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Ebook Readers: Why Do They Always Fail?

post #1 of 50
Thread Starter 
A colleague and I are working on a project that involves buying a bunch of Kindles and using them in classes, and we've been discussing the various advantages and shortcomings of themand of ebook readers in general.

I'm curious: why have ebook readers always failed?

Secondary to this question is this: do people read novels online? Other forms of writing have made the transition to digital nicely...newspapers get read online by millions. Essays made their way across via blogs. Why, then, have novelsand other long-form prose formsnot been able to make the transition from analog to digital?

With the Kindle, Amazon seems to be approaching the ebook reader sort of like an iPodit's a gadget to hold your stuff. Is this an accurate analogy? Should an ebook reader be something else?

What would your ideal ebook reader look like? If anything? Certainly, annotation features would be crucial. The Kindle's online capabilities seem to be significant, too. Is there something about the form, as well? The bifurcated structure of the book form? The physicality of flipping the page?

Thanks in advance for your thoughts.
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post #2 of 50
IMO: Book people are still luddites and/or into the whole book thing for the novelty of it. Ebook readers are expensive for a lot of book people. Ebook readers are still harder to use and far more intimidating than printed material, which is completely backwards. Ebook readers are harder to carry around than a magazine, small paperback or newspaper. Ebook readers are cold and electronic and have buttons. Ebook readers are targeted at book readers (and poorly targeted, at that) rather than all people who read.

What would my idea book reader look like? Smallish, thin (preferably flexible) touch screen, no bezel or buttons, wifi with ability to save web pages and pdfs with one tap at most. It should be as easy to look at and start reading as a book. Finding and displaying documents should be easier than any existing method.
post #3 of 50
Personally, I find that if I have to read more than a handful of completely text pages online, my eyes start to get fatigued much more quickly than reading printed text, even with a high quality (iMac) LCD. Books are not limited by battery life, or washed out by sunlight either. It's also less likely that you'll have your paperback nicked on the train/bus/at uni than a pricey e-book reader.

I've never used an e-book, so I can't comment on their actual display quality, etc.

Another factor may be that many 'book readers' as you call them, enjoy collecting all of the books in a series or by a certain author. Only having a still risky (no backup system is perfect, I've had RAID 1 arrays fail on me with complete loss of data twice) digital copy doesn't give the tangible satisfaction of being able to show your friends your book collection, or even to lend them a book, or to hand them down to your family.

Just my .02 USD.
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post #4 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by midwinter View Post

A colleague and I are working on a project that involves buying a bunch of Kindles

You're going in the wrong direction right there. You must have done more research than that. But stay away from the Kindle, it is an overpriced DRM lock-in to Amazon piece of crap.


Check out
(Video review) the Sony PRS-500 Reader (Wikipedia). I am going to get one soon myself (Borders has been selling them like crazy) Suits my needs and maybe yours.

My .02 cents.
post #5 of 50
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by @_@ Artman View Post

You're going in the wrong direction right there. You must have done more research than that. But stay away from the Kindle, it is an overpriced DRM lock-in to Amazon piece of crap.


Check out
(Video review) the Sony PRS-500 Reader (Wikipedia). I am going to get one soon myself (Borders has been selling them like crazy) Suits my needs and maybe yours.

My .02 cents.

Um. Awesome? Thanks for contributing to the discussion.
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post #6 of 50
Why aren't more eBooks popular? Six reasons.

1. Hardware is simply too expensive. Until eBook readers hit that magically $99 price point, they will always be considered high-priced toys.

2. People like to share a good novel. This is either impossible or very ackward at best with either Kindle or Sony's product.

3. eBooks are just as expensive as the paper copy. I can't imagine why this is (besides greed).

4. Books are more like video not music. I am perfectly okay with either watching a movie once or reading a book once. This isn't true for music. Having a device that holds all of my books does seem useful to many.

5. The ePaper technology is too primitive for the average consumer who look at a black and white and say "I'll wait for the colored screen version."

6. eBook devices are not fashionable or status symbols (books are nerdy). People want to use their high-price gadgets to make themselves look good.

If Amazon or Sony actually improves on these things, then the popularity of eBook devices will grow.

Dave
post #7 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by midwinter View Post

Um. Awesome? Thanks for contributing to the discussion.

I'll expand...it's one of the lowest priced, DRM free readers out there. It's lightweight and has an easy to read interface. It can also play DRM free MP3s (think audio books or instructional courses). Only caveat with it is that it is not compatible with OS X (but the Wiki link I provided has workarounds and free software links to fix that).

