Today I got my daily newsletter from Kobo with the usual list of enticements for me to peruse, along with a section specifically tailored for me, based on my reading habits/purchase history. Two small issues, though.
First, “recos”? No one uses the word “recos.” Or no one should, anyway.
Second, two of the books appear to be mystery titles. Or rather, the books themselves are mysterious due to their rather generic depiction. I thought it was because they are obscure books that have no ebook covers, but they appear to have covers when you click the serenely blank exterior of each to find them on the Kobo site. (For the record, they are Britain and Victory in the Great War and a collection of essays called The White Album. I’m not entirely sure why either is on my list of recommendations, but I can sort of see the logic if I chase after it a bit.)
Anyway, I’m not going to buy any of the RECOS because I have a virtual pile of unread books that would reach to my chin without adding even more. No, that’s a lie. I will buy more books. Just not these specific ones. Probably.
I read 36 books last year, all of them digital. Those books, if actual physical volumes, could fill an entire shelf of a bookcase but instead they were all contained in a single small tablet (or ereader, as my mood and choice of device varied).
I love the convenience of ebooks. I love being able to highlight words to look them up, to effortlessly pick up from where I left off reading without worrying about a bookmark getting lost, to be able to read in the dark so I don’t disturb others, to flip quickly between different books, to see images and illustrations sharply rendered and in color, something few paperbacks afford these days.
I like being able to read trash on public transit without the pesky social stigma since no one can see the lurid book covers. Actually, I don’t mind people seeing my terrible taste in literature. If I did I wouldn’t carefully track and review everything I read on this blog. But others are bound to appreciate being able to discretely read about unicorn sex or whatnot.
And yet for all these conveniences and perks I can appreciate why some people still prefer actual paper books. There is a solidness, a tangibility to having something you physically heft. It makes the experience of reading seem more substantial. Book covers pop with embossed lettering and illustrations in a way you don’t get from a flat LCD image. The grain of the paper, even the smell of the pages, it speaks to the magic of losing yourself in another world for a little while. I experienced some of this when I was in a bookstore during my mall exercise regime the other day, looking over shelves of books, each a different size or thickness, none of them reduced to bits of digital ephemera.
And then I sighed at how those same shelves are crowded with endless series across every genre. Every story must be spread over ten volumes now, it seems, with single volumes largely left to the “literature” section. If I hear someone go on about world-building one more time I may scream. In fact, I did scream a little just now.
Other things you can’t do with an ebook that you can with a physical book:
beat off rabid animals
use as a paperweight
use as a doorstop (Steven Erickson recommended)
use to build a small fort
use to hide valuable jewels by carving out a secret space inside
use to show off how clever/literate you are in public
flip pages back and forth rapidly with your thumb in order to bug your friends
suddenly snap shut for dramatic effect
have it autographed by Famous Author then sell it on Pawn Stars
I noticed kobo.com was highlighting something called James Patterson BOOKSHOTS. Before reading further I speculated on what these might be. Photos of James Patterson novels that have been shot at with guns in artful ways? James Patterson book covers re-imagined as placemats for your favorite home-cooked meals (I suppose a better name for those would be BOOKMATS)?
It turns out these are novellas that promise to be under 150 pages and under $5. That’s $5 Canadian, so almost free.
Right now two of these books are available, each for $3.99. “The revolution in reading” promises approximately 50,000 more titles in the next few months, with more to come beyond that. None of them appear to be written by James Patterson. They cover a variety of genres, ranging from thrillers using Patterson’s characters to romance and non-fiction.
Some (many? most?) of these books are banking on the mere presence of the Patterson name to sell them. Do I really want to read a book of quotes from Trump and Clinton? I might if I trust Patterson in a vague, general way and admire his work (“He wrote some kids book, he must be a nice guy”). And the publisher is so confident in this premise (“Patterson’s name alone will sell a book of quotes from Trump and Clinton”) that they are pushing ahead with the aforementioned five million or so books (er, BOOKSHOTS).
The whole thing is predictable–authors attaching their names to books they haven’t actually written is hardly a new thing or exclusive to Patterson–but also weird and a little depressing. I mean, if Stephen King lent his name to a series of cookbooks, I would find it interesting in an abstract sense, wondering if the recipes were all about how best to prepare vampire bat goulash (ghoulash?) or crunchy almond spiders, but if it was just King’s name slapped on each volume I’d be thinking “cash grab” and pass. Actually, I’d pass regardless, because I’m not particularly yearning to find out what sort of recipes Stephen King has to offer. The cash grab is the depressing part.
The weird part is attaching the name to all manner of genres. It’s as if Patterson’s brand is so strong it can be used to promote anything. Why stop at books? Why not James Patterson clothing, lunch boxes or toiletries?
On the positive side, this does give other writers an opportunity to get their work published, and with the Patterson brand behind the books, a greater chance to be noticed. The low price and low page count also pushes these into the impulse buy zone, further increasing the odds that some of them will be picked up.
Now I’m conflicted. I kind of want to hate James Patterson BOOKSHOTS because, come on, it’s a money grab. But if it helps writers, especially new writers…maybe it’s not as horrible as I’d like it to be.
I’m still not picking up Sacking the Quarterback, though.