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With technology like Amazon’s Kindle, smartphones, and Apple’s unfortunately-named iPad, one could very well wonder what the future holds for printed books.

There is, as there always is, a tradeoff. Reading a book with the latest portable Ars Electronica means forgoing some of the sensory pleasures of page and print: the tactile qualities of the paper, the subtle smell of the binding, the feeling of holding an object that has both physical and intellectual substance. These are important qualities, especially in certain books that celebrate the publisher’s and designer’s arts. McSweeney’s offerings come to mind, as do the leather-bound tomes sold by the Easton Press … and, in the Olden Days, the products of the beloved Heritage Press.

But then there’s the portability factor. One hand-held device can hold an entire library’s worth of books, which certainly is convenient if you want to polish off a shelf-load of stupid-ass Danielle Steele novels during your beach vacation. To an old gink like me, a Kindle will never have the home-enriching beauty of a shelf full of books, but at least you can carry a pile of cheesy novels around with you without giving yourself a hernia… and without people seeing that instead of reading War and Peace you’re working your way through the latest Kitty Kelley hatchet job.

I do not own a Kindle, nor do I have any plans to purchase one. If ever I should invest in an iPad, it will be driven by other applications besides electronic readers. But since I do have an iPhone, I gave the Kindle app a whirl, purchasing Lincoln’s Dreams, Connie Willis’s 1987 novel about a woman who has horrifyingly detailed dreams about the Civil War, seemingly via a direct channel into Robert E. Lee’s mind.

The novel itself was good enough, although not on a par with Doomsday Book (1992), Willis’s Hugo and Nebula Award-winning magnum opus. Reading it on my iPhone was no problem; the type was comfortably large, even if (given the small screen size) each page took only a few seconds to read.

It was not too deep into the book, however, that I began to notice a huge number of apparent typos … the kind of typos that result from scanning printed pages and converting them to a text file with an OCR program. However good your OCR software may be, there will always be errors – and this Electro-Book was packed with ’em. It made for a certain low level of background annoyance (never a good thing while reading) resulting from having to stop and decipher a nonsense word every couple of pages.

I will therefore not be in a hurry to download more books to my iPhone.

Sure, it was cheaper than a print edition. Plenty faster delivery, too. And I’ve heard all the clichés: caveat emptor, you get what you pay for, et cetera. But if this Electronical Literature business is ever to get off the ground, publishers will need to have a little respect for their readers. Proofread and correct your frickin’ publications, will ya?!?

Meanwhile, a question: How long will it be, d’you suppose, before printed books are as obsolete as Egyptian papryrus… or a clay tablet inscribed with cuneiform symbols?

Steve Krodman

Steve Krodman

Steve Krodman, AKA the Bard of Affliction, lives in the steaming suburbs of Atlanta with his wife and two cats. He is partial to good food, fine wine, tasteful literature, and Ridiculous Poetry. Most significantly, he has translated the Mr. Ed theme song into four languages.