I love the tangible feeling of a book and will always cherish many books I have. But as far as books that I buy for reading on my commute or carry with me (mainly used trade/mass market paperbacks) it can be cumbersome. Though the chances are that an out of print book may not be available, there are many places to find classics and hard to find books in ebook (PDF) format*. This reader handles other formats (BBeB Book (LRF), TXT, RTF.) well too. Depends on the font size.

* Some eBook links:

http://manybooks.net/

http://www.baen.com/library/

http://www.fullbooks.com/

http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Main_Page

http://wiki.creativecommons.org/Books#Fiction

I'm not trying to convince you, just providing my personal choice. Oh, and your welcome?
post #8 of 50
As iPoster said, eye fatigue.
Even the most expensive displays can't come close to the contrast ratio of ink on paper. Reading from a screen is more tiring and much slower than a book.

Convenience. A screen big enough to display a reasonable amount of text at a time has to be much larger than an iPod/iPhone size device... so it's no more compact (and perhaps LESS so) than an actual book. And unlike music, you rarely need to carry more than one or two books with you at a time.

A real paper book doesn't need to worry about battery life. So you're on an airplane (or bus, train, taxi...) and the battery of your kindle reaches it's limit just as you get to a climactic point in the story and while there's still 30 minutes of time to kill... now THAT might be a bit frustrating. (or the "please turn off all electronic devices for takeoff and landing" schtick... what a joke.)

High tech is good/fun and all, but sometime older technology is still better for certain things than the current state of "high" technology. And books are a perfect example of that.
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post #9 of 50
Dave K. is the only one who has got it all.

E-ink is basically paper, from a user's perspective. It's a fine medium. It just desperately needs higher resolution circuit printing technology to use for its backplane. Right now, the Sony product and the Kindle, I'm pretty sure, use expensive, bulky, and fragile TFT's as their backplanes. In a few years when the newer technologies are ready for primetime, I think we could even see $9.99 looseleaf sheets that can store input -- for a few pages each -- and upload & charge via RFID.
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post #10 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave K. View Post

Why aren't more eBooks popular? Six reasons.

1. Hardware is simply too expensive. Until eBook readers hit that magically $99 price point, they will always be considered high-priced toys.

Dave

Find this funny coming from a Mac user site.
post #11 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by @_@ Artman View Post

Find this funny coming from a Mac user site.

Gotta remember though, that with Macs, we're paying the premium for the OS, not for the hardware.
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post #12 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by KingOfSomewhereHot View Post

Gotta remember though, that with Macs, we're paying the premium for the OS, not for the hardware.

W-wwait. I always thought it was hardware. OS not withstanding, but the premium in Apple's hardware and innovations in design are what we're paying for.

And why not with eBook readers? They are going down in price and the technology is improving. The only problem is that from generation to generation interest in reading books is dropping. So if the demand isn't there, the price drop may not happen either. I'm afraid that this will affect sales of books too. Eventually, I see publishers going toward digital for that reason (ie Amazon's Kindle flimsy take on it).

I am seriously looking into getting one only because of my interests in certain books. Books that are impossible to find (out of print), if are found I have to pay for and have them shipped. I can find these exact same books in PDF format for free. So I'd reason that if I invest in a reader then the savings would eventually return. Within a year even, I go through a book a month and purchase 2-3 more every other week.

So that's only me I guess...
post #13 of 50
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by @_@ Artman View Post

I am seriously looking into getting one only because of my interests in certain books. Books that are impossible to find (out of print), if are found I have to pay for and have them shipped. I can find these exact same books in PDF format for free. So I'd reason that if I invest in a reader then the savings would eventually return. Within a year even, I go through a book a month and purchase 2-3 more every other week.

So that's only me.

OT: You can get that book much more cheaply at these fine vendors. But I agree with you completely; I get most of my pleasure reading from Project Gutenberg and Manybooks.
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post #14 of 50
The Sony looks alright, but my god...the Kindle? Surely Amazon could afford a little industrial design in their budget. The poor thing looks like a Centris someone sat on. I have a Macintosh Portable from 1989 that looks positively modern compared to the Kindle. \

That said, I likes me the musty smell of paper.
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post #15 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by midwinter View Post

OT: You can get that book much more cheaply at these fine vendors. But I agree with you completely; I get most of my pleasure reading from Project Gutenberg and Manybooks.

Thanks for the link. They are even beating Amazon's pricing.

