10 AM:

Lee #78:

I also hold the book in my left hand, but long ago I instituted a rule that if reading and eating at the same time in bed (frequent occurrence), I should be reading a hardcover or trade paperback because they'll actually stay open, allowing me more concentration on Not Spilling Food. And as a charter member of the Food-Wearing Society, this is a Good Thing.

I took along a couple of hardcopies along with stuff on my iPad for a trip to NYC a month ot two back, and found I didn't even crack the hardcopies. And once I got stuck into an e-book for any particular reading session, it was *much* harder to stop.

I'm unlikely to buy any more new mmpbs, but there's enough oop stuff out there that hasn't made it to e-books (and likely won't) that I can't quite see myself stopping buying them used. (She says ruefully, having just bought sixteen used ones for a writing research project. Good thing we just rearranged the paperback loft and added some shelves.)

#89 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2011, 02:00 PM:

Reinder, #82: Perhaps it will help if you don't think of it as "throwing books away" but as "taking books to the secondhand store", because that's what most people do. That's what I do too, with books that I don't think I'll want to read again. The only difference between me and what Charlie was talking about is that I have a much higher proportion of books I think I'll want to read again.

I don't really understand the "I've read it once already, why should I ever want to read it again?" mindset myself, but it's hardly the horror you seem to be assigning to it.

#90 ::: Becca ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2011, 02:16 PM:

My kids have just discovered Terry Pratchett, and are reading through them at a great clip, on my old paper copies. Which are definitely showing the worse for the wear. I'd buy them both ereaders (I really love my Kindle 2) if they'd use them, but both kids prefer paper.

One advantage to ereaders is that a book can be read a dozen times, and not show the wear. My early paperback Pratchetts are falling apart.

#91 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2011, 02:30 PM:

Becca @90: One of the reasons I'm considering a Nook is that paperbacks are so fragile.

I have been getting books I knew I would re-read in hardcover, but some hard backs are now of such poor quality (or perhaps it's just that they're over-loved) that they're falling apart.

I've had to retire my first edition of Mists of Avalon due to the spine breaking, and my hardback copies of the first three Harry Potter books are falling apart.

#92 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2011, 03:31 PM:

Lee @89: I respectfully disagree. I think most people in fact throw books away when they are "done" with them, if the sidewalks of NYC are any indication. I think most people don't think about a secondhand market for books, though some will donate them to a thrift store (Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc.). I see books in the trash all the time. My apartment building put bookshelves in the basement laundry rooms, which now function as a lending library, and though many, many people leave books there, I still see books in the building's trash.

Other people leave books stacked up by the doors of our local public library. The library sells those books to a used-book company for pennies on the dollar.

#93 ::: paxed ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2011, 04:05 PM:

One site that does author suggestions, based on other authors you enter in it: http://www.gnooks.com/

#94 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2011, 05:19 PM:

paxed@93: heh, I said I liked John Crowley, Anthony Burgess and George Eliot, and it suggested Jeff Vandermeer. Haven't read any Vandermeer but he does sound good, so well done Gnooks.

(And if you like Neal Stephenson, PG Wodehouse and Iain M Banks, you'll like Stephen Fry).

As I get older I become uneasily aware that really I don't need to read more books, I need to start reading the right books, whatever they are. Problem is you can't tell the right ones until after (sometimes many years after) you've read them.

#95 ::: Chris Turkel ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2011, 06:59 PM:

Wow, thanks everyone (including Charles Stross) for giving me some enlightenment. I guess I really did sleep through a chunk of the revolution ("Where were you when the revolution started, grandpa?" "Asleep.").

My daughter consumers romance books on here Kindle like there is no tomorrow. When I suggest a title for her to read, the first thing she does is see if it has a Kindle version.

#96 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2011, 09:15 PM:

By disposable books, I meant books that I have no expectation of wanting to re-read. I read about a book every 2 days, and not everything is or has to be a fantastic world-changing read.

For example, I probably won't ever want to re-read Heyer's The Reluctant Widow. Since I read it on my nook, I don't have a book to shelve and care for or pass on to a friend or used bookstore.

One of the books I have on the nook is A Shadow in Summer. From the reviews I've seen, I fully expect to end up buying it in hardback. I think of it as giving a really great book double royalties, to encourage the author to keep writing, and the publishers to keep publishing.

#97 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2011, 10:47 PM:

as for e-books, I'm saving up for an iPad for various reasons. The formats that go onto that will have to do, I would rather read a real book right now. And most of my reading right now is non-fiction due to a run-up in process of a novel.

