Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Poof!

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Call me old-fashioned, but I expect my books to stay put. I don’t think it unreasonable to expect the words to be there the next time I resume reading, not to have disappeared mid-story like some kind of Harry Potter wizardry. I also don’t like the thought of my books vanishing before I’ve read a word. I’m a collector of unread books.

That may sound odd, but I love the fact that not all of the books in my bookshelf are those that I have read. I have a full shelf of books “in waiting”, carefully chosen for my future reading. There is pleasure in anticipation.

So I read with interest those recent online news articles about two Kindle users filing a lawsuit against Amazon. In one instance, a copy of “1984” was deleted from the Kindle of Justin Gawronski through no action of his own. He didn’t accidentally hit the delete button. He didn’t drop his Kindle in the bathtub. The e-book was there, and then it wasn’t. Justin powered up, and poof. No more “1984.”

What happened? Amazon deleted the book. Not only from its downloadable library, but remotely from Justin’s Kindle. Does that sound just a tad Orwellian?

Of course, there is always a back story. Amazon didn’t have the rights to distribute Orwell’s books, so corrected the problem by removing the books.

I’m sensitive to the issues of copyright and proper distribution, and how important it is to protect intellectual property. But there is just something so very disquieting that a book can be removed from a reader’s personal library, whether that library is virtual or actual, without his or her knowledge or approval, for whatever reason.

There’s a sense of ownership to buying a book. It’s my book. I chose it from the thousands of books I could have bought. Sure, the author retains the copyright, and I can’t go around claiming the author’s words as my own, can’t photocopy or print up the pages and sell them to my friends. But in some very important way, that book is mine. I’m not certain that changes because the book exists inside my computer rather than outside of it.

Most of my books exist in real-time, real world. I have thought about downloading e-books to my iPod, but that screen is awfully small. And my reading experience of full-length books on my computer screen just hasn’t been satisfying, although I love surfing websites, reading news online, and write almost completely by computer.

But I also love the tactile feel of a book. I love feeling its weight in my hands, gaining a sense of the book by knowing its size in a physical way, flipping through the pages, calculating so many things at once – the paper chosen, the care taken in design. Getting a feel for the author’s style, flipping back to read the cover blurb, the author’s bio, flipping ahead to read the dedication, physically turning the pages.

I download movies, knowing full well that after so many days, that movie is disappearing from my computer library. That doesn’t shock me, nor bother me. My various devices talk to each other frequently, synchronizing my calendar, email, contacts, playlists, even my writing documents. I know that there are many things going on inside my computer that I am not controlling, or even aware of, whether they are happening fraudulently or legitimately. So I’m not sure why the idea of a book disappearing from a personal reading device surprises me, or elicits such an emotional response.

I could say it has to do with privacy and crossing personal boundaries, preserving individual rights in an electronic age, and that would be true. But I think it also has to do with words themselves. And books - whether virtual or real. The importance of them.

~ Marianne Paul

2 comments

I've read in a few places that physical books are owned, but ebooks are only leased. I've never heard of books being leased in any other context. Borrowed from libraries, of course, but not leased, and especially not leased for so close to the "ownership" price of a printed book.

Interesting distinction, Kat. I can't imagine a publisher of print books breaking into my house, grabbing a book from my bookshelf, and making his (or her) great escape with it. Mmmm.... actually I did just imagine it, first as a Western, and then as one of those old black and white cop movies, guns blazing. Quite funny!

When I download movies, I'm given two choices, to rent or to buy. When I rent, the movie is much less expensive, but I have a limited amount of time to view it, and then it disappears. To buy the movie costs me more, but I had assumed that also meant it was mine. Of course, I'm being naive here. With a movie that I have bought and downloaded, there's nothing saying it can't or won't be removed. The technology is in place.

Do you ever read those very long agreements that come with downloading software, or joining a site, or signing up for something online? I'm guilty of just clicking "I agree" to get it over with...

I don't know how e-books work, nor if the practice of an e-book being leased instead of purchased is a common one. Maybe the point to be made is that I really should be more aware of what kind of relationship or agreement I'm entering into before I click "I agree" or "download".
-Marianne

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Marianne Paul

Marianne Paul's is the author of the novels Dead Girl Diaries (BookLand Press, 2009), Tending Memory (BookLand Press, 2007), Twice in a Blue Moon (BookLand Press, 2007) and The Shunning (Moonstone Press, 1994). Her fiction, non-fiction and poems have appeared in publications such as Vox Feminarum, Cahoots, Canadian Author, Western People and The New Quarterly.

Go to Marianne Paul’s Author Page