The Twilight Zone (or “A Tale Of Weirdness”)

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I met another writer the other evening.

He was a generally affable chap, if somewhat over-fond of the sound of his own voice. Fair enough though, I’m sure most of us are prone to waxing lyrical about our literary endeavours after a glass or two of falling-down juice.

For around half an hour, we had a pleasant (if rather one-sided) and wide-ranging conversation in which we most eruditely expounded upon the great literary topics of our enlightened age.

The obligatory and ubiquitous themes of: “Whither traditional publishing in the age of the ‘indie’ self-publisher?”, “Is a professional editor a necessity?” and “Don’t get me started on Fifty Shades of Mummy-Porn Tosh” were debated, discussed and deliberated.

Then it got weird.

No, that doesn’t quite do it justice.

Then it got WEIRD.

That’s better. Add your own wavery elongated vowels in the middle and it’ll be even closer to the mark.

I chanced to ask the chap’s opinion on eReaders versus lovely papery ink-smelling books with pictures on the front. As usual, I prefaced the question with the fact that, until someone creates an eReader that smells like a book, I’m sticking with books. Nothing against eReaders, you understand, just a personal preference.

In the space of a nano-second, the affable would-be author standing before me transmogrified into a wild-eyed, slavering beast, his unruly hair billowing manically like the unfurled sails of a galleon in a typhoon. He stared at me in horror, as if I had somehow metamorphosed, Gregor Samsa-like, into a 6-foot beetle with the sole intention of devouring his children.

“You cannot,” he bellowed, saliva whirling globbily across the room with the force of his insanity, “be a writer today unless you read on an eReader!!”

I understood the individual words, the syntax and the grammar, but combined in that particular order, they made as much sense as if he had claimed:Β “You cannot ride a zebra unless you have a goldfish bowl.”

Mopping myself down with a handkerchief, I attempted to clarify matters. Did he, perhaps mean that it is imperative that one releases an eBook version? That I would agree with. Could it be that he was alluding to the necessity of understanding how to technically format a novel for the medium? Again, total agreement on my part.

But no, dear readers, far from it. Once more he raved, equally forcefully and with added twitching.

“You cannot be a writer if you do not read on an eReader!!” His hands furled into fists of rage and a vein in his forehead began to throb in a most alarming manner.

At this point I remembered an entirely fictitious train I was about to miss, made my excuses and left, using the same trying-not-to-run motion employed by anyone walking down a dark alley in the early hours telling themselves that werewolves don’t actually exist.

Is it just me?

As far as I’m concerned, it’s the words that matter. The medium of delivery is secondary, surely? Write them on paper, project them on the wall, scratch them in sand or train starlings to arrange themselves in formation across an azure sky.

The words we use and the world, the emotions, the truths they conjure up in a reader’s imagination is the first, the only, the be-all-and-end-all to a writer’s purpose. To subjugate that to the vehicle used to impart the words is, I would contend, a heinous triumph of form over content.

I would love to know your views. Does he have a point? Am I simply a Luddite? Am I missing something?

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28 thoughts on “The Twilight Zone (or “A Tale Of Weirdness”)

  1. Many newly published indie authors only have their books up in e-book format – the cost of printing and shipping would make ‘real’ books a waste of their time. As an indie published author myself, I want the opportunity to read their work – thus the need for an e-reader. Simple argument, really.

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    • An interesting take on the argument, I hadn’t looked at it that way. It’s true that if you interpret his rant as “you need an eReader to discover a lot of the new writing that’s out there today, thereby expanding your exposure to different styles, genres, voices…” then it has validity. I still could have done without the drooling though πŸ˜‰

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  2. You’re missing nothing. He does not have a point. His stance is, to use your word, tosh. It doesn’t matter if I read in a hardcopy book, a handwritten MS, an e-reader, or a virtual HUD; a book is a book is a book. Sure, the _experience_ of reading a book will change with the medium, but not the words, not the book itself. Sure, some books are only available in e-form and thus an e-reader is necessary. Some books are only available in hardcopy, and thus a physical book is required.

    I’m currently reading _Love in the Time of Cholera_ by Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This book is NOT available on any e-reader. Should I not read it?

    What a pillock. Back away, smiling.

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  3. electronicbaglady

    Hilarious story – and at first I thought it was all utter nonsense. Then i remembered my experience of re-reading a favourite novel on an e-reader last year. It was terrible. I found it quite hard to read. I re-read this particular book every 2-3 years and always enjoy it. But not this time. Something about the medium changed the experience. So perhaps he is referring to that? Just as web content is not the same as paper leaflets/catalogues/brochures, and needs to be redrafted to work on screen….
    I don’t know – just a vague thought πŸ™‚

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  4. What a completely weird stance to have on the definition of a writer! Made for an excellent story though. I’m pretty sure the people at the dentist office thought I had lost it, I laughed so hard.

