I am not one of those people that knows a great deal about gadgets. I think I was the last hold out at my gym to walk around with a discman. For years, I printed out directions from Mapquest instead of getting a GPS until I finally purchased a car with it already installed. I was slow to the DVR party. I got my iPhone as a gift, thank you. But I got very excited when Apple released details of their soon to be released iPad.
I remember reading the press about this new revolutionary machine and was delighted by it's capabilities. Games, photos, videos, email, and books all on one machine? Unbelievable. Wait, did I read that correctly? Books? No freaking way. Incredible. Maybe The Secret was real! I heart the iPad!
It's not that I have a predilection for one device. Anything that can make it easier and more accessible for people to purchase a book is fine by me. Kindle me, baby. ERead me all night long, Sony. I'll sit through your bad and nonsensical commercials if it means people will buy my books on your systems. The point is I don't care who owns it or what you call it, just as long as people are reading again. And by reading again, I mean something longer than 140 characters.
However, naysayers almost immediately began questioning the addition of ebooks and whether or not it was necessary. They cited figures that book sales were down from the previous year by a fairly large amount.
People are constantly predicting the death of books in lieu of storytelling through websites like Tumblr, Twitter, or YouTube. It's not that I hate these websites per se. I love them, in fact. I'll admit it. I tweet. I have a YouTube Channel. I'd be lying if I said I didn't waste countless hours on Facebook. These sites are incredibly useful and offer a great deal of immediate feedback. Sometimes too much feedback. Rhetorical questions? Not a chance. Think about it for a second. If you were at dinner with your friends and within milliseconds of finishing your thought, they shoved their thumb in your face indicating "I like," or gave a sometimes quick-witted, but often banal response, you would stab them with your fork. Or even worse, block them. These are the same people telling me that traditional story telling is gasping for it's last breath. I hate these people. If you are one of them I apologize, but most likely you stopped reading already.
When I announced to my friends in New York nearly eight years ago that I was leaving my low-paying but perk-heavy job as a publicist for a low-paying but personally rewarding career as a writer, it was the "meh" heard around the world. This decision didn't even merit a shrug or a sigh -- just a measly "meh." I, on the other hand, had visions of being a total literary iconoclast like Bret Easton Ellis or Jay McInerny. This was, of course, if McInerny or Easton Ellis were completely neurotic and had a strong attraction to vodka, cupcakes, and cookies in no particular order. And if I didn't have the same badass reputations as them, I'd settle for the incredible commercial success of authors like John Grisham, Jennifer Weiner, or Jackie Collins, I explained to my bored friends. They weren't so much surprised by my decision to become a writer as they were disappointed that the days of multiple freebies would be ending. Not to mention, these fine men and women openly took bets on how long it would be until I wound up sleeping on one of their couches.
As the conversation continued, a male friend said to me, "No one reads anymore. It's a dying genre. I wouldn't do it if I were you." I quickly chastised him in front of the group, declaring him an anti-intellectual and assuring him that people do in fact still read. He did an impromptu survey of the table. Only one other person had read a book in the last six months. I assured them that this table was not reflective of the rest of the world. People will always read books I told myself, cocksure as I walked home that night. However, my friend's declaration kept me up the rest of the night. People will read books forever. Won't they?
Flash forward to 2010, when people barely have time to read more than 140 characters on a Twitter page and would much rather read their friends' status updates than curl up on the couch with the latest from Paul Auster or Sara Gruen. This was also around the time that I published my first novel, SPiN. There weren't enough Tums in my medicine cabinet to vanquish the worry of the fate of books.
However, as much as I express my disdain for those pronouncing books as dead, these are the exact same people I'm trying to coax back to the dark side with the release of the iPad. I forward my non-reading friends every article about the upcoming release of Apple's new e-book reader, which is ironic, considering they don't read. Instead of acknowledging how the iPad could revive the book industry, they instead focus on the fact that they can download this season's Real Housewives of New York and watch it on a larger screen when they go on vacation this summer.
When I ask a female friend about this, she tells me, "I don't want to read this on the beach!" as if I were asking her to carry a stack of books. "But you check your text messages, Twitter account, Facebook and email almost every ten minutes. "That's different," she argues without being able to give a definitive reason as to how. This is an Ivy-league educated woman I'm talking about.
If she and thousands of others were to admit that they missed reading a great story it would imply there's something imperfect about her way of living. So many of us are convinced that we must be busy all the time and networking that if we sit down to actually read it reflects some kind of laziness. Being so connected to everyone else has made us so anxious and neurotic, that when we try to sit down and read, we quickly feel this pull back to our online lives, making it nearly impossible to get lost in a completely different world. This makes us unable to allow ourselves to escape from own reality.
Asking people to disconnect to read a book is a war I know I won't win. However, with the all of the other bells and whistles that the iPad offers perhaps it will convert a few nonreaders. After all, they can still check their email, Twitter, Facebook and whatever else comes next...just as long as they also read a book. Preferably one of mine.