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Old 05-17-2010, 02:31 PM   #1
Bob Russell
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Editorial: Are Too Many E-books Stealing the Pleasure of Reading?

As an e-book reader, have you ever looked at the number of titles available for free on the web, or available conveniently for purchase, and felt lost? Maybe you have downloaded a huge collection, and feel lost in the mass of titles. (For some, huge might mean 50 e-books, but for others it might mean 100,000 e-books in this digital age of wider accessibility!) You might even feel like there are so many books out there for you, that reading has become almost a job as you try to get through your reading list faster and faster. Instead of just enjoying books, you feel like you are trying to become more and more efficient as you can't wait to get to that next book.

While I've been thinking about this dilemma/paradox a lot recently, I couldn't help but write out a thought or two today because of the intriguing article at TeleRead by Alejandro Sanchez, Starving in a bountiful harvest: how ebooks are making my life more stressful. Sure, individuals deal differently with information overload, so you may not feel this at all. But I bet you at least know someone else that does. As Alejandro puts it,
Books in their dead-tree form, make me feel as if each one has created an intimate relationship with me, that I am beginning to lose with the works that makeup my ever expanding collection: at last count its well over a thousand e-books. Don’t get me wrong, I do have vivid memories of working a late shift and tearing through “War and Peace” or the sense of connection that I established with Hugo’s “Les Miserable”: both being free e-books from But, everything in between, I am beginning to view with a bid of dread. I know that I can form an emotional attachment to a writer’s thoughts but am beginning to realize that a writer’s work may need to be even more powerful than before to excite me.
My own feeling is that I usually approach my choice of the next book to read based on a type of book. I might have a series that I follow by a favorite author, and decide to read the latest book. Or I might choose a technical book, based on the subject I am trying to learn about. Or I might have a lot of energy and decide to tackle a classic that I've been wanting to read, such as War and Peace. Maybe I want a civil war book, or a top business title, or something significant from history, etc. In the old days, all I really had to choose was my book source. I'd wander into the library or bookstore and browse until I found the right book (or three or ten!) at the right price. I didn't worry very much about picking just the right book because I was just happy to find a few that I was excited about. I didn't really have to keep track of which books I was currently reading, because they were all there on my desk or table.

But now that's all changed. I had pretty much stopped reading for fun until MobileRead and PDAs and e-books came onto the scene, as well as the enthusiasm for reading I found from everyone at MobileRead. Now, I have files on various computers and phones as well as a dedicated e-book device. I actually have to make a list of the 5-10 books I'm reading, or trying to get to, or else I lose track. And yes, in the process, every book does indeed probably become less special.

In addition, there are so many source of e-books of every type and quality. Check out this list in the MobileRead Wiki with sites for free downloadable e-books. I'm pretty sure that this easily exceeds the available libraries of the richest men on earth throughout all of human history before the digital age. When I want a book now, I can randomly pick one of those sites, and maybe feel guilty about the 14 other types of books I'm trying to read, or feel like I'm missing out on the latest novel. As I don't usually read through books very fast, I have to admit feeling all the more jealous of all the people here at MobileRead that seem to finish a book a week or even a book a day.

So now I definitely feel a bit more stress about which books to read. The world's collective library is at my fingertips, so covering the most important books has become a lot more important to me. Life is short, and my interests are wide, so I know I can only sample what's out there.

How do I pick the right books, and manage my reading list? And it's also quite frustrating not getting to read the first part of the book for free before purchasing - I tend to shy away from buying e-books now unless I have a way of knowing for sure that I will like them, or unless the prices are too good to pass up. For SciFi reading, for example, Steve Jordan Books has became a favorite of mine. Others gravitate to Baen books for similar reasons. Both offer DRM-free books. Many other authors I follow have been because of a paperback novel that I bought first based on a recommendation, or was given as a gift. You get the idea. But what about new types of books? There are so many to choose from.

It must be a little bit how people feel when they suddenly come into large amounts of wealth - ecstatic until they realize the responsibility of properly handling the money. You have to have the right financial manager, and you have to make sure that he won't steal it all, or that it's somewhat protected from lawsuits and taxes and market fluctuations. You have to make sure you don't get caught short by ignoring the taxes owed. You have to take care of anything that you acquire, such as a home or a boat or a company or whatever. And maybe the most important of all, you probably want to invest in other people's lives and improving the world. So making the most of your money is not as easy as it sounds. I've heard that the burden of all this can make people wish they never received all that money. Personally, I'd really like to give it a try, but as for most of you, I'm much more likely to be a part of the daily grind to earn a living with an average job and living in modest circumstances.

With this sudden abundance of wealth in the form of e-books, are we really prepared to take advantage? True, one can just turn a blind eye and simply pick a book based on the mood of the moment and ignore everything else. But for some of us, reading is so important and valuable, we want to read the best stuff, and we almost anguish when we compare the number of books we can read with the number of books we'd like to read. For his honesty about longing for some of the innocence and simplicity of the old days with paper books, is accused of secretly being a paper book lover. But I appreciate his comments, and I think that there is commonly a definite sense of being overwhelmed with the choices. An e-book version of information overload.

Clearly, we have some work to do as a reading community and industry to figure out how to deal with the embarrassment of riches we have with e-books today. We're the trendsetters and the first generation of e-book enthusiasts, and in many ways this generation will set the paradigm for e-book readers that will last a long time.

So what are the ways people can simply and comfortably find the right books to read. How to best sort through their libraries or online libraries and maybe even keep a "to-read" list? How to keep track of what books they've read and what they liked or learned from them? How to know what books you might like based on the kinds of books you liked/disliked in the past? Or how much of these concerns should just be thrown out the window in order to bring back those carefree days of picking the next book to read like we used to do.... "Wow, that book looks interesting. I think I'll read it."

I'm pretty sure this will connect with someone here, unless the multitude of e-books is just pure joy and benefit for all, with no downsides? Let us know what you think with your comments and thoughts!
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