Books, ebooks, and the internet

I regularly get offers of books and videos sent to the email address on this blog.  At first, I was so thrilled by the prospect that I said yes to almost everything, but then I felt compelled to actually read them.  So I’ve gotten more picky.  But I was sufficiently intrigued by the email I got a few weeks ago for a book called "Pick Me Up" that I requested a review copy.  The email promised:

Are you ready to pursue knowledge through the coolest graphics and pop culture references around? Then you and your site’s are ready for the reference-book revolution!  From Beethoven to dinosaurs to Bangali facts, PICK ME UP explains the world around us through smart, witty writing and a fun and modern design. This captivating reference book serves more as an unencyclopedia for the internet generation, and teems with fascinating information about history, science, nature, geography, and culture. These cool facts, inspired by pop culture, serve as a serious boredom eliminator, and their arrangement is inspired both by video games and the internet. PICK ME UP appeals speicifically to modern kids and teens, and mirrors the multimedia world in which we live.

The book is certainly visually impressive.  It’s got a 3-D effect cover that creates an amazing illusion of depth, and the individual page layouts are well-designed and convey a significant amount of information, combining graphics and text.  D is well younger than the target age range for the book, but immediately asked me what it was and could he have it.  I think it’s the perfect book to leave in the bathroom, since you can pick it up at any page and read for a few minutes.

But, as a reference book, it’s got some huge holes.  The topics are clearly chosen based on what they had interesting graphics for, with no attempt at comprehensive coverage.  I have no idea how the pages are ordered.  (There will be an index in the published version, although it wasn’t in the uncorrected proof they sent me.)  And the attempt at creating hyperlinks (by listing keywords and the corresponding page numbers in bold) mostly made me wonder why this information should be in a book, rather than online.  For reference and graphics, the internet has a strong comparative advantage over print books.  (For proof, see Phantom Scribbler’s contest of yesterday.)  I have a feeling that this book will be mostly bought by parents and other older relatives for preteens who don’t read very much, and it won’t change that pattern.

By contrast, books are far superior to computers for portability and for ease of reading for long periods.  T is fascinated by the "e-ink" technology in the new Sony Readers, but so far I’ve seen absolutely nothing that makes me inclined to give up my wood pulp books for them.  The only applications I can think of that have any appeal are if I were in school (and all of my textbooks came in etext versions) or for long trips where I don’t want to schlepp a lot of books.

Update: Does anyone reading this own a kindle?

I’d love a review from a real person who has one.




3 Responses to “Books, ebooks, and the internet”

  1. Suzanne Says:

    I also find reading from a surface that generates light (ie, the computer screen) to be quite tedious over a long period. I also like the sheer physical presence of a book — it “exists” in a way that a gaggle of bits and bytes inside a computer do not.

  2. jen Says:

    The only reason I could ever envision wanting an e-book is for reading trashy mysteries. When that minor character from the first chapter re-enters the story in chapter 10 and I can’t even remember who they are, I always want to go back and remind myself … and I can’t find the earlier references.
    At the end of the day I’ve never had to reboot a paperback. Drop it, bury it in your bag, leave it sit for months on end, and it still works. It’s a delivery mechanism that’s hard to top.

  3. Julie Says:

    Can you imagine how easy note taking and finding those notes again for exam time would be with e-textbooks? And, how great it would be to not have to carry a huge Biology book all the way across campus?
    Still, I can’t imagine giving up actual books either, particularly not for an ebook on a screen. I have, however, begun listening to books on my iPod (from Audible.com). I find them perfect for the few times I am in the kitchen each week, for when I am sewing, and especially for long drives. Audio books will never replace “real” books for me, but I have more than doubled the books I get to “read” by listening to ones when I am doing other things.

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