Susanne Dunlap

Buying vs. Reading Books

In The writing industry, The writing life on August 13, 2010 at 5:46 pm

It’s possible to get a general idea of how many books people are buying. But I’m just as interested in something far more intangible: how many books are people actually reading?

I know I own lots of books I haven’t (yet) read, and that I’ve read lots of books I haven’t bought. I’ve borrowed them from libraries or friends, or gotten ARCs from publishers.

This thought occurred to me as I was thumbing through a copy of my first book, Emilie’s Voice. It (like my second, Liszt’s Kiss) was published as a trade paperback. I remember how exciting it was to get a copy of the real book, printed on that paper, with a cover and an ISBN and a title page with a copyright. Thrilling.

But something has started to happen. The pages of that book are going a little brown at the edges. It’s no longer a “new” book, in more than just publishing terms. It was starting to look like some of the books I’ve read on vacation, the old paperbacks with their brittle pages where I could lose myself for hours in another world.

Nonetheless, the feeling wasn’t entirely unpleasant. There’s something comforting about the permanence of even a paperback book, passed around and picked up by generations of readers. That, to me, is the magic of having had books published. Sure, I want the sales. I want my books to make enough money so that I can continue to be published. But the bottom line is that it’s all about the readers.

I simply love the idea that sometime in the future, someone might be curled up in a cabin in the woods and take down a yellowing old paperback to get lost in another world—one that I’ve created just for that purpose. A single copy of a book can have a life of its own in many people’s minds.

I wonder…will the same feeling arise from an ebook? As far as I know, only the Nook allows you to “lend” or “share” books. Will cabins come stocked with e-readers for the entertainment of their occupants? Or will that be the one place decades hence where a paper book is still the preferred delivery mechanism for literature?

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  1. I don’t like ebooks! There’s just something wonderful about holding a book in my hands and flipping the pages, being able to flip back to reread a favorite part of the story…. when I read a book on a screen I just don’t feel like I am reading a real book. So I haven’t bought an e-reader. I will from time to time read an exclusive short story ebook or something on my PC.

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