The Changing Face of Books

Kage Baker just missed e-readers. She would probably have liked them; she was certainly delighted to be able to sell her own works online, and she was an enthusiastic user of sites like GoogleBooks and The Gutenberg Project.

I was seriously considering an early Nook or Kindle for her, when she died. As it was, I waited only a year or so before getting my own – and I’ve updated to a Kindle Fire since then, and so passed on the other electronic toy to Kimberly. Who is now as addicted as I am, bwa ha ha.

While ordering books for my nephew Michael (so much cheaper and easier to get online than in the college bookstore!) I also discovered how to link the two Kindles. And then link them to the same Kindle app on desktops, laptops, phones … what we have now is the electronic equivalent of the New Books Place that we all shared when we were kids. One enormous “place” that the entire family of readers can access to see what has most recently been added. Old favourites, classics, updates in series one or another of us follows: now, this is the future of my dreams! A magic purse full of books!

Kimberly first became aware of the Great Electronic Shelf when she commented one evening that her copy of a favourite old book had vanished, and she didn’t know where. Three minutes later, it was ordered on my Kindle and showing on hers. Behold, Bride of the Rat God immediately to hand! Enthusiasm ensued.

However, real physical books are by no means obsolete; at least, for dedicated readers like my family. Some books must be possessed, to be held in loving hands and caressed. I have taken to ordering both the hard copies and e-copies of Sir Terry Pratchett, for instance: one for the home library, and one for the library in my purse. I recently acquired J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fall of Arthur in hardcover, because Professor Tolkien’s books must be savoured first in corporeal form. And I have slowly been acquiring Stephen King’s works in e-books as well, at least partially in self-defense – his books tend to be freaking enormous! It’s nice to read them without courting carpel tunnel damage.

However, Mr. King’s most recent effort was deliberately not issued in an e-version. It’s called Joyland, published by Hard Case Crime, and in a deliberate act of dramatic verisimilitude, it’s only available as a cheesy paperback. It’s definitely cool – a redheaded young lady with physically impossible decolletage and Bakelite bracelets matching her emerald-green spaghetti-strap frock, pressed up against a poster for a fortune teller. She’s on the verge of screaming at something horrific off-camera, and is obviously no better than she should be … a neon-lit carnival burns in the background, and she is clutching something in one hand that might be an old-fashioned camera. Or a 1920’s phone she tore off a wall. Or an original-issue Geiger counter. Or a DIY theremin.

Whatever she’s holding, it’s the size of a suitcase; and the way she’s holding it, it’s either glued to her hand or equipped with anti-gravity. I can hardly wait to find out what it’s meant to be. Or if the scene even shows up in the narrative; cheesy paperbacks were infamous for covers that were purer imagination that the plots inside them.

And this, Dear Readers, is a perfect illustration of the Janus-faced publishing industry. On one hand, our new and many-headed family library, where we can share electronic ink and store books in a handy pocket dimension. On the other … books produced as deliberate works of art and ambiance, where everything from the primary-colours covers to the sweet musk of the cheap paper pages creates the desired ambiance.

Of course, it does mean we only have one copy. And both Kimberly and I have been waiting, drooling and moaning like zombies, for Joyland.  In past years, when there were even more of us, wars broke out over this kind of thing: I actually bought two copies of the last Henry Potter novel  – in our putative adulthood – so Kage wouldn’t smother me in my sleep to get her hands on it.

But in an act of true sororal generosity, Kimberly has told me, “You read it first. You’re faster than me.” Although she added a codicil: “So start reading NOW!”

And that’s what I’m gonna do.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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13 Responses to The Changing Face of Books

  1. Lynn says:

    Kathleen, I totally agree with you about Some Books requiring a hard, heavy, book that smells of new and ink and paper. Dr. Tolkien’s books need paper, although I do have a special version of The Hobbit on my Kindle. Now. 50 years after I originally read the thing. And you can’t read aloud to someone as well from a Kindle; I just don’t think it would work.

    I never had the opportunity to share books with my sister as you did; she wasn’t a reader and still doesn’t read the same stuff I do. My one brother is, I believe, illerate and the other only reads about electronics. However, it was a joy to share all the Harry Potter books with my girls. At first I had to read them to Terry and that took a while and could only happen after dinner and homework and before bed for about an hour, so Kate had lots of opportunity to read the book any other time. Terry would read a paragraph at first, then I’d read a page, then her paragraph, on and on. Kate would still read with us more often than not. Good times. Slow times. The older they got the less I had to read to them and the more competition there was to read the book first. I’m The Mom so The Dad decided I got to read each of them first. There were a few nights when I’d read until 3:00 just to finish so the girls wouldn’t fight me for it. There really is something magical about sharing a book one could never do with a Kindle, as much as I love my Kindle Fire.


    • Kate says:

      Lynn – Oh my gosh, I can’t imagine not having reading siblings! Although it might have been more peaceful sometimes, when the book stash was running low. Or when there were disagreements over who got to read a new book first. On the other hand, who do you talk to about the books? That would have been tough.

      I too have stayed up all night reading something, so I could pass it on. And I used to read to Kimberly when we were little. I never read to Kage much until her last illness – then she found being read to soothing, and we got through most of the Jeeves books. And three of her own, which was kind of weird.


  2. Carolyne says:

    All right. I now have ‘Bride of the Rat God’ on my Kindle and having just finished Pattison’s ‘Mandarin Gate’ last night, will dive into it once I’m into my pajamas. I hope I don’t have my usual regrets about not buying a hard copy to share.


    • Kate says:

      Be brave, Carolyne! You don’t have to share your books. You can hoard them and gloat over them. I do that, a lot. But once you’ve read Bride of the Rat God, I bet you’re going to want to share it, because it’s just one of those books …


  3. Medrith says:

    I so wish Barbara had written the sequel to Bride of the Rat God! She had one in mind…


    • Kate says:

      Medrith – do you know for certain sure that it’s off the table? Last time I checked her site, it was still on the “I’d like to get to this” list. Man, it’s one of the books I hope and pray comes out!

      At BayCon, I was on a panel on “Comfort reads” – the books you read again and again because you love them so. Ms. Hambly’s oevre was top of my list.


      • Medrith says:

        No, I actually don’t know that it’s off the table- now she is doing so much self-publishing maybe we have a shot. I’m with you on loving her work. I was lucky enough to begin at the beginning with Barbara, as with Kage. Also Pratchett. (Wow am I old).


  4. Kate says:

    We are old as dirt. But look at our interesting lives!

    I note with interest Ms.Hambly’s “Continuing stories” feature on her site – I just found out about it, and I’m going to buy and download them all into a DIY collection. While hoping for new novels, as well. I read “The Magistrates of Hell” only last month, and it was great. There is no series of hers I don’t like …


  5. kskjold says:

    I, too, have downloaded “Bride of the Rat God” – how did I miss this before? Loving it!


    • Kate says:

      Neasssa – You’d never read it before? How is this possible, with the amount you hang out with me? My gosh, it’s precisely your kind of book! Next time you are in LA, I must take you up to the top of Vine and show you where so much of the action takes place.


  6. ShaLaugh says:

    Dear Kathleen,

    Thanks for a positive word about Kindle and its linkage capabilities! I am sharing.



  7. Elizabeth Pruyn says:

    Hi there, I just ordered my first kindle. I am looking forward to learning about the linking..and I have sooo many books to order….!


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