What's so bad about e-books? Editorial By S.K. Slevinski

If a person with a more exactingly scientific interest in this question were to conduct a survey of fiction aficionados, asking readers whether they preferred print-books or e-books, my guess is that they'd come up with a 99.99% margin in favor of print books.

Who would, after all, elect for the sharp glare of the computer screen when one could have the warm glow of the hearth—or at least the 40 watt bulb—and the milky comfort of the black-on-white page? Isn't there just "something" about a bound book? The bend of the spine? The book in the hand? The print on the page? The thrum of the fingertips across the accordion edge of the pages? Doesn't the human soul connect with the passion of a story so much more when curled up on the couch, book in hand, in front of the fire, on a chilly winter's eve?

In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably interrupt this editorial. As you may have already noticed, I'm the editor of ARWZ Magazine. An E-Publisher. You may now feel free to suspect that I have a deviously underhanded motive in making you believe that e-books aren't really the first step to the frigid future a la Asimov's "The Fun They Had."

I must also confess, as of the aforementioned date, that I've never read a true e-book. However, out of necessity for publishing ARWZ and not wishing to bankrupt the endeavor on printer cartridges and paper, I have found myself of late doing more reading on the computer. I am intrigued at what I've found.

As it turns out, the sharp glare of that computer screen is a useful tool for cutting down on the electric bill. As a professionally impoverished graduate student, I have discovered that a laptop running on battery and a dollar-store candle provide all the warm glow I need, while freeing up a few bucks for pints of Yuengling at the end of the month.

The e-book is only one facet of the laptop's encompassing beauty. Remember those "soulful" bound books? The bend of the spine? The book in the hand? The... Did I say "hand"? I meant hands. Reading a bound book—if you haven't curled up with one lately—is a two-handed job. Keeping both sides from smacking back together is a persistent occupation. If you need one free hand, good luck! A hardcover may stay open in front of you, but if you keep buying hardcovers, you'll just eat up that beer money. Which leaves you with two options: 1) the thumb and straining pinky finger method, or 2) the forearm press. Both are precarious, especially at the beginning and end where a full spine crack isn't going to help you out. And the forearm method will either nail you behind a desk or necessitate constructing a pillow mountain on your lap.

But if you fire up your laptop computer, light a candle and load your e-book... the easy-chair is your oyster! Go ahead, make a snack. Brew a cup of tea. Set the laptop—quite fittingly, I'm sure you'll agree—on your lap and it's hands-free reading. The book is eternally open before your eyes. Just a tap of your finger turns the page. The best news is that laptops move easily from easy-chair to couch to bed to floor. And they never object to a roaring hearth. Nor do they cease to function on a chilly winter's eve.

Call me a cold post-post-modern e-publisher, but I have to ask: What's so great about print books? I'll admit that the compact paperback beats the 15.4" 7lbs. widescreen laptop any day for portability. But that paperback looks a little bulky next to your Pocket PC. How can you ask for anything more? Well, maybe books-on-tape through my cell phone...

Books are heavy. They're bulky and they're murder on a misdirected big toe. As a long suffering, beer deprived graduate student, the last thing I need is more books. They're crowding up and toppling off my book shelves. Not to mention the piles on my floor. There's a pile of books to be reviewed, a pile of novels already reviewed. There's a stack from the library of required course reading, a stack for thesis research, a stack for top priority research paper, a stack for second priority research paper, a stack of writing references, name books, dictionaries of English, Russian, Polish, Serbian, collections of pithy essays on how to tell if you write badly.... I sigh with relief at the end of the semester when I can at least send two thirds of them back home to the library.

What's my point? Well, I'm feeling generous since you've been so kind as not to have already hit the "Back" button on your browser window, so I'll give you two options. Option A: Traditional bound books have become utterly useless in the modern world—until you spill Yuengling on your laptop. Option B: E-Books and e-stories aren't perfect, but they're an exciting new publishing medium that doesn't get much credit, straining as they do against the ingrained habits of print-book lovers. E-reading has its drawbacks, but so does print. The future is at hand. You're a speculative fiction fan. Try something more revolutionary in your reading material once in a while.

S.K. Slevinski is senior editor for ARWZ Literary Magazine and a long time reader of alternative reality fiction. She is currently a graduate student, specializing in folklore.