Thursday, December 01, 2011

The Great E-Book Debate

I was not expecting its arrival any time soon...
For years I have resisted the e-book revolution. While I could see the advantages of an e-book reader, I simply didn’t see myself using one. The books I’d like to read aren’t available on the format, I said, so why bother getting one? It seemed pointless…

But I’ve finally given in. What does this mean? Will I convert to the Kindle and regard printed books with disdain? Can mystery readers look forward to an imminent auctioning off of my small collection?

Briefly put, the answer is a resounding no. I love printed books and will always remain devoted to them. But there were several factors that pushed me into finally purchasing an e-reader. And so I’d like to share with you the Top 6 Reasons I Bought a Kindle. Why Top 6? Because it’s a nice, round number and I have no better reason. Here goes:

6. Technology Marches On
The last time I handled an e-reader was about 2 years ago. I was young, innocent, and beautiful, but more importantly, the e-readers I handled did not leave me impressed. I tried out a Sony e-reader and lasted approximately five minutes. It was a complete fiasco—the device refused to turn off when I asked it politely. The pages took forever to load. When a new page would load, the device would flash annoyingly for a considerable length of time. More often than not, the “ink” from the previous screen/page would still show up on the current page. Most annoyingly of all, there were too many buttons, and if you missed your timing or pressed the wrong one, you got lost in the device’s complex information labyrinth.

But two years is an awfully long time, especially from the technology standpoint. E-readers have evolved. The screens are bigger, the e-ink technology is more efficient and developed. Amazon’s Kindle was the best device in terms of minimizing that flash in between pages. It has easily-mastered controls. I appreciate the long battery life, memory capacity that has doubled since the last time I tried e-readers… and it actually works, which is great.

5. E-book exclusive titles
I have never been able to sit down and read a long document on my computer screen. I’ve made a few exceptions here and there, but after those sessions, I sit at my desk, rubbing my eyes, the glare acting like a squad of assassins on my eyes.

E-book exclusive titles are a mixed bag, to be sure. You never quite know what you’re getting, and it can be a veritable gamble in terms of the editing quality and proofreading. But there are some books that sound genuinely interesting— such as Julius Katz and Archie by Dave Zeltserman. There’s no way I could ever read an e-book on my computer, but now that I own a device, it suddenly becomes manageable.

4. Ability to borrow e-books from the library
I love my local library, and I haunt the place regularly. That being said, there have been some resources I have never been able to use—the e-books. When everyone in the community was flocking to read Louise Penny, a long list of holds was generated on all her titles. There were e-books, of course, but I hadn’t the patience to read them on my computer. Nor would I ever have. Having an e-reader, I can now finally use the e-books the library has to provide. Read it, return it, borrow something else— I like the idea! Plus, there are some books that I would never pay $29.95 to read!

3. Portability
Earlier this year I went on a several-week long trip to Portland, Oregon and back. It was a wonderful trip and I brought with me a huge stack of books that I would read from almost every day.

But ultimately, this was rather a pain in the neck. My bag was stuffed with books, to the point that I had difficulty finding the one I wanted or pulling it out if I knew where it was. When we arrived in Portland, we stayed with family, who had a very young daughter. There was no place safe from her grasp, so I could never be sure I left my prized books in a good spot. Finally, it was heavy and bulky, leaving me little room for those useful things called feet (which promptly would dash off to sleep).

With an e-reader, you can store thousands of books in digital memory, and all you need to do is bring along a device smaller than the average paperback novel. What I’m trying to say is it’s more convenient, and as more books I love become available in e-book form, the more convenient an e-reader will become.

The Langtail Press has been around for a while, run by James Pritchard, Agatha Christie’s great-grandson. I love this company to death—I admire what it’s done, bringing authors like John Dickson Carr, Freeman Wills Crofts, and Anthony Berkeley back into print and also in e-book form. This opens their works up to an entirely new audience that wouldn’t have had a chance to read them before.

Now that I have an e-book reader, I can look forward to reading more Anthony Berkeley or Fredric Brown. (Damn. I still haven’t read Night of the Jabberwock. I’ll have to get around to that.)

I think this was the killer—the announcement that made me seriously reassess my position on e-book technology. Otto Penzler has fired up The Mysterious Press once more, this time as an exclusively e-book publishing company. This is great news— if you have an e-book reader. Back in the day, The Mysterious Press offered high-quality books by a wide range of authors, with superb standards in terms of editing and proofreading. Even more exciting is seeing Ellery Queen and Christianna Brand getting published online—and they’ve just gotten started. I can’t wait until the business is in full swing. The good times, they’re a-coming.


