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Saturday, Dec. 25, 2010

JAPAN LITE

The perfect gift for the Traditional Book Snob


Merry Christmas! I hope Santa brought you an e-book reader. If he didn't, turn him in to the police. Because Santa doesn't know what's good for you. Let me explain.

The world is divided on e-books. Some people like them, others don't. I never realized there was such a divide until I got my first e-book reader, a Kindle, about a year ago. This is when I was first confronted by people who I will call, just for convenience sake, Traditional Book Snobs.

Just the other day I ran into a Traditional Book Snob, someone I had known for a long time. I was on the train reading from my Kindle when a guy sat down next to me.

"Jeff! Long time no see," I said. Jeff has been in Japan for as long as I can remember. He's a nice guy but never listens. You know these people — they talk a lot, usually about themselves, and barely listen to what you're saying. Well, now you know Jeff.

"Oh what's that?" Jeff says, referring to my Kindle. I explained it was an e-book reader. "Oh, I prefer traditional books," he says.

"Oh, so you've used an e-book reader before?"

"No." He goes on to explain, "I prefer the tactile experience of a traditional book."

Ah, a book fondler! "Yes, I suppose there is something to be said for those bulky hardback books," I say, trying to be polite.

"No, I mean paperbacks."

"Oh, you mean the other traditional books. Yes, paperbacks are much better than hardbacks. They're cheaper, smaller and lighter," I say, not sure whether I'm describing paperbacks or my even lighter 241 gram Kindle.

"Yes, I have to admit that I miss the porous pages in books, the kind of pages that absorb potato chip grease and suntan lotion, and leave bug gut skid marks across the page. And the dirt on the pages you get from thumbing through them. With my Kindle, I just wipe off the dirt. Convenient? Yes. But something is definitely missing."

I wanted to ask Jeff why Traditional Book Snobs feel they must choose one method of reading over the other when, in reality, most people who read e-books still read traditional books. I wanted to tell him that e-books are not about limiting your options, but increasing them.

But Jeff had already taken out a paperback by Natsume Soseki and was starting to read it.

"Wow, I just finished that book a few minutes ago!" I say, amazed that we would both be reading the same book at almost the same time. "Did you know it is free on Kindle? Along with Lafcadio Hearn's books and a lot of others that are now in the public domain."

"Oh, I don't have a problem paying for books," he says. He did have a point: Why read books for free when you can pay for them?

"What happens if you lose that thing? You not only lose your free books, but all the ones you paid for too," Jeff says while taking his iPhone out of his laptop computer bag and checking his messages.

"Well, you do have to back it up," I admit.

Once he is finished, he looks at my Kindle again and says, "Do you have to recharge that?"

"Oh yes, it only has a battery life of about seven days. It's unfortunate, because I prefer to read in 14-day stretches. I hear the new ones last a lot longer."

"What about back-lighting?"

"Ahhh, it doesn't have back lighting either." Apparently traditional books do.

Jeff fumbles around in his bag again and brings out a pair of reading glasses.

"Boy I miss my glasses! I don't use my reading glasses anymore since I can increase the font size on my Kindle. I always had to tether my glasses around my neck to not lose them. Haha!"

"Yeah, I love mine," he says. "This is a new pair because I accidently sat on my old ones. CRUNCH!" he says, making a horrible crunching sound. "Hey, did you hear David Sedaris has a new book out?"

"You mean 'Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk'? Yeah, I read it the day it was released. I pre-ordered it on my Kindle. It cost just 10 bucks."

"I keep meaning to order it but haven't gotten around to it yet. Books from overseas always take a while too," he says, as if this was a really good thing. And he'd get the physical book too!

At the next stop, Jeff got up to leave. "Well, it was great to see you again Amy. Have a Merry Christmas."

"You too, Jeff."

"I'm off to a Christmas party tonight. I get to be Santa Claus!" he says as he waves goodbye.

"Great — good luck Santa!" I say as I wave back. I was really glad I ran into Jeff on the train. As a book lover, I certainly understood how happy he was reading traditional books. I still like to read traditional books too.

With that, I turned on the wireless in my e-book reader and started browsing the next book to buy. I'd receive it within 60 seconds, while still sitting on the train.

I have to admit that I read a lot more now that I have an e-book reader. I just hope authors can learn to write faster.



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