How Stephen King and a Maine Roadtrip Made Me an Ebook Convert

The other day, for the first time in my life, I thought to myself, “I could be an ebook convert. I really could.”

I was in the car with my family, on the way home from a diaper bash* in Maine, and my wife was driving. Having just recently poked fun at Stephen King for breaking his promise to retire, I had said Mainer on my brain, and I decided to see if I could pull up a free sample of his latest tome on iBooks. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could. And so, within a minute or two, I started reading.

Let’s pause for a moment to marvel at this. I was in a car, I wanted to read a book I hadn’t brought with me, and I was able to do so with just a tap of my finger.

It wasn’t until that moment, when I really wanted to read something specific while on the road, that I realized the true utility of ebooks. In much the same way that mp3s, iTunes, and my old iPod allowed me to call up music from CDs I’d forgotten to bring with me, my iPhone was now allowing me to do the same for an artform I love even more. And if I had an iPad… fuggedaboutit! I’d be hooked. The only thing that was irritating about the experience—the only thing—was the size of my iPhone’s screen.

This was actually a really big shift for me. Just a week before this, while reading about J.C. Hutchins’s new workspace, I cringed at this comment of his:

I’m ditching hard copy in a big way, forsaking the fetishization of printed books and buying ebooks almost exclusively now…

But now, now realizing I could keep a veritable library in my pocket, I understood.

I’m not sure why it’s taking longer for ebooks to catch on than digital music and movies did, but I’ll venture a guess. Hard copy books are still pieces of art. They never went through the transitory phase that both music and movies went through, where the container stopped being art and became simply packaging. Music containers stopped being art when we stopped buying vinyl. Movie containers stopped being art when we could put them into little plastic boxes or little plastic discs. Books, unless you count the mass market paperback as the same sort of thing—and I know there are some who will—have remained art. With books, we’ve never gotten used to the idea of separating the package from the content. We still crave a great combination of the two.

I think that’ll change as we are forced to downsize the amount of physical stuff we keep around. (See this post by Derek Steen for more on cleaning out stuff.) One of the things Stephanie and I have been focused on over the past couple of months has been cleaning out our house of excess junk in anticipation of either eventually being foreclosed on (I’m only partially employed at the moment, and though we are currently current on our payments, you never know when that’ll change) or of moving to a smaller place in a location more equidistant between our families. We’ve been giving away and donating excess toys and clothes and we’re getting ready to get rid of all of our CDs and DVDs and go entirely digital for entertainment. I see removing hard copy books from our life as a potential next step. Maybe not all of them, but quite a few.

Anyway, I think it’ll be really interesting to see if more people who never thought they’d get into ebooks start to realize the utility of the form. After all, though books are pretty, you can’t take ‘em with you. And I mean that in more than one way.

*Diaper Bash, in this case, was meant to be a gender-neutral alternative for the type of event we typically call a baby shower.