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Judging a Book By Its Cover in an Electronic Age

Readers have so many options now. Devices -- Kindle, Nook, BlackBerry, Android, etc. -- abound for those who don't particularly need a hard-copy book to hold in their hands.

For me, being a reader is like being pregnant: You either are or you aren’t.

I’m a reader.

I grew in a house where there wasn’t a lot of money, but library books were, and are, free for the borrowing. My sister and I replenished our stack of books weekly, and I recall the pleasure of snuggling in bed on Saturday mornings with a book.

In college, by choice and not, I had to read many books. As a grownup with a 40-hour-a-week job, a marriage and a child, I had less time to read for pleasure, but I cherished my time with novels, especially on vacations.

On the job as a features reporter, I had many books to read as preparation for author interviews. In recent decades, hundreds of authors came through South Jersey and Philadelphia – everyone from comedian Richard Klein to oceanographer Robert Ballard, discoverer of the Titanic wreck.

So, when I first saw the e-readers marketed as the best thing since, well, books, I was initially skeptical.

What could be better than a book you hold in your hands?

A pal who has an e-reader likes it for travel. It’s light, and she’s able to download lots of free material. And yes, she can read the screen just fine outside in the daylight.

I was pleased to learn the Haddonfield library has hundreds of titles subscribers can access. Library director Susan Briant said some clients download material to their PCs. The interest in e-books, she said, is “really growing.”

A diverse group of devices – everything from the Nook or BlackBerry to a Mac or Windows computer – allows subscribers to download many titles.

Briant said she’s a fan of both traditional books and e-books, and that makes sense to me. Why not use what’s at your disposal?

As much as I love books, they are not always convenient. On a recent trip to Seattle, I borrowed two paperbacks from the local library so I’d have something to read on the plane home. A week later, I had to put them in a mailer and send them back to my daughter, who lives in that city. It was a bit of a pain.

Recently, WHYY-FM aired a program about e-books that Briant and I both happen to hear. Not everyone on the radio program professed a love for e-books.

“It was surprising to me how many people say they want a tactile book,” said Briant.

Indeed, one caller on the show said she had difficulty navigating passages in her Bible, and so traveled with a hard-copy version of the good book.

But authors are learning the advantages of e-publishing. The Media Decoder blog in the New York Times reported that Richard North Patterson revised his novel, “The Devil’s Light,” and re-released in it e-book form.

In the earlier version of the novel, Osama bin Laden was still alive, but real-life events made that premise outdated.

Some diehard book-lovers may say that they love reading a real book. I do like the smell and feel of a new book. But a recent evaluation of various devices by Nick Bilton in the New York Times caught my eye. Bilton concluded that the Kindle and iPad2 were very good, but a used $4 paperback of the same title worked just fine, too.

Still, times change. Many of us swore we would always read the hard-copy version of the newspaper.

Now, I read the New York Times every morning as a paid online subscriber.

True, it doesn’t feel like a newspaper. But I never have to cancel it when I leave town. It’s always there promptly no matter how early I wake up. And, no matter what the weather, it’s always dry.






David Hunter August 23, 2011 at 10:08 PM
Question for Judith Winne: In addition to the convenience of receiving the New York Times digitally, which you mention, you also save money. Regular seven-day home delivery costs $59.20 per four weeks. The regular cost of the digital version is between $15 and $35 per four weeks, depending on the delivery vehicle one chooses. Question: Would you be willing to pay to receive a local community newspaper digitally? If so, what do you think a reasonable subscription price range might be?


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