Bookshelves? The best ones we ever bought and have pieces parts of in the nether regions of this house were modular stave/clip/shelf sets from Montgomery Wards. When we bought this house we had a minor buttload of money from selling a suburban house at $$$$$ more than we owed, and we went to a major office supply house and bought RTA book cases. They aren't really fit to hold a whole shelf of hardbacks, sad to say, but we bought enough that if we ever finish assembling them all, all our books will be up on a shelf. (we're about four short.) for paperbacks the are quite adequate.


#98 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2011, 12:59 AM:

Paperback grip varies between the forked hand from below up to curled fingers from above, switching as necessary. Note that I can and have done either grip with books of varying size up to some hardbacks.

In regards to deaths of bookstores being a bad thing in terms of cutting access to some segments of the population, oh hell yes. It turns out that Borders was, quite literally, the only non-specialty (read religious) bookstore in my city of over 100,000. What's that going to do when high school students need their summer reading? I don't think groceries stores are going to carry Madame Bovary or Pride and Prejudice. And quite honestly, there's some pretty poor segments of town that probably can't afford internet or have credit cards to pay, even if they are otherwise doing pretty well. (One can not have access to some things even if one is not in dire poverty.)

Libraries are good resources, but not if sixty or a hundred kids need the same book at the same time.

On the topic of e-readers, my husband would gladly trade most of our paperbacks for e-copies of the same books, with the stipulation that the trade-ins would be donated to schools, medical clinics, or anyplace that would actually use them for reading (instead of revenue generation, as libraries usually do with donations.) Even if we picked only a few authors (*cough* Robert Jordan L.E. Modesitt *cough*) it would free up a lot of shelf space.

We wouldn't get rid of all of them. Sometimes the power goes out, after all. And we would pretty much keep the hardbacks & trade paper.

#99 ::: Daniel Boone ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2011, 02:27 AM:

Steve with a book, #55: Your thinking and mine are much alike. I'm not one of these people who predicts The Death Of Commercial Publishing in tones of glee, but I do wonder how many authors are going to be writing the books I want to read in a world where every book can be torrented easily, rapidly, and for free. It's really hard to see how the economics are going to work out so that authors and publishers can get paid enough to keep doing what they do.

Song downloading hasn't killed the music industry, but it has radically shifted the business model toward concerts and tie-in merch. I don't expect torrents to kill the publishing industry either, but the model probably needs to shift and I worry about where there is for it to go. One vision is a world of worse-than-usual slush -- because there's nobody getting paid to sort it and nobody getting paid to write it -- with nothing better than crowd-sourced internet filtering mechanisms to help find the readable among the truly gawdawful.

#100 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2011, 08:01 AM:

I'm having trouble getting used to the idea of worrying what colour your bookshelves are...

Meanwhile, back at the OP, I like bookshops, partly because I can browse the books I've never heard of. Which is why, out of the some thousands of books obscuring the colour of my shelves (and walls, and floors) I'd be surprised if a dozen were bought on recommendation or review. Most are books I never intended to read before I saw them in a shop. Amazon is crap for that.

#101 ::: Robert Schroeder ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2011, 08:42 AM:

Agreed. People seem to be mostly worried about two things when bookstores vanish: losing a good way to browse; and losing a good way to get knowledgeable recommendations. Sites like LibraryThing already do the latter pretty well. Is it beyond us to come up with a good internet-based solution for the former? Surely not...

#102 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2011, 08:49 AM:

The shelf of old paperbacks in the laundry room is exactly what I'm worried will vanish.

#103 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2011, 09:05 AM:

It's worth noting that most households have a TV and cable or satellite service. It's not like the requirement to buy a reader and find Internet access is an impossibly high barrier. The credit card requirement on Nooks is a pain in the backside, however. I'd love to buy my 10 year old son a nook reader, but I'm not giving him access to an account with my credit card on it without thinking three times.

What would happen if you built up a charitable operation to give (say) school kids e-readers with a good chunk of the PG offerings pre-loaded, and some kind of access to a lending library?

#104 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2011, 10:46 AM:

albatross @103: What about giving him a gift card that can be replenished?

Visa, Mastercard and AmEx all offer these -- and you'd be providing a chance for him to learn to use it wisely.

I agree that giving him an e-reader and access to your credit card would be an invitation to disaster. I'm considering asking my credit union if they can give me a limited card if I get the Nook, so I'm not tapping my own checking account by using my debit card.

#105 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2011, 10:53 AM:

#103 ::: albatross :

There's a non-trivial number of people in the US who don't have enough money to get food reliably, though I don't have an estimate of the percentage.

