Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Paper or plastic?

copyright: reading interrupted.com

The other day I mentioned in my post about how you can pre-order the ebook of Town Father right this minute that I’m beginning to reconsider ebooks as something I want to keep buying. It’s not that I wouldn’t pick one up to support a fellow indie or even to grab something on sale by a well-known scribe, like maybe that new Jonathan Franzen joint. But I’ll confess right here right now that I don’t read as much as I used to and I definitely write a lot more than I read.

I keep up with the news online, and I hit a couple of magazines I’m fond of (one of them is Downbeat, the sturdy old jazz rag), but I find I’m getting away from fiction in my limited reading in favor of non-fiction and philosophy/science/history. This is because so much new, traditionally published fiction tends to piss me off, for possibly obvious reasons. But when I do read something newish that’s in my ilk, I realize now that I wish I had a copy on my shelf. Last year’s The Flamethrowers would be nice to see there. David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet I’d like to see on a regular basis. A couple of books by Jim Crace stick with me and I wish I had them on hand. The remarkable Heidi Julavits would be great on my ‘case. Instead they’re all interred in my Kindle. It’s dark in there.

When the paperback of Town Father arrived here at home, I held it in my hands and flipped through its satisfying pages, understanding that it is not just an array of e-ink patterns on a screen. It’s an object. It’s a thing. For me, obviously, it has a long and convoluted history, having grown from a few vague notions to a sketch or two, all the way to a fully realized novel. Being able to handle it is very very special.  Seeing it on my own bookshelf — particularly seeing it next to Occasional Soulmates and Parts Unknown — makes me feel like I’ve actually made something, and something valuable at that.

When I review the books I’ve shlepped around with me for forty years, as I went around from town to town, country to country, I relive my life. I see a collection of seven or eight volumes of Chekhov’s stories (the Ecco Press editions) and I recall my early fascination with his narrative finesse, understanding as I read them at the time that I was being influenced by him. And I have two collections by Donald Barthelme that always remind me not to be too predictable, too mainstream, or I’ll risk becoming complacent in my work. I also have very close to me a number of Thomas Hardy novels that I bought when I went to school in England one year, and traveled to Dorset and walked some of the lanes Hardy must have walked.

You get the point. These volumes speak volumes.

I’m wondering lately whether ebooks might eventually become something unto themselves, something special as distinguished from physical books. Maybe they could be narratives with multiple levels or outcomes, or they could be laced with images or sounds that paper books can’t accommodate. I don’t know. But right now, as I sit here with almost as many books in my Kindle and Nook as are on my shelves, I find I’m sentimental only about the ones I still have to dust from time to time.

You can pre-order Town Father in ebook here. But you can get the paperback in your hands in no time by ordering here.

16 comments on “Paper or plastic?

  1. Adrienne Morris
    November 12, 2015

    There is nothing like holding your book in your hands. Loved this post. I’ve never had a kindle and most likely never will.

    I also find myself annoyed at traditionally published fiction 🙂

    • Kevin Brennan
      November 12, 2015

      Thanks, Adrienne. I was going through all the titles on my Kindle and Nook and realizing that there were dozens of great books in there that I hadn’t given much thought to because I couldn’t see them or handle them, flip through them, or get caught up in them again. No fair!

      I really think that ebooks have to evolve in some way that makes separates them from print — a different form altogether.

      • pinklightsabre
        November 18, 2015

        Not to go on about this, but I’ll also buy CDs just for the car, to have a unique experience with the record that’s confined to driving, that’s often uninterrupted start to finish, and I like that. Gives me the impression I have control over the media I’m consuming. But I haven’t gotten into audio tapes yet, even though I like the idea — I think I’m control freak enough I want my voice reading it in my head, not some actor’s.

      • Kevin Brennan
        November 18, 2015

        I like that CD idea! I tend to bring one or two out to the car and then listen to them 90 times. That doesn’t work out so well.

        I’m averse to audio books too. My mind drifts. And it’s strange when a man reads female dialogue and vice versa.