    Anyway, I think you were correct in quickly getting away. I agree with you. It doesn’t matter to me how I read; it’s what I read that matters. I still love physical books more than digital, but with my busy schedule, I often find myself relying on the convenience of ebooks, or browsing manuscript display sites for something new. (Talk about an unconventional format to read in!) To define your literary status by the method which your books are displayed seems downright foolish to me. But maybe we’re all wrong and this guy is somehow the enlightened one?

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    • He did have a faraway look in his eye that suggested he knew something no-one else does… although I think that may just mean he is actually barkingly nuts. On which note, I hope the dentist hasn’t had you thrown into a secure facility πŸ™‚

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  5. I think, sir, that only YOU could make a blog post more interesting than half the novels in my eReader. I felt the spit hit my face and saw the monstrous forehead vein as if I were really there.

    I too enjoy the smell of a book and the way the spine cracks when you open it for the first time but the convenience of my Kindle sailed me off to Switzerland when it comes to this books vs. eReader argument. I carry my iPad with me everywhere and tote around hundreds of novels.
    BUT… The convenience won’t stop me from one day owning a library like Belle from beauty and the Beast.

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    • Why thank you πŸ™‚ Here, have a virtual tissue to mop off the spit!

      Love the sound of that library, I’m working on building something similar in my dining room – only much much smaller πŸ˜‰ I agree with you about the convenience, but I suspect that should I ever succumb to the seductive lure of a portable pile of novels right in my pocket, I’ll still feel the need to buy the physical versions to adorn the shelves.

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      • Some books I purchase for my kindle aren’t worth the 2nd investment. Those are the girly stories I curl up in bed with to shamelessly gush over fictional boyfriends. πŸ˜‰

        But there are other books that are just way too intriguing and belong on the shelf. For those, I splurge and buy the hardbound prints with glorious cover art.

        PS. I just noticed your comment shows me what the time is where you are! How fun! Tell me, does the future look bright?

        Sincerely, Girl stuck at 1:47 am.

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  6. What a great story (and, I’m sure, a really memorable experience!). Personally, I don’t think it matters what medium you read using, as long as you read! I’ll buy a hardbacks of my favorite authors when they release a new novel, but I’m more likely to take a risk on an unknown self-pub if it’s an eBook and less than Β£5. Usually, if I find a book I adore and I’ve read it as an eBook I’ll often buy myself a paper version too!

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  7. OMG… if your book reads anything like your blog, I can’t WAIT to read it!!! πŸ˜‰ LOL. What a hilarious story! I agree with you… content is far, far, far and away more important than the form it’s delivered in. As was stated above by one commenter, there are many books these days only available as an eBook, and in that sense I think it’s a good idea for people who enjoy reading to be open to also reading books on an eReader, otherwise they will miss out on some good books. BUT, I don’t think any writer should solely plan on publishing only in the digital realm, any more than any writer should plan on solely publishing in paper and ink. Doing either is limiting your potential and your readership. Personally, for books I LOVE, I still prefer they be paper and physical. I still prefer to have a physical copy of my own novel to hold in my hands (and yes, smell) someday. However, for discovering new writers and taking “risks” on unknown writers, cheap eBooks are the way to go! (Of course then that being said… if I know an unknown writer was published through a traditional house I’d be more likely to give them a chance at regular bookstore prices, since I’d assume they were good enough to get a book deal so they probably don’t suck… whereas with self-published books you never know…)

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      • Well your posts ARE quite humorous and awesome! πŸ˜‰ But even your humor has a lyrical and literary flow to it that is a true pleasure to read! I’ve noticed in most cases people’s blogs are a good indicator of how they write in general… definitely looking forward to reading your fictional works someday! πŸ˜‰

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  8. This is hilarious! Ironic because I was researching “the best e-readers” online today as I am debating whether to stick with books or get an e-reader. If get an e-reader; I want minimal glare and for it be a “pseudo book” as best as possible. (feel like one that is, read like one).
    Thanks for the laughs

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  9. lol what a great exchange. I’m in between you two I guess though not quite as..dramatic should we say. I love books. And the intimacy and tactile of books. But most days probably because of my lifestyle, I resort to my e-reader. I don’t get to the library enough, and when there’s a new book out if I remember to put myself on the waiting list, sometimes the book never comes…I’ve been on the list for Alice Munro’s new book for months! You get used to the e-reader. I don’t like reading my my iPad. But I do, yes, love my kindle. Because the page is like paper. And let’s be practical. There’s something wonderful about carrying around all you’re reading in one little “book.”

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  10. Hello Jon! What a hilarious post! Unfortunately, there are way too many folks that are either over-medicated or under-medicated. I think this man could fall under the latter group. Why is it that some people’s opinion become LAW in their eyes. Where is it written that if you don’t read on an e-reader you can’t be a writer? That’s ridiculous! I believe most avid readers still read books. Not everyone is a convert–yet. I have the Kindle app on my iPhone, iBooks on my iPad, but still own plenty of books, which I love to curl up with at night. You tell that guy for me that when I see his words written in stone by the finger of God–then I’ll believe it. In the meantime, I’ll continue reading stories in whatever media I feel like at the moment.

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