Sidetrack to a barrier which isn't exactly monetary: Why isn't more being done for adult literacy?

#106 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2011, 11:43 AM:

Ken Brown #100:

Bookshelves are a case of something being both a dessert topping *and* a floor wax. Their primary purpose is indeed to hold books, but their sheer size, when arrayed in full panoply to hold a 4000+ book collection (admitted, we spread this across four rooms), means that you also have a chance to consider them as pieces of furniture. And the color of large floor-to-ceiling pieces of furniture arranged en masse has a rather profound effect on how much perceived light there is in a room. Which has an effect on whether it's more comfortable to sit down and read a book there, or go somewhere else where there aren't any dark shelves.

#107 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2011, 11:44 AM:

paxed @93: http://www.gnooks.com/

I put in three authors I absolutely love. Got back one author I know I don't want to read. Oh well.

Steve with a book @94: As I get older I become uneasily aware that really I don't need to read more books, I need to start reading the right books

Blogger Chip Overclock calculates that in his time remaining on this Earth, he can probably read one hundred science fiction books.

#108 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2011, 11:46 AM:

Nancy @ 105: I work for a photography studio that does yearbook photography and one of our client schools is one of the poorest schools in the district. (We also have one of the richest schools in the district—and there's much to not like about it. Specifically the total sense of entitlement.) I was thinking of them in regards to losing bookstores, though in some cases the problem is not their getting money enough to buy the books, it's getting their concentration long enough to get them to read. (Only school I've ever photographed where some kids have trouble looking at the camera because their eyes are moving too fast. They're obviously high, but what can you do?)

#109 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2011, 12:48 PM:

re 98: In our area, the public libraries specifically keep subcollections of summer reading books, with many multiple copies thereof.

#110 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2011, 12:59 PM:

Jacque, #107: From the linked blog: I read a lot. In a year, I read about twenty books.

Well, THERE'S his problem! I was wondering "how old is this guy anyhow", but that's not the issue; he's just not a heavy reader.* I read more books than that in a year, and that's not even counting re-reads. However, I do grok his argument that life is too short to read uninteresting books.

* By bibliophile standards. By comparison to the sort of person who has bookshelves full of knick-knacks... well, there's really no comparison to be made there.

#111 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2011, 01:12 PM:

Lee #110:

When I was in college, I divided the owners of rooms I visited into three sorts: those who just had textbooks (and not many of those); those who also had the Three Canonical Early 70s Discretionary Books (Stranger in a Strange Land, The Joy of Sex, The Art of Sensual Massage); those who had more books. The latter could be plotted ff to the right of a bell curve with number of books as the x-axis, with a very steep initial trail-off.

#112 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2011, 01:45 PM:

Lee @ 110: That was my reaction as well. Being in three bands has really cut down my reading time... from about one hundred books a year to sixty in the last twelve months (according to LibraryThing, with eight of those being re-reads). But I read too fast, and would happily trade speed for better retention and comprehension if I could (when I try to read more slowly, I actually understand and recall less than when I just let it rip).

But the proportion of SF/F is way down compared to a few years ago (just seven of the fifty-two new books), so I may have only a hundred or so left myself.

#113 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2011, 02:26 PM:

Jacque@107, Lee@110: this sort of discussion reinforces the point that the 'book' is a useful unit of thing-with-an-ISBN, or thing-to-be-shelved, but isn't a unit of worth (either to the writer or to the reader)... reading the right twenty books a year and nothing else would probably be good for me. I like reading widely and coming up with things by chance, but the chance finds aren't all going to be good stuff and the clock keeps on ticking. I have respect for those who read assiduously through collections like the Harvard five-foot shelf. I don't seem to have the discipline.

There's different sorts of reading to be done with different sorts of books; if I read only one book next year that'd be bad... except if the book were Misner, Thorne and Wheeler (look at the weight of it! or rather, the mass), that'd be good going. There's stuff to be read where the 'reading' is so far from anything resembling the usual literary definition that you're unlocking an entirely different sort of moral achievement by doing it. Books are source code to be run on the intepreter of the brain, and they can have any kind of effect on the CPU temperature, memory, uptime...

Daniel Boone@99: I wonder how the demographics of new authors will change—print does still have a glamour, and seeing one's name In Print is still a big thing. Will print get an even bigger cachet as it declines?

#114 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2011, 02:28 PM:

Nancy: My mother was an adult literacy volunteer teacher for many years. She left in frustrated after more than a decade, because she would work with some people for years without them making much apparent progress.