  2. francisguenette
    November 12, 2015

    I’m having a bit of an opposite experience, Kevin. I’m reading more fiction now than at any other point in my life and I seemed to have tipped over the point of getting some hard or softcover books and some e-books, into almost all e-books. Of course, I still want to hold my own books in my hands and see and experience them as the physical objects you write of and I know there is a good local market out there for my softcovers. Reorders from the local stores convince me of that. But I do read fiction differently now – with a more critical eye for things like point of view and how individual character voices have been created. Ah well, enjoy the changes, I suppose. What else can we do?

    • Kevin Brennan
      November 12, 2015

      Fortunately, it’s a “to each his own” situation! There are some true advantages to the ebook, and one of them I use a lot is looking up words on the spot. But one disadvantage is that it’s hard to find particular things within a book without toggling between the text and contents or doing a search. With a real book you flip flip flip until you get there.

      I guess readers are going to land on the favorite format either way…

  3. John W. Howell
    November 12, 2015

    I used to read nothing but physical books. Then I got a kindle and my world changed. I too love strolling through my bookshelves and looking up old friends. I think I’m at a point where I need to consume words efficiently. Since I began writing I am reading more than I used to and the kindle makes it easy to have a book where ever I am.

    • Kevin Brennan
      November 12, 2015

      Very true. I do appreciate ereaders for that. Guess there’s nothing wrong with using both, eh?

      • John W. Howell
        November 12, 2015

        I hope not. I have a promo where you buy the paper and you can get an e-book free.

  4. kingmidget
    November 13, 2015

    There is something fundamentally different between a book and an ebook. something far more real and permanent about the former. The only ebooks that have truly and deeply struck a chord with me are those written by self-published writers. But when it comes to the traditionally published — yeah, when I read them via ebook … eh, not so much.

    I wonder if, like LPs, real books might have more meaning once again.

    • Kevin Brennan
      November 14, 2015

      Good analogy, with LPs! I’m not sure vinyl sounds better, but there is a certain feel to playing one, and holding the covers is definitely more satisfying than a CD box or looking at a little thumbnail on your phone.

      Maybe this is important: the receptiveness of the reader when she is reading. I wonder if there’s a difference between print/ebook on that front…

      • kingmidget
        November 14, 2015

        Ah, I’ve always thought we lost something when we moved from LPs to digital music. There’s a depth to the sound that is missing with CDs and downloads. I wonder if there’s something to be said for the same kind of difference between books and ebooks. As you posted, there is something real and substantial and lasting about a book, while an ebook is … more shallow, just bits and bytes in the great “out there.”

      • pinklightsabre
        November 18, 2015

        Maybe there’s the physical reminder of an unread book vs. an unread file that prompts you to pick it up (reminds you you paid for it), that just disappears with unread emails, and so forth — easier ‘out of mind,’ digitally.

      • Kevin Brennan
        November 18, 2015

        For sure. And a physical reminder to revisit too. I often flip through previously read books just to keep in touch.

  5. pinklightsabre
    November 17, 2015

    I really enjoy your perspective on this, as a writer and creator of objects…and we’re in a position now, on the road throughout the UK for 90 days of having to question why we’re lugging so much paper around, when we could put it all on our devices, which we’re also lugging around, but I can’t get that tactile (or maybe it’s sentimental vibe, as you suggest) off the screen. This is a tired, luddite’s rag here, waxing on about the dog ears and the feel of it, man — but I won’t let it go. Bury me in a heap of selfie sticks and plastic bags, and let the worms make ones and zeroes out of my eyes. Ha! I like hearing you reading about Chekhov as I’ve just now done, pushing 45 and finally getting into it, a good time, as any.

    • Kevin Brennan
      November 18, 2015

      As someone who doesn’t have a smartphone, I’m not sure people should go by me. I’ll tell you one thing, though, no paperback will ever tell you you can’t open it because its battery is too low…

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This entry was posted on November 12, 2015 by in Publishing.
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