A couple of recent pieces in the New York Times are the inspiration for this post.
First: Mass-Market Paperback Sales in Decline
Second: From Scroll to Screen
I know I complain periodically about e-books. I like having books on the shelf. I like taking books in the bathtub, where I am prone to fall asleep. I like eating while I read.
I usually can't bring myself to buy hardcovers in Barnes & Noble or from Amazon, unless it's a favorite author (I did recently buy a Glen Cook hardcover) or it won't be available in another form (The Price of Spring by Daniel Abraham). I'm a grad student, my stipend is extremely low, and I live on credit cards and Stafford Loans. I do have a lot of hardcovers from the Science Fiction Book Club, because they're a lot cheaper than MSRP.
I will buy trade paperbacks, they're in a similar price range to SFBC hardcovers. And some publishers only seem to put out mass market paperbacks (e.g. Solaris which publishes Juliet McKenna and Rowena Cory Daniells, among others).
But I love mass market paperbacks. I have tons of them, with dogeared pages and cracked spines. I line them up on the shelf right next to the hardcovers and trade paperbacks. I have such a large pile of unread books that I am fine with waiting for a year or more for paperbacks to come out. (Most of the books I review here are/will be paperbacks -- mass market, or trade -- for as long as I can.)
The other link is to a piece by Lev Grossman about the unique properties of the codex, or actual physical book, and about how you can have a nonlinear experience with a book that you can't have with an e-book.
Maybe I'm a nerd, but I actually like the nonlinear experience, especially with dictionaries. I was looking for the origin of the word "fuligin" which you might recognize from Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, or Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton. I was interested in this word because, reading Newton now, I recognized his nod to Wolfe (I read Shadow and Claw and also Sword and Citadel earlier this year or late last year, I forget exactly when). And I wondered if this is a real word. The answer is "sort of," but that's not the point of this paragraph, and I have some thoughts on an entry on Wolfe for some point in the future.
The point is that I found a whole lot of other interesting words as I was flipping through my actual dictionary. (That's what makes me a nerd.) You just can't do that with an electronic dictionary. On Macs with Snow Leopard, you can open up the Dictionary application and start typing a word, and the list of possibilities dwindles and dwindles until you see just the one you want and maybe a few others around it in alphabetical order. (I have two of those really big, 10-pound dictionaries.)
There are other nonlinear ways to read books. For example, in one of Steven Erikson's books, looking up who a character is in the front, or something about the Deck of Dragons in the back, etc. Or, and this is where I can see fantasy readers having an issue, is looking at a map of the world in which the story takes place. Now, I totally don't look at the maps (I don't plan to have one in my manuscript). But there are a number of people on Amazon who will knock a star or two off their reviews for lack of a map. It is really quite difficult to imagine looking at a map and going back to a page with an e-reader. Or if you've got a book with a made-up language and you need to look up a word. (This is something else I don't bother with, if I can't tell from context, it's not important.)
Anyway, there's just something about the experience of reading an actual physical book that I would miss. (I had absolutely no trouble switching to iTunes. Although that's different. With a Discman, you had to plan what CDs to take with you during the day because you couldn't carry everything. With an iPod, you can change your mind. People don't generally read books that way, though my boyfriend comes close.)