Her theory was that there was a lot of undiagnosed LD in the population her organization was serving. Many of the people she worked with were not literate in any language. Many of them worked full-time and had children; it was difficult for them to find time to practice their reading skills, and because reading was a struggle, it was easy for them to put off practicing (why do something that you find frustrating?). And these were people who were motivated enough to find an adult literacy program and attend every week!

Please note that I am not blaming the clients, simply pointing out that there were many roadblocks between them and reading for pleasure.

Most of my mother's student were not actually interested in reading for pleasure. What they wanted was to be able to read want ads and employment applications and notes from their children's schools. Reading for pleasure was a largely foreign concept to many of them.

#115 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2011, 02:57 PM:

Melissa@114: I think one gets some little taste of the frustration of partial literacy by trying to read in a foreign language that one's not very good at. I like languages and I like reading, but I find reading foreign-language stuff infuriating. Why is this so hard and taking so long? I can't remember learning to read, I've been able to do it since an infinite past it seems, but the humiliation of only partially decoding French and Russian at about a tenth of my normal speed is just awful, and I think it's unearthing early memories of being barely competent with the alphabet.

I tend to mild skepticism of some of the figures quoted on rates of adult illiteracy in the UK—this report said that in 2003 5.2 million lacked functional literacy, but I suspect this figure includes quite a few who are coping perfectly well but just couldn't be bothered with school. One thing that makes me confident about literacy in the future is actually television. When I was a kid, a TV (black and white in those days) had a Volume Knob, and a Tuning Knob, and Don't You Bloody Touch The Brightness Knob and the Vertical Hold Or You'll Bloody Break It. If you wanted to switch from one of the three channels to another one you twiddled the Tuning Knob. A child wanting to change channel now on a cable or satellite system gets bombarded with menus, options, EPG descriptions, warnings that the hard drive is recording and do you really want to stop recording, requests for PIN numbers. It pains me to praise Mr Murdoch, but his Sky Plus box may be the greatest reinforcer of toddler reading skills ever invented.

#116 ::: Connie H. ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2011, 04:40 PM:

Another huzzah for the LibraryThing recommender.

#117 ::: Cheryl ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2011, 04:59 PM:

@110 Lee & Jacque @107
I read a lot. In a year, I read about twenty books.

I'm trying to imagine a world in which I only read 20 books a year. Even if I only read while commuting, I'll go through 1 or 2 a week, depending on the book. I don't think that there's ever been a year of my life (excepting the pre-literate years) I didn't read more than 20 books.

It's one of the things I wonder how my mother managed, when I look back on it. We didn't have a lot of money, but when I wanted books, she never said no.

Did anyone else have "The Owl Book Club" in their elementary school? Once a semester (I think), we'd get the catalog, which was printed on newsprint with newspaper quality ink (i.e., messy!), and we'd fill out the order form, and Mum would write the cheque... a few weeks later, the box would come in. This would always be a big deal, and a cause for murmuring and much distraction (The books came in! Look, the box is there!). At the end of the day, the teacher would open the box, call out the names of the students who had ordered... my name would always be last. This was because she would just hand me the still 3/4 full box!

I have a good Mum. She drives me bat-shit these days, of course, but I still know that I'm lucky.

#118 ::: Andy ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2011, 06:40 PM:

@110 et al
He reads a fair amount, he just doesn't read as many books as some people.

Plus, I suspect the typical ML commenter reads many more books than an "average" person (calcualted across just about any reasonably-defined group).

#119 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2011, 07:07 PM:

Cheryl (117): We had the Scholastic Book Club, which worked similarly. Maybe half the class would get no books, most of the rest would get one or two, and a few* of us would get 10-15 each. My parents would pay half for my books; I had to pay the other half.

*two or three, counting me

#120 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2011, 07:08 PM:

Steve WAB, #13: Oh, yes! I still remember vividly how frustrating my college French Lit class was. We were reading in the original, and while I had a basic vocabulary, I was very far from being fluent. Struggling thru 2 pages in the amount of time it would normally take me to read the entire chapter made me realize that if reading English were that hard for me, I wouldn't be doing much of it either, and that it is that hard for some people.

I've heard that using graphic novels can be a good approach for adult literacy, because it gives people a context in which to interpret the printed words. Is there any truth in that?

#121 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2011, 07:13 PM:

I read a lot, but in the last few years my book reading has decreased significantly because I generally only make time to read whilst in bed.

One of the reasons I have less time to read, my dog, is also the reason, these days, that I listen to many books.

