Posted by: DéLana | July 22, 2010

Don’t support the man; support me! or, thoughts against e-readers

So one of my best friends, Brian, wanted me to support him in his interest in buying a Kindle. I told him I could not support him. Brian is not a writer (well, he writes, but he does not call himself a capital W writer, as I would, but a reader. I told him don’t support the Man, support me! Not to say he hasn’t, but I wanted me to be a stand in for those writers who want to reach their audiences, who want you to go out into the world – say, a bookstore with real bookshelves, with books that have spines and covers, and paper pages – and buy a book.

I’ve had this conversation with several other writers for a while now, to much frustration. I hate e-readers. I hate them. I believe, and continue to believe they are the death of me.

But you’ll change your mind, you’re probably thinking. I am going to hold steadfast to this conviction until the world forces me to do otherwise. But what about you saying you’ll never have a phone that can do everything? you’ll say. I’ll say. You’re right. I changed my mind on that. Once, I said: I don’t need my phone to do anything but make a phone call. I have separate devices for everything else. I don’t need one thing to do it all. And I believed that. And then through a series of gifting from my father, and needing a new phone, I received a blackberry, and then I had the thing I said I didn’t need my phone to do.

But this is different. How? It’s different because I do not make phones. Maybe if I was the person who invented the boring, old (haha) flip phones, I’d be upset that everyone is moving towards smartPhones. But I’m not. I’m a writer, and I’m talking about technological advances that are already severely alter my way of operating.

Yes, I said it. “But think about how much more access you’ll have to your readers,” one writer tried to argue me down. Said writer was a fiction writer.

My primary argument is that the e-readers and e-books are taking away the author. The living, breathing author. Sure, put on electronic format the old books, the books that you could not access any other way. Fine. I mean, I benefit from it when I go to NYU’s library and want to read Aristotle’s Rhetoric, and can read it on my computer…..even though eventually, I go and get the real, physical book.

E-readers take away the real, physical book. And it takes away the writer from the audience. I’m basically making little anthologies of poetry each class for my Creative Writing class I’m teaching. Something that has been a special joy is going to my bookshelf (I would have no need for a bookshelf; books would become the equivalent of little porcelain figurines in a curio) and pull down a book and open it up, and see a signature — a representation that a real-live person wrote this book and signed it over to me, and even wrote a personal message.

As a writer, would the equivalent be to write a text message and insert it in the e-book?

Okay, that’s a vain argument both as a reader and a writer. I’m arguing e-books take away my ability to collect autographs, or autograph books.

As a poet, though. Not a fiction writer. SO much of my success of my work depends on doing readings, and hand-sales of my book. In fact, I can give you numbers: out of my print run for my book, I’ve hand-sold almost 200 books alone. And because poetry books have already a miniscule number of books printed compared to fiction books, this is how we can guarantee our books reach someone, and a BIG part of my wanting to be a writer in the first place, is to be able to connect, somehow, with a reader. And outside of writing the words on a page and putting them into a book, I connect through readings. It is an important part of my own identity as a poet, a writer.

But still, how will it be the death of you? you might still be saying, having read this far. Follow me on this: If there are programs where you can go online and enter in words (I’ve seen a fiction writer do this and say he wrote a poem. I’m not lying.) and I’m guessing based on the part of speech that word is, and based on hte words inputed, it will generate some new text. It can “create” a piece of writing.

Now. If we move all of our texts to an electronic format, and put all the electronic books in the hands of whoever, could you a) imagine how easily it is to plagiarize and b) how easy it would be to “compose” pieces using a computer-generated method. And soon enough, that will become the new thing, and popular. And so new texts can be created on the ones that already exist, and who would need a writer to generate a new text when a computer can do it, and automatically upload it to an e-reader where you don’t have to move a foot, just an index finger, perhaps, to buy and upload and read it. And suddenly, I’m out of a career.

What’s your argument?



  1. People already plagarise and at the moment ebooks are not doing away with real books, simply providing alternatives. You can connect with an audience online more easily than in the physical format (particularly if you live in relative isolation). Computer generated text will always sound flat and dull compared to real author created texts – same as computer generated music really. Plus, e-reader’s allow you to carry more books with you when you travel. Maybe when you are at home and have access to all your paper books it wouldn’t see as much use. But when travelling and you have weight limits, go the e-reader.
    I still love my paper books and my collection of them. I won’t be getting rid of them. But I really like the idea of electronic access as well.

    • Hi Cassandra,

      Thank you for your post. And I’ve heard the argument about easing ability to travel with a lot of books. I am thinking about the CD vs. Digital Music (MP3’s for digital music players) phase, and how, what better eased that transition was the ability to convert the music from the CD format to a digital format, and so you didn’t have to buy the same album twice. So for your traveling purposes, you are buying whatever books in your home collection that you want to have travel with you, twice?

      And you’re right, people already plagiarize, and e-books are not doing away with real books, at the moment. But it is my fear that as they gain momentum, that it will happen. And maybe it is an argument that really should be: why I as a Poet can’t support the growing popularity as an e-book. I can see the argument made for non-poets. But something about holding the book in my hand, and being able to mark up the margins, and the physical act of reading and interacting with a book is lost with e-readers, and I know there are ways to highlight and underline and make notes on it, but I dunno, it’s just not the same….

  2. Thank you, Delana, for this post.

    Simply put: e-books, etc., were not made for poets or poetry. I learned as much the moment I tried to enlarge a text, and all the linebreaks for that particular poem were ruined.

    I don’t really buy into the “it’s easier to travel with” argument. For years, for centuries, we’ve made due, traveling perhaps longer and less comfortable distances. Perhaps, instead of the scatter-brained attention spans we have today, we should better devote ourselves to carefully (slowly, even) reading and rereading, studying and devouring a single text. (Why DOES anyone need to bring their entire book collection on the subway with them? For that matter, why do you need all your music albums, too?) This is another reason I feel e-books were not made for, at least here, poets and readers of poetry: the nature of the art teaches one patience, to slowly read a thing. If on any of my travels I have two (of my favorite) books of poems with me, whether or not I’ve read them before or recently, I’m good! I’m more than good.


    • Rickey, Right!

      I have this rule of not writing in my poetry books (it doesn’t stand for any other book. certainly not my history books i had to study in college), and something about not being able to write in a book, to underline, made me read more carefully, made me keep coming back, keep opening the pages and saying, ah yes, this is what it made me feel. BUT — it’s the whole process: the going to the shelf, the flipping the pages to find the poem I feel but cannot quite remember, and finding the page the poem is on, and sitting with. You can’t flip through pages. Pushing a button ain’t the same!

      I’m holding out, and telling my friends/people, that if they love me, they’d support ME. lol (and the other “me’s” out there)….I don’t think the e-reader was made with writers in mind.

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