I’ve fiddled around with my new Kindle and I only have positive things to say about it. I was not expecting it for another week at the very least, and when I arrived home today, it had already arrived! I eagerly explored it and found, to my delight, that it was easy to use. When I wanted the next page to load, lo and behold! It was there in the blink of an eye! There was no glare from the screen— no annoying “loading…” message in between pages. It was easy to discover my way around the new device and overall, I couldn’t be happier.

No, wait. I could be happier. If Santa Claus can somehow manage to get Henry Wade, J. J. Connington, John Rhode, Freeman Wills Crofts, and others published in e-book form, I will be a very happy person this Christmas. How long do you figure it’ll take for a letter to reach the North Pole? Or should I just write on his Facebook wall?


  1. Patrick, I love this piece of your writing. I think I agree with most of your reasons, particularly the No.1 reason. Otto Penzler is just the perfect guy for this serious mystery epublishing. I have just bought EQ's The Roman Hat Mystery ebook from a special promo at Amazon for only $ 1.99 ! If you are interested , I can send you the link.

  2. Many Thanks for the links to the two publishers that I was unaware existed !
    I too thought long and hard before taking the plunge and purchasing an ereader (actually 2)...I have a Nook..they are so useful for traveling with kids who are voracious readers...

  3. Lots of free vintage books in e book formats at Project Gutenberg! I love vintage mysteries and have gotten quite a few from there. I have yet to purchase a book for my e-reader!

    I like your blog!

  4. I just went to the Mysterious Press website and looked at the list of Christianna Brand books. DEATH OF JEZEBEL is not offered! Still the book I consider her best remains out of print and unavailable. But SEANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON by Mark McShane is in the list of available books. There's a big plus. Hope he'll add more Queen (only two!) and McShane to the list.

    Two years ago you were "young, innocent and beautiful?" - geez, what the hell happened in two years? ;^)

  5. Thanks for the responses, everyone!

    @Black Pipe
    Glad you like the blog and this post. And I think we're in agreement here about Penzler. As for "Roman Hat", I actually already have it... but thanks for letting me know! Maybe someone else will be interested...

    @Val + The Girls- BK +CK
    You're very welcome. :) I agree that this kind of device would be great for roadtrips with kids-- I have a younger brother and sister and when I showed them how it works, they were quite excited.

    Thanks for the kind words-- glad you like this humble project! I've personally bought a few books-- the ones I want to read most are not yet in the public domain, so they're not available for free! But I've supported the good folks at The Langtail Press through these purchases, as well as the author of "Julius Katz and Archie". I think it's a good deal. :)

    Well, like I said... two years is a long time... ;)

    The Mysterious Press has only just gotten started on e-publishing, so obviously, content-wise, it can cover a lot of ground yet. But I look forward to that with eager anticipation.

  6. Would it be be too predictable of me to point out that two cracking Paul Doherty books, The Nightingale Gallery and The House of the Red Slayer, have just been released for Kindle at a stupidly low price? Probably... so I won't mention them.

    Seriously, Mrs Puzzledoctor has a Kindle and swears by it. I don't as I like papery books and most of the stuff I read is from second hand bookshops...

  7. My romance with the Kindle is in its early stages, but I already have "The Nightingale Gallery". That being said, it actually pays off for me to buy an ebook of "The House of the Red Slayer"! I previewed it on my device first, and the formatting is excellent. That's what more or less did it.

    I too do most of my reading through second hand bookshops, but I can see the Kindle's advantages in some cases. I remain a devotee of physical copies of books, but for some uses, I like the Kindle a lot. Right now, I'm reading "The House of Silk" through a combination of the Kindle and an audiobook. It's worked out wonderfully thus far.

  8. There are two things that are tempting me to embrace ebooks: more easily available titles and you don't have a mountainous pile of unread books constantly glaring at you and breathing down your neck or chewing on your head when you try to read (I appease my to-be-read pile by feeding it orphans and stray dogs). The only thing that I am afraid of is that mine, at one point, breaks and loose all the ebooks I had collected.

  9. That's impossible with the Kindle-- you get automatic, free cloud storage.

  10. However, one thing I would do is take a look at the ebooks you can actually buy from The Netherlands. For instance, it's impossible for me to buy anything in French from (which is a shame since Paul Halter's latest novel is in ebook form there) or anything from (another shame, since there goes my chance to read 'The Memory of Blood').

  11. I'm about to go down this route soon. Like Peggy@Peggy Ann's Post, I've been eyeballing all the great stuff at Project Gutenberg and like sites.