@Cheryl: In the states, elementary schools often have annual (?) "book fairs." A distributor of kiddie books sets up a mini-bookstore in a cafeteria or gym or whatever, and parents and kids come in after hours to browse and shop.

It has been nearly forty years since I've been to one of these, but I believe they are still held.
* * *
I grew up in a VERY wealthy area. My town was surrounded by millionaire and billionaire estates. But the two town book stores present whilst I was growing up were a) an antiquarian shoppe, kids not welcome, and b) a tony little gift-heavy boutique in a converted house; not a kid-or-teen-friendly place either.

Hmmm. There were a couple of short-lived general-purpose book shoppes. One, run by a classmate's rather nerdy mom, doubled as a bulk candy shop. I recall that the windows were cluttered with cardboard display stands for bestsellers, which were pointed inwards. So from the outside the windows were full of convoluted cardboard shapes. (The one book I remember buying there was Star Maker, which hit me like a 2 x 4. I still have that copy, 37 years later.) Another seemed to specialize in bestsellers coffee table books.

For the most part, I did my book shopping at mall book outlets. Visits to the giant Barnes & Noble discount outlet in Manhattan were an utter thrill.

#122 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2011, 07:21 PM:

We had the Troll book club in my elementary school; it worked on the same principles. I didn't get piles of books from it because the catalog was set by age, and my reading level and speed far outstripped the offerings.

This company has a set of books geared at adult learners. The books are simpler, but still meant for adults. I got one as a Librarything freebie, and ended up giving it to a friend who was working on his English. He enjoyed it more than the YA that I'd lent him.

#123 ::: Cheryl ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2011, 07:49 PM:

@122 Nancy C. Mittens I didn't get piles of books from it because the catalog was set by age, and my reading level and speed far outstripped the offerings.

As I recall, we had one catalogue for the whole school, and it was divided into sections by age. We weren't stopped from ordering out of any section we liked, though. I know I was at least 2 levels ahead of the rest of my class in reading - my mother kept all my report cards.* I'm assuming I just ordered from the section that had the books I wanted.

*And I really, really sucked at math. Still do. I have the knee jerk reaction, these days, to refer people to the apropos XKCD cartoon.

#124 ::: Dawno ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2011, 05:00 AM:

Scholastic book club is responsible for my life-long love of science fiction. In second grade I bought Robert Silverberg's _Lost Race of Mars_ and was hooked. I also remember getting the L'Engle books and a lovely one called _The Forgotten Door_ from Scholastic. I think I also got my first Andre Norton books from them, too.

On the e-book reader topic, I have an iPad with Kindle and Nook plus a couple other readers, just in case. I love how I can decide I want to read something and immediately have it in hand. Most of my e-books are on the Nook platform.

#125 ::: Tom Womack ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2011, 08:54 AM:

At least with Amazon, you don't lose the books if the reader breaks; the fact that you own them is recorded at Amazon, and you can attach another reader to the account and pick up all the books.

This also means you can have several readers attached to the same account (I have the OS X app, the iPhone app and a physical-kindle), and you can touch a button on the iPhone app and have it turn to the page that you last read on the physical-Kindle.

I had spent a few years reading 90% library books and occasionally buying new shiny American hardbacks from my favorite authors (with the Campbell nominees as my most effective source of new favorite authors); the Kindle has deleted the American-hardback habit, I'm no longer willing to buy new books that aren't in Kindle form ... I'll wait for the library to get them and read them from there.

#126 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2011, 10:45 AM:

Dawno @124: Ah, yes -- The Forgotten Door, I wonder what happened to my copy? I wouldn't mind rereading that one. I always thought it would make a good movie -- how did Disney miss this one?

#127 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2011, 12:16 PM:

Lori Coulson (126): Disney did film one of Alexander Key's other books, Escape to Witch Mountain. Twice, in fact.

#128 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2011, 12:57 PM:

And if they keep filming it they'll get it right yet.

#129 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2011, 01:20 PM:

Tom Womack @125 -- that's also a major disadvantage. Remember when they eliminated some books that they'd sold without actually having the rights? This could happen at any time, and you'd have no recourse.

#130 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2011, 03:40 PM:

Bruce E. Durocher II (128): I liked the first filmed version very much.