OT...and eBooks.com? Rip Off. Don't understand why digital books are priced the same as their counterparts. You're not getting a hardcover book anyway, right?

Check Charles Stross's recent (Halting State) price with the others. I guess they are using the existing pricing structure...silly though.

I'm not thinking of the authors, am I.
post #16 of 50
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by 709 View Post

The Sony looks alright, but my god...the Kindle? Surely Amazon could afford a little industrial design in their budget. The poor thing looks like a Centris someone sat on. I have a Macintosh Portable from 1989 that looks positively modern compared to the Kindle. \

That said, I likes me the musty smell of paper.

The advantage of the Kindle for us is that we can distribute content for it via email and have it automagically update without the student having to actually *do* anything. Add to that the RSS and web features of it, and it fits nicely with what we're interested in exploring in this study.
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post #17 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by @_@ Artman View Post

W-wwait. I always thought it was hardware. OS not withstanding, but the premium in Apple's hardware and innovations in design are what we're paying for...

OK, so Apple's harware definitely LOOKs better, but the REAL difference is the OS, so I'll concede that we pay a premium for both of those aspects...
But... does anybody by a Mac and run ONLY Windows on it???? Then I'd say those folks are willing to pay a premium for the hardware... but if an underlying reason is that they can run OSX (either alongside XP, or perhaps in the future if they wish) then they are really paying the premium for OSX!

And for ebooks... you're NOT the only one who still reads a lot... I read a novel a week on average, so does my wife and all my kids, well... except for the youngest...
But I still don't think eBook readers will ever "take off" until they are just as convenient as a "real" book... the convenience of a paperback is just too hard to beat with current technology.
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post #18 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by KingOfSomewhereHot View Post

OK, so Apple's harware definitely LOOKs better, but the REAL difference is the OS, so I'll concede that we pay a premium for both of those aspects...
But... does anybody by a Mac and run ONLY Windows on it???? Then I'd say those folks are willing to pay a premium for the hardware... but if an underlying reason is that they can run OSX (either alongside XP, or perhaps in the future if they wish) then they are really paying the premium for OSX!

Ok, ok. But Apple's hardware is far superior to the DIY or other cheapo Windows boxes and laptops out there.

Sony's reader is a hundred dollars less and has more features. Plus it is "open" to other hacks and formats. Including non-DRM. I'm getting one soon.

Quote:
And for ebooks... you're NOT the only one who still reads a lot... I read a novel a week on average, so does my wife and all my kids, well... except for the youngest...
But I still don't think eBook readers will ever "take off" until they are just as convenient as a "real" book... the convenience of a paperback is just too hard to beat with current technology.

I collect art books and photography books. Never in this century will Ebooks reach the quality of printed reproduction in that category.

As far as your opinion to "analog" books, I did agree (love the touch, feel, smell & sharing), but I would still want an alternative to finding, much less purchasing a hard to find book that I can get online - right now - for free.
post #19 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by midwinter View Post

The advantage of the Kindle for us is that we can distribute content for it via email and have it automagically update without the student having to actually *do* anything. Add to that the RSS and web features of it, and it fits nicely with what we're interested in exploring in this study.

Is this a study of eReader technology in general and/or its viability in the real world or does an eBook Reader have some advantage over a simple laptop that I'm not seeing? I'm admittedly not up on the eBook phenomenon, so I'm genuinely curious. Myself, I just can't seem to read long, continuous pieces of written word on-screen. If a pdf gets over 20 pages I'll go ahead and print it out to read it. Yes, I'm that guy.
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post #20 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by 709 View Post

Is this a study of eReader technology in general and/or its viability in the real world or does an eBook Reader have some advantage over a simple laptop that I'm not seeing? I'm admittedly not up on the eBook phenomenon, so I'm genuinely curious. Myself, I just can't seem to read long, continuous pieces of written word on-screen. If a pdf gets over 20 pages I'll go ahead and print it out to read it. Yes, I'm that guy.

Go to a Borders bookstore (or the 2006 video review I posted above) and check out the Sony Reader. I was impressed.

The technology is getting better. It's only asshats like Amazon who are trying to lock and restrict the device in the long run.
post #21 of 50
I watched the review, but I guess I still don't get the advantage over a laptop other than size. Maybe if the eBook feature was in addition to a slew of other PDA type niceties I could appreciate it more, but as it stands I can't see carrying an additional device just to read another type of file format. I'm sure it works well for what and whom it's designed for, but obviously I'm not the target market for such a beast.

