March 3-9 is “Read an E-Book Week“ around the world. Okay, mostly in Canada, where the event originated, but also in Brazil [TeleRead]. Canada can be a trendsetter. Stranger things have happened. [Huffington Post. You will never look at librarians the same way again.]
My first thought, upon discovering Read an E-Book Week, was “WHY CAN NO ONE DECIDE ABOUT THE HYPHEN!?!” Honestly, the number of ways to spell eBook are almost as numerous as the variety of eBooks themselves. The Lerner website labels them “E-Books” but the reverend Adriano Fruzzetti, helmsman of Lerner Digital, refers to them as “eBooks” (and I follow his lead in all things), while other reputable sources nix the capitals altogether, whether or not they choose to hyphenate.
What does this tell us about digital publishing? How little we’ve wrapped our heads around it, even at this stage of the game. We’re still so unsure about what an eBook is, and what it can be, and what it “should” be–in short, how it fits into our conceptual world, to say nothing of our business world–that we can’t even agree on how to format the word itself.
Many of us would like to think that the “electronic versus print” debate has gone the way of the “electricity versus candlelight” debate–mostly because we’re sick of rehashing our belief in the legitimacy and vitality of both–but one doesn’t have to look very hard to find evidence to the contrary. The Netherlands has banned eBook lending in Dutch libraries [infodocket.com]; quality assurance for eBooks remains, well, anything but sure [Digital Book World]; and there are eloquent arguments to the effect that eBooks aren’t books but rather Something Else Entirely–potentially a Scary/Degenerate Something Else Entirely [TOC O’Reilly].
Once upon a time, I may have agreed with the opinion expressed in that last piece: that an interactive, hyper-visual, semi-computer-game-y experience is fundamentally different from (and, in terms of nurturing creativity, inferior to) a traditional reading experience. But about a year ago I found myself working as a tutor for a first-grader and a kindergartner. How does one tutor children who are too young to actually need a tutor, you ask? My strategy was to read to them a lot–which was a challenge, given that they were constantly running off to use the computer. I had no weapons, other than silly voices, with which to tempt them away. I wish very much, in retrospect, that I could’ve introduced them to eBooks. An eBook would’ve given us a common language. It would’ve combined their affinity for technology with my wish to stretch their imaginations. Now that I’m here at Lerner, when I work on eBooks, I like to think those eBooks will find their way to kids like Libin and Ashkir–and that they’ll hold their attention, expand their minds, and plant the seed of bookworminess in ways my beloved “traditional” books couldn’t.
So that’s my top reason for reading an eBook (or whatever you want to call it) this week. What’s yours?
P.S. We still love print books. And bookshelves [Washington Post]. The more things change, the more they really do stay the same [cats and books through the ages, BuzzFeed].