#131 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2011, 05:09 PM:

I remember a book deal when I was in elementary, I think it was called Arrow or something--some offshoot of Scholastic--the titles marketed to us 4th graders included some written entirely at an adult level, though devoid of risque matter. It was rather confusing for me even though I could read all the words--I was a ways ahead in reading--I could not make sense of the ideas they formed. I figured it was just another way for grownups to mess with my head. However, one of the books--Jack Sharkey's collection of vignettes inspired by the Addams Family--is still with me.
I recently had to give an earfull to the local library system because its plan for my downtown library--my city having just joined the system, and I voted for that--turned out to mean putting us in a 1/3 smaller building. They keep assuring us that they can stuff just as much library into 2/3 the space, beccause they don't need so much processing area now, but I remain unconvinced. I want lots of goodies to browse. Even if I do get one of them newfangled gizmos one of these days. I can't do eveything on those, or on computers.
The new library has not yet been designed, so there might be hope.

#132 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2011, 06:23 PM:

Angiportus (131): I can't speak to the specifics of that plan, but you'd be surprised how much space processing can take up in a library. If the system you just joined does it all centrally, I can see it making a substantial amount of difference to the size of your local library.

Although it would be cool to keep the same size library and use all that extra space for more books, etc.

#133 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2011, 06:46 PM:

Mary Aileen: I didn't mean to belittle the first version. I was thinking of how John Huston's version of The Maltese Falcon was the third version made and the first to get it all the way right: the first one was O.K. but weak, and the second managed to waste Bette Davis.

#134 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2011, 10:19 PM:

I too remember Scholastic Book Club and The Forgotten Door with much fondness.

Angiportus @ #131, meanwhile, our local library is undergoing an expansion, and staying open while it does so, which means that the contents of the library tend to move around unexpectedly between visits. It's rather Hogwarts-esque.

#135 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2011, 11:42 PM:

It just occurred to me that my local library—which I have yet to visit, though I've been to the one near my parents' place repeatedly in recent years—was delayed in opening for almost a year because they were all set to load in to their nice new two-story building when somebody discovered the pile of extra structural supports that were supposed to brace the second floor. Oops.

Books are heavy.

#136 ::: Dawno ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2011, 03:52 AM:

Lori @ 126 - I wonder the same thing about my Lost Race of Mars book. I hope I have it in the storage unit somewhere and that it didn't get given away when my father moved. He gave away every paperback book in the old house to a local used book store - something like 60 paper grocery bags full. Apparently the gal at the register nearly fainted at the idea she'd have to give so much store credit and was immensely relieved that Dad had no desire for it.

#137 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2011, 04:52 AM:

A look at Googlemaps suggests to me that processing takes up maybe 15%, not the stated 33%, of our present space. There is a lot of open space in the public zones which some might think expendable but I don't.
The authorities tell me about all the other branches in the system that are expanding, but I don't see why ours has to shrink; my 'hood isn't some kind of a backwater. If the new building can have another story put on it, that will help. There might also be a chance of us acquiring the adjacent property.
But still, perhaps, I am fortunate; the library in my parents' town is really exiguous.

#138 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2011, 08:15 PM:

Here's another good resource for people potentially interested in hardware eBook readers.

I'm still kind of leery of ebooks, though. Not from the standpoint of missing physical books (although that is a nostalgia issue for me, I'll admit). It looks like the standards wars have mostly played out, with ePub the winner except for with Amazon. It's rather that I still haven't found a good eBook reader for Mac or PC.

My quick (Mac-centric) summary:

  • Calibre is good for cataloging, but its UI stinks and is especially ugly on the Mac.
  • fbreader renders text the best, but its UI is weird, and it occasionally crashes.
  • Adobe Digital Editions manages to be slow, desirous of inflicting its own idea of style on me, and doesn't seem to let me change the typeface.
  • Stanza Desktop doesn't seem to support much in the way of keyboard controls, and isn't under active development.

So if anyone has any better suggestions, I'd welcome them.

#139 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2011, 12:03 AM:

Keith @138: When reading ebooks on the Mac, I tend to use the Kindle reader. This does have the obvious downside that it'll only access books that are available in your Kindle library.... But you don't need to own a Kindle to have an attached library of such books, and they'll do free file conversion on a lot of formats.

I haven't fiddled with style much, but it has a decent UI, some style options, and it hasn't crashed on me yet. And of course, it does have robust support...

#140 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2011, 04:05 AM:

Steve with a book @ 113:

except if the book were Misner, Thorne and Wheeler

Ah, yes. The textbook on gravity that comes complete with its own measurable gravitational field.