However, I do think the screen technology is amazingly fun. It reminds me of the Magna Doodle.
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post #22 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by @_@ Artman View Post

I collect art books and photography books. Never in this century will Ebooks reach the quality of printed reproduction in that category.

And there's not much reason for them to try. The main benefits electronic readers can provide are all related to convenience and accessibility.

Considering how much reading consists of articles, online and off, the fact that electronic reader discussions are so exclusively focused on books illustrates the back asswards thinking book people have when it comes to contemporary reading and technology. Seriously, if book people were in complete control of technology we'd need to have rabbit ear antennas and dial tuners on our computers (complete with CRT laptop displays) to watch youtube videos.

Reading is moving online. Books are more complicated, but book people are too shortsighted to understand how reading is evolving and how "books" fit into it all. The only people I've ever met who have any sort of reasonable ideas about it are tech people first and book people second.
post #23 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by giant View Post

Considering how much reading consists of articles, online and off, the fact that electronic reader discussions are so exclusively focused on books illustrates the back asswards thinking book people have when it comes to contemporary reading and technology. Seriously, if book people were in complete control of technology we'd need to have rabbit ear antennas and dial tuners on our computers (complete with CRT laptop displays) to watch youtube videos.

Reading is moving online. Books are more complicated, but book people are too shortsighted to understand how reading is evolving and how "books" fit into it all. The only people I've ever met who have any sort of reasonable ideas about it are tech people first and book people second.

Hyperbole much?

I'm an admitted tech geek, I use Windows, OS X and Linux, build my own PCs/gaming boxes, and have taken over 20 college courses in C++, Illustrator, A+/Network+, etc. (I was working on an IT degree, but the VA will no longer fund IT degrees due to the poor US job outlook, so now I'm going into medical imaging.)

And incredibly, my family and I have a collection of a few hundred books!
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post #24 of 50
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by 709 View Post

Is this a study of eReader technology in general and/or its viability in the real world or does an eBook Reader have some advantage over a simple laptop that I'm not seeing? I'm admittedly not up on the eBook phenomenon, so I'm genuinely curious. Myself, I just can't seem to read long, continuous pieces of written word on-screen. If a pdf gets over 20 pages I'll go ahead and print it out to read it. Yes, I'm that guy.

I'm that guy, too.

But this is a study, on my end, of the difference between the experiences of dealing with the texts in this digital way versus in an analog fashion.
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post #25 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by 709 View Post

... I guess I still don't get the advantage over a laptop other than size. ...

Well, battery life... if these things are half-way well designed, the battery life should way better than a laptop can provide. (A laptop with a 2+ hour battery life dies well before the end of a 6 hour flight ... an eBook reader should be able to last for the entire flight.

That said, I recently finished reading "Shogun" again, and in paperback form, I never had to recharge it for the entire two weeks it took to read the 1000+ page book! And i think I recall dropping it a couple times... quite a durable piece of hardware!... and while not quite water-proof, I had no qualms about reading it while soaking in a bath!, etc, etc,...
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post #26 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by iPoster View Post

Hyperbole much?

No.
Quote:
I'm an admitted tech geek...

Huh? I honestly have no idea what point you are trying to make with this and everything following it.
post #27 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by iPoster View Post

Personally, I find that if I have to read more than a handful of completely text pages online, my eyes start to get fatigued much more quickly than reading printed text, even with a high quality (iMac) LCD.
Just my .02 USD.

Eye fatigue is a result of backlighting displays. eReaders uses a display technology that provides high contrast black and white displays without backlighting, thus eliminating eye strain. Perception of those not familiar with eReaders may still be that they cause eye strain, as you just demonstrated, so this might be a reason why they are not yet popular, but not a reason why they couldn't become popular.

Here is why eReaders haven't succeeded yet:

1) Who reads more than one, or maybe two, books at one time? Most people don't, unless your a student, but then you're talking about text books, and text books aren't available in digital form yet. The "everything-in-your-pocket" approach to music works because you might listen to 500 songs on a long road trip, but more important than volume of content, is the randomness of what you listen to with music.

2) One of the nice things about a book as that you don't need anything else but the book. If you're on a plane, you can read during take off, for instance. If you're in the car and you forgot to charge your eReader, you're SOL. I bet you wish you had a regular book right then.

3) No one really cares if that novel you're reading has a creased spine or a few bent pages. But I think people would care if their $400 eReader got dropped.

4) Mechanics. People like to underline, notate, and browse through books. While possible with eReaders, it's a lot more cumbersome.

5) Education and photocopying. Teachers can't photocopy eReaders can they? I know you could say that digital files could be easily printable, but they aren't, at least for now.
post #28 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by midwinter View Post

I get most of my pleasure reading from Project Gutenberg and Manybooks.

Nerd.

post #29 of 50
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ShawnJ View Post

Nerd.


HAHAHAHA! I like how you call me, a professional book nerd, a nerd on a forum devoted to rumors about upcoming technology from a technology company that makes up a tiny percentage of computer usage on the planet.
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post #30 of 50
I spend way too much timing working at a computer. I don't want to read at one. I like the "book experience"
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post #31 of 50
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Flat Stanley View Post

I spend way too much timing working at a computer. I don't want to read at one. I like the "book experience"

I'm mostly interested in what, precisely, this "book experience" is.
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post #32 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by midwinter View Post

I'm mostly interested in what, precisely, this "book experience" is.

It's hard to explain. It might be an age thing

I also prefer to read professional journals in a paper form. I download the PDFs, print them out and read them in a coffee shop.
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post #33 of 50
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Flat Stanley View Post

It's hard to explain. It might be an age thing

Perhaps, but I doubt it. Ebook readers seem to be failing across generations pretty much equally. People who read books seem to prefer the "book technology," not the digital recreation of that experience.
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post #34 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by midwinter View Post

Perhaps, but I doubt it. Ebook readers seem to be failing across generations pretty much equally. People who read books seem to prefer the "book technology," not the digital recreation of that experience.

Maybe it is the feel and smell of the book. Maybe it is increasing the separation between work and leisure.
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post #35 of 50
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Flat Stanley View Post

Maybe it is the feel and smell of the book. Maybe it is increasing the separation between work and leisure.

I was thinking the other day that ebook readers need to have a book smell.
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post #36 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by midwinter View Post

I was thinking the other day that ebook readers need to have a book smell.

preferably the scent of a well-read book. The blend of sweat, coffee and pulp.
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post #37 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by giant View Post

No.

Huh? I honestly have no idea what point you are trying to make with this and everything following it.

That you were attempting to make a generalization that 'book people' are technophobic, and that technological awareness and book reading are mutually exclusive.

Quote:
Considering how much reading consists of articles, online and off, the fact that electronic reader discussions are so exclusively focused on books illustrates the back asswards thinking book people have when it comes to contemporary reading and technology. Seriously, if book people were in complete control of technology we'd need to have rabbit ear antennas and dial tuners on our computers (complete with CRT laptop displays) to watch youtube videos.

I also second what FlatStanley said.
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You need skeptics, especially when the science gets very big and monolithic. -James Lovelock
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post #38 of 50
Quote:
Originally Posted by KingOfSomewhereHot View Post

As iPoster said, eye fatigue.
Even the most expensive displays can't come close to the contrast ratio of ink on paper. Reading from a screen is more tiring and much slower than a book.

There also are people in the world who have trouble with books because of the small print. I can last much longer in front of a blown-up PDF, but that's a personal vignette. Eink has contrast that matches traditional ink printing, so the contrast argument is not a good one. That's not to say that I don't agree with you that ebooks aren't ready yet for the general market.
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post #39 of 50
For me it has something to do with the way the narrative topography maps onto the physicality of the book.

As you move through a novel, there is a constant sense of "where you are", respective of the entire arc of the thing. The accumulation of pages on the left, the erosion of pages on the right. If you choose to flip back or forward, that, too, is a gesture within "the thingness" of the book.

In my experience of a novel, that literal marker of position within the book is inseparable from the feel of the movement of the narrative.

I'm also reminded of the essay you recommended, some time ago, by Nicholson Baker on the passing of card catalogues.

Attempting to translate the experience of a novel into an information retrieval system seems to me to engender some of the same kind of impoverishment Baker was describing. That we lose, for instance, the opportunities for serendipitous association and insight that come with thumbing through pages-- pages that likely bear the marks of use and some of the history of our (or others) encounter with the text. Dog eared pages, marginalia, coffee rings, ad hoc book marks, a spine that wants to open to that particular chapter.......

The part of ourselves that co-create the books we read want heft and imperfection and mutability as necessary friction for our senses, a way of engaging with our bodies as well as our minds, is what I think. Reading a novel on an electronic screen is like trying to paint on formica- what's called for is something with some tooth to take the paint. Something for imaginations to soak into.
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post #40 of 50
^ This is one of the reasons I check in on AI's AO. Just gorgeous, truly.
It's just an object. It doesn't mean what you think.
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It's just an object. It doesn't mean what you think.
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