#141 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2011, 04:37 AM:

We Fluorospherians tend to forget that we are way out on the tail of the distribution curve as regards amount of reading. I read anywhere from 50 to 200 books per year, depending on the mix of fiction and technical nonfiction (this year I spent almost 4 weeks reading a single book: Geometric Algebra for Computer Scientists, but still managed to read Bujold's, Stross', and Banks' latest books). This is probably about average for the people reading this comment. But in general, one quarter of people in the United States read fewer than one book per year, and one-half read fewer than 4 books per year.

There are probably many reasons that un-motivate that non-reading group, including functional illiteracy, but one I've seen anecdotally is class expectation. I know people (including one of my wife's closest friends) who are intelligent, and reasonably well-educated by the standards of the second half of the 20th Century, who have been conditioned by school and/or the culture around them that they are not members of a socioeconomic class that should read. These people are primarily lower class and lower-middle class, typically blue-collar and pink-collar workers. The public education system, in aid of training and fitting people for the lower classes, has told these people that books, book stores, and libraries are places that they wouldn't be comfortable in, and where they would embarrass themselves. Keeping people "in their places" in terms of class is easy if you can convince them that trying to get out will be painful and humiliating, and not successful in any case. And convincing them that the best tool that they could use to move upwards in the class structure, the ability to get new knowledge and better understanding of the culture they live in, is not for them is the best way to control them. Literacy campaigns won't touch this sort of conditioning, and the increasing level of class warfare in the US is likely to make the situation even worse in the near future.

#142 ::: Dave Howell ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2011, 04:03 PM:

Lee@41: " Unfortunately, ... I'm going to have to install e-book software on my computer, because there are things coming out that I desperately want to buy which are only being released as e-books."

I sympathize with your (apparent) frustration. However, it might help to keep in mind that it is very likely, for the majority of those works, that the alternative to an e-book only release was to not publish it at all.

#143 ::: Dave Howell ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2011, 04:57 PM:

Kevin@81: "The problem is finding that rare book, at that rare moment, that blows me the fuck away. For that only a combination of good luck and good friends will ever suffice."

Don't be so sure. From an email message I received some years ago:

And why is it that AlexLit gets it right so often? It's so infuriating. I went to the library to get the Neil Gaiman "Graphic Novels" that won't drop off my list. Just to prove AlexLit wrong.
"I dont like comics," says I. "But youll like these..." says AlexLit. "Dagnabbit, I'll prove you wrong," says I. "Bugger" is all I can say now. A list full of more of his works and none left in the library. Bugger.

Another person wrote me to say:

I’ve discovered . . . wonderful authors I might not have encountered on my own. The four that stand out most are Rumer Godden, Diana Gabaldon, Guy Gavriel Kay, and Dorothy Sayers. Kay and Sayers I might’ve discovered eventually: Kay because I like fantasy that doesn’t fit the Eddings/Jordan/Brooks mold, and Sayers because she’s one of those authors you’re supposed to read if you like CS Lewis. But Gabaldon and Godden I never would’ve run across.

Or:

I just finished rating Alan Moore’s ‘Watchmen.’ Fabulous! This is a book I would have never picked up without the suggestion from Alexlit. ... I honestly believed the highest it would get was ‘Really Good.’

And:

Once again, Alexlit has come up trumps wrt recommending a great book that I'd never have looked twice at otherwise—in this case, Robertson Davies' “Fifth Business”


Not that I'm dissing the power of getting a tip from a friend! I think a fair number of AlexLit/Hypatia users over the years have taken Hypatia's recommendations, and then run them past a friend or two. "What do you think? Would I like that?" But a well-designed collaborative filter excels at ferreting out undiscovered gems. I've also personally used it the opposite direction. A friend recommends some author/book to me, and I check with Hypatia to see if she agrees or not.

"I'm fairly sure I never would have read ["Regeneration," by Pat Barker] if Alexlit hadn't recommended it—it doesn't, on the face of it, look much like my kind of thing—but I enjoyed it a great deal."

Of course, Your Mileage May Vary.

#144 ::: Dave Howell ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2011, 05:12 PM:

Melissa@114: "Most of my mother's student were not actually interested in reading for pleasure. What they wanted was to be able to read want ads and employment applications and notes from their children's schools. Reading for pleasure was a largely foreign concept to many of them."

That was one of the potential uses of my recommending engine that is still unrealized. If my engine can access the actual text being recommended, it can run various "reading difficulty level" analyses on it. Then an ESL (English as a Second Language) or literacy student could come to the site, and Hypatia would be able to say "Here's a story that you'll probably really enjoy reading, AND it won't be beyond your current reading skills." Being able to find stuff that was fun to read for English (or any language, really) students would be a phenomenal assist to getting them to practice, and thus improve.

#145 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2011, 06:06 PM:

That last leads to an interesting legal question, Dave H.: if there's an e-book form of the text you're wanting to test, is it okay to do the kind of analysis you're talking about without paying for the text? I could actually see things going either way on that depending on how copyright and fair use are being defined. Now, I expect it'd enhance the value of copies of the text -- but that doesn't necessarily mean it's legally okay to use the text for that purpose.

Anyone actually know the answer to this?

#146 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2011, 07:33 PM:

Meanwhile, Barry Hughart's entire "Master Li" trilogy is now available as an affordable e-book. I've had an omnibus for several years, but have been so afraid of damaging it that I really can't remember whether I've read the last book more than once.

(OTOH, the e-text does have some problems, such as omitting a useful reference note from Bridge of Birds and reproducing some key Sinographs in The Story of the Stone as non-scaleable images that don't respond to font-zooming on the Kindle.)

#147 ::: Kevin Reid ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 10:44 AM:

Dave Howell #143: I take it this “Alexlit” is now defunct? Google took me to a spammish page.

Is there something comparable today? I've lost my most reliable source of new book leads since I stopped reading rasfw.

#148 ::: Kevin Reid ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 10:47 AM:

...and now I see that that's what the post is about. Right. I'll just read quietly in this corner over here.

#149 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 01:33 PM:

Kevin Reid -- check out alexlit.net, not alexlit.com.

#150 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 01:46 PM:

Linkless comment held for review (perhaps merely mentioning . net or . com addresses without attempting to link them is a trigger?).

#151 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 02:50 PM:

Dave @144: That's actually a huge problem for many adult literacy students. Their reading levels limit them to what are essentially children's books--not even young adult or teen titles.

iirc, there's very little written for a low-reading-level _adult_--probably because it's not a very big market (right now, YMMV, etc.). Even Hi-Lo titles don't work for them--generally those books are about teens and teens' concerns, which are, to varying degrees, different from adults' concerns.

#152 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 06:42 PM:

And yet, Melissa, an awful lot of YA fantasy/SF is read by a lot of adults -- much of it is fascinating to me, for example. (Accusations of arrested development are consigned to the mental bit bucket in advance.)

I think that's a really good place to send some of those people who are having trouble finding good books to read.

#153 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 10:23 PM:

Tom, true, but YA is often beyond the population we're talking about in terms of reading level. I'm not kidding about this. They're not at "the cat is on the mat" stage, but they're often not far beyond that, and complex sentence structure can be perplexing.

There's also, in this population, a reluctance to be seen reading "kids' books." Even though plenty of adults read YA and teen stuff, these are adults who often carry some shame about not being able to read. From what my mom used to say, they often concealed their inability to read, and I suspect that being seen with a YA book would, in their eyes, be embarrassing--"what's the matter, you can't read well enough to read a regular book?" (This is not necessarily a sentiment that would actually be felt or said by anyone around the struggling reader, but that wouldn't change the feeling of the reader).

Anyway, mom gave that up some time ago in favor of putting in two days a week at the local elementary school, where she usually works with 1st and 2nd graders on reading and math skills. She's been doing that for about 20 years; while she was an adult literacy volunteer, she gave the school one day a week; when she stopped adult literacy, she went up to two days.

She also is part of a charity knitting group (baby blankets and baby sweaters).

#154 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2011, 11:48 PM:

True enough on some of those books being hard to read -- fair cop. And then there was the decision to bring out the Harry Potter books with "adult" covers as well as YA covers in the UK -- wonder who was trying to fool who?

Still, good for some intermediate folks. And I bet there are some good books out there for the level you want. But how would they be marketed?

#155 ::: Kevin Reid ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2011, 03:47 PM:

alexlit.net doesn't seem to exist. alexlit.org is failing to be a web server.

#156 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2011, 12:09 PM:

Kevin Reid @ #155:

alexlit.org is the one to keep an eye on. It was working when Dave Howell @ #25 mentioned it, and I see no reason to suppose it won't soon be working again.

#157 ::: Dave Howell ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2011, 09:00 PM:

Alexlit.org, yes. And now fixed. The frailty of the current middleware is the main reason I'm planning to rewrite/replace it by the end of the year.

#158 ::: Lori ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2012, 01:09 AM:

Dave Howell @ #25 and #157

Any update available on alexlit.org? I've been hoping to try it out since your first post on the thread, but have been getting client errors whenever I try. If debugging information or anything else would be helpful, please let me know. It sounds like